Recent consistory court judgments; registry appointments and retirements

The issues raised in the first two of the following judgments are specifically addressed by the Canons of the Church of England: the unsuccessful petition in St Michael and All Angels Uffington, which sought to install a dual purpose table that could be used both as an altar and for the provision of more worldly refreshment; and St Michael and All Angels Edenham, where the repositioning of the font was the major concern.  In contrast, Re St. Helen Edlington and Re Ronald Carr deceased concern the application of Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002] 299 and whether the particular circumstances in each meet any of the criteria that it laid down in relation to exhumation and re-interment.

Re St Michael and All Angels Uffington [2014] Lincoln Cons Ct, Mark Bishop Ch.

The short two-page judgment befits the clear cut nature of the case, but raises the question of whether an early reference to Canon F2 by the applicant would have supplied a more immediate answer, gratis.  An application was submitted on behalf of the PCC for a faculty for “an oak altar in the Casewick Chapel”, the specifications of which had been recommended by the DAC: a chapel table polished to match existing oak, 2m wide by 0.6m by 1m high, with a lower shelf at the base of the table; open-sided and with no decoration on the legs or rails.

The Chancellor stated that he would be pleased to authorize the use of the table as an altar, but had strong reservations if it were to be used both as an altar and also as a “table will be used for serving refreshments’, as indicated in an accompanying letter.  The “Statement of Need” indicated that this would be:

“ . . . for the provision of an oak table for Casewick Chapel which may occasionally be used as an altar. Following the refurbishment of the Casewick Chapel an increasing number of events are taking place in the chapel which require the serving of refreshments. For this a table is required and the shelving underneath will be used for storage.”

This is clearly contrary to Canon F2: The Holy Table, which states [emphasis added]:

“1. In every church and chapel a convenient and decent table of wood, stone or other suitable material, shall be provided for the celebration of Holy Communion, and shall stand in the main body of the church or in the chancel where Morning and Evening Prayer are appointed to be said.  Any dispute as to the position where the table shall stand shall be determined by the Ordinary

2. The table, as becomes the table of Lord, shall be kept in a sufficient and seemly manner, and from time to time repaired, and shall be covered in the time of Divine Service with a covering of silk or other decent stuff, and with a fair white linen cloth at the time of the celebration of the Holy Communion”

The Chancellor stated that it would be completely inappropriate, and contrary to Canon F2(2) for an altar to be used occasionally for the celebration of Holy Communion, but more frequently ‘for the service of refreshments’.  He further stressed the obligation of the Churchwardens is to ensure that the Lord’s Table is kept in a ‘sufficient and seemly manner’ and was quite satisfied that what is proposed does not amount to that.

IMG_3186(2)Canon F2(2) provided adequate justification of the Chancellor’s decision, although  he reminded himself of the judgment of the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved Re St Stephens Wallbrook 1987 Fam 146 in which the nature of Eucharistic sacrifice was discussed.  Surprisingly, perhaps, he also suggested that the storage of toys on a low shelf beneath the altar hidden by a suitable cloth would be acceptable, although an interchangeable use for the altar as contemplated is most certainly not.

Re and St Michael All Angels Edenham [2014] Lincoln Cons Ct, Mark Bishop Ch.

Unlike St Michael and All Angels Uffington, above, in which uncompromising adherence to Canon F2 was clearly required, the provisions of Canon F1 Of the font applicable here afforded a degree of flexibility in its application[1].  The Petitioners sought a Faculty to remove permanently some rotten pews, pave the area where the old pew platform was located in the north aisle and in the area where the font is currently located, and then relocate the font from the south aisle to a more central place to be agreed once the pews are cleared and the old platform is removed.  Significant work on the pews that are not rotten was planned in order to restore them and then reintroduce them to the Church.

St Michael and All Angels is Grade 1 listed, dating from the 8th century with additional work in the 12th, 13th, 15th and the early 16th century and 1808: the church has a complete set of 16th century pews which were restored in the 19th century; the font is 12th century noted by Jenkins to have a ‘very interesting 12th century design’[2].  In view of the DAC’s requirements, (para. 5), and the architect’s response, (para. 6), the objections of English Heritage, (para. 4), could be satisfied and the restoration of the pews and their platform was uncontentious. The Chancellor was satisfied that:

“the works to the pews are entirely appropriate and will restore to the church for many years further use the pews which have been used for so many centuries by those worshipping at St Michael’s. No harm to the special architectural or historic significance of the church would be done by this work. I am satisfied that the proposed works are careful and measured and will result in a restoration of the pews the greatest extent possible,” [para. 9].

The main issue was therefore the re-siting of the font, the concern of two objectors.  The proposal was for the font to be moved to a more central location at the back of the church.  Although the final position had not been decided, the spatial characteristics of the interior were to remain largely intact.  The font was to be moved so that the administration of the sacrament of baptism could be better seen by the congregation and that there may be an improved liturgical focus on a baptism conducted during the main Sunday morning worship – currently there is only 0.5m clearance on the east and west sides of the font.

The Chancellor was satisfied that the proposed move could be achieved without causing harm to the special architectural or historic significance of the church.  Applying the test as set out in Re St Alkmund’s Duffield, Arches Court 1 October 2012, the Petition was approved, subject to conditions: the precise new location needs to be agreed and referred to the DAC secretary and the Archdeacon for their comment before the works may go ahead; an appropriately qualified and experienced stone mason is to be approved by the DAC, as well as their method statement before work commences; an archaeological watching brief is necessary; and a fuller answer to be provided to proviso (iv) concerning the drain form the font.

Re St Helen Edlington [2014] Lincoln Cons Ct, Mark Bishop Ch.

An application was made for a faculty to exhume the cremated remains of James Thomas Padgett (interred in 1988) from the churchyard of St. Helen’s Edlington, with a view to the remains being reinterred with the ashes of his wife, which were interreded in 2007 in Newport Cemetery, nearer to the home of the deceased’s daughter, who also wished to have her ashes interred in due course in the same grave in the cemetery. The applicant stated that her osteo-arthritis now prevented her from travelling long distances. The Chancellor, applying the principles in Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002], did not find any special circumstances to justify him granting a faculty.

Re Ronald Carr deceased [2014] Lincoln Const Ct, Mark Bishop Ch.

The petitioner applied for a Faculty for the exhumation of the cremated remains of her late former husband from the churchyard of the parish church at Aby and their re-interment in consecrated ground in a cemetery at Horncastle.  The reasons given were: access to the churchyard is over a field which is inaccessible particularly after rain, access being difficult due to a slipped disc back condition; rabbits in the churchyard made the ground un-walkable in places, and have burrowed under her husband’s plot.

Although now remarried, the applicant has moved to Horncastle where the cemetery that is closer and more peaceful, and it would be easier for her and her family to visit the grave; the applicant “feels that her late husband is alone where he is” and even though he is departed and she is remarried, “this does not mean that the departed are forgotten and cease to play a part in her life”

Whilst the application was supported by two daughters and a granddaughter of the deceased, there were a significant number of close relations including those from his two former marriages whose opinion about the application were unknown.  No objections was raised by the incumbent, with whose view the PCC were assumed would concur, the District Council Environmental Health, or the burial authority at Boston Road Cemetery, Horncastle who had allocated a plot.

The Chancellor considered the legal framework and the application of Re Blagdon Cemetery and was unable to grant the application, for which there is no basis in law that would permit him to find exceptional reasons that could set aside the rule that Christian burial is permanent, and that once buried the remains must be left to lie in peace.

The absence of any knowledge of the views of the sister and two children of the deceased would make any decision to exhume very difficult to contemplate, but even if they were supportive of the application, it would make no difference to this decision: the Applicant’s back condition and the difficulty she has in gaining access to the grave is not the type of medical reason which the Court of Arches had in mind, and there is no suggestion here of a psychiatric condition linked to the location of the ashes; there has been no mistake in burying the remains in the wrong plot, and the presence of rabbits in the churchyard does not justify the exhumation of the ashes. The Chancellor also had regard to questions of precedent and fairness to others in similar situations.

With regard to Mr Carr “being alone”, the Chancellor referred to the theology of burial described by the Rt. Revd. Christopher Hill, then Bishop of Stafford[3] and stated:

“the Christian understanding is that Mr Carr is now entrusted within the life of God wherever his ashes are interred . . .[he] is not therefore ‘alone’: he rests in peace within God’s love, wherever his ashes are located.”

Registry Appointments and Retirements

Caroline Mockford retired as Registrar of the Diocese of Lincoln on 31 July and will take up her new appointment as Registrar of the Diocese of York on 1 September. The new Registrar of Lincoln Diocese will be Julie Robinson. The Rev Raymond Hemingray will retire as Registrar of the Diocese of Peterborough on 30 September and will be succeeded by Anna Spriggs.  However, Ray will continue to summarize, circulate and post recent consistory court judgements on behalf of the Ecclesiastical Law Association. We are indebted to Ray for this valuable updating service, and wish him well in his retirement.

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[1] Although not specifically quoted, Canon F1 §2 requires that: “[t]he font shall stand as near to the principal entrance as conveniently may be, except there be a custom to the contrary or the Ordinary otherwise direct; and shall be set in as spacious and well-ordered surroundings as possible”, [emphasis added].

[2] Unreferenced in judgment.  However, not included in Simon Jenkin’s England’s Thousand Best Churches, nor in Betjeman’s Best British Churches, although this phrase and useful photographs of the font are at http://greatenglishchurches.co.uk/html/edenham.html.  The Listing description is: “C12 circular font having engaged shafts with scrolled capitals to the sides, joined by paired arches, with foliage to the decoration of the upper parts”.

[3] C Hill, “Theology of Burial”, [2004] 7 Ecc Law J (35) 447-451.

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