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Diocesan Policies and Guidelines

Church Buildings and Property

The teaching and discipline of the Church of England is set out in Canons F1 – F18

The description church buildings and property covers three classes of property, which are dealt with below.  Financial trusts etc. are dealt with in section L of this Handbook.

1  Consecrated church buildings, churchyards and cemeteries, ornaments of churches

— including things needed for divine service (font, holy table, communion vessels, robes and vestments, etc.) as set out in Canons F1-9

(a)  Once set apart for the worship of God, church buildings, their principal furnishings, churchyards and cemeteries, may not be sold, given away, or destroyed without legal permission or 'faculty' granted by the Bishop, through the suffragan bishop. 

(b)  The churchwardens are the Bishop's officers responsible for this property.  Canon F17 sets out the duty to maintain an inventory of this property. The inventory should be checked —

  • annually by the outgoing and incoming churchwardens;
  • by an outgoing and an incoming chaplain; and
  • at a Visitation by the Bishop (either in person or by commissary) or the arch-deacon.

(c)  When a chaplaincy is declared redundant and sold or demolished its 'ornaments' remain under the Bishop's jurisdiction.  If the chaplaincy is continuing they may be transferred to its new place of worship.  If they are not needed, or if the chaplaincy is being dissolved, a copy of the inventory should be sent to the diocesan secretary so that the Bishop may direct where the ornaments are to be used in future, or, if such use is not possible, what is to be done with them.

2  Unconsecrated land and buildings

(e.g., chaplaincy houses, including furniture and fittings)

(a)  Some buildings are owned by the Diocesan Board of Finance, some by chaplaincy councils, some by trusts and societies for the benefit of a particular chaplaincy, or of the Diocese as a whole. All such buildings have been given or bought for the work of the Church in the Diocese. They should not, therefore, be sold, exchanged or given away before there has been consultation with the Diocesan Board of Finance.

(b)  Where a Chaplaincy Council is responsible for providing furnished accommodation for the chaplain, it will need to make financial provision for the maintenance and repair of the building and/or for the replacement of worn furnishings and fittings.

(c)  Some chaplaincy houses contain items of artistic or historical merit. These should be carefully maintained, and, if it is proposed to dispose of them for any reason, the archdeacon's advice should be sought.

3  Other property belonging to a Chaplaincy Council

This may, of course, be sold or replaced by a proper decision of the Chaplaincy Council.  In making a decision members of a Chaplaincy Council will naturally take account of the fact that they are not only legal trustees of property but also, so to speak, the spiritual trustees of the congregation and of the generosity and work of its past members.

4  Trusts

When property is vested in a body of trustees it is important that the requirements of national and local law are met, and that the full number of trustees is maintained. The advice of the diocesan registrar should be sought when appointing a new or replacement trustee.

5  Cemeteries and Burial Plots

Every cemetery or burial plot, whether in the ownership of the Diocese, of a chaplaincy or of a local trust, must be used and maintained in conformity with national laws, and any local regulations.

6  Final Disposal of Property

All trust deeds and other titles to property should, for safety's sake, include a provision that, in the event of the dissolution of the chaplaincy, the property is to be used for the benefit of the Anglican Diocese in Europe (or, if national law requires, the Anglican Church in that country) as the Bishop of the Diocese directs.

7  Bishop’s Faculty

(a)  By consecration church buildings and their contents, churchyards and cemeteries are given over to the service of God in perpetuity. In canon law the Bishop is the legal trustee or guardian of all consecrated property.  This includes not only the structure and decoration of the building, but also all windows, monuments and fixed furnishings, the organ and in particular the communion plate and other things required for worship.

(b)  It follows that, as has been stated above they may not be built, purchased, sold, given away, or destroyed without the granting of a Bishop's Faculty through the suffragan bishop.

(c)  If a new building is being contemplated, any change or addition to an existing consecrated church building, its ornaments or fittings, or to a consecrated burial place, or to things like communion vessels which have been set apart for worship, the chaplain and churchwardens must write to the archdeacon and include the following:

  • a description of what is proposed (including the text of any inscription);
  • relevant plans, drawings or photographs;
  • a copy of the minute (including voting figures) of the Chaplaincy Council approving the application for the Bishop's Faculty.  (Chaplaincies are also recommended to ensure that the whole congregation is given the opportunity to see and comment upon council applications for a Bishop's Faculty).

(d)  No significant expenditure should be undertaken, nor should any money be raised, before this has been done.

(e)  If approved by the archdeacon, he will forward the duly recommended originating paper work (or 'petition') to the diocesan secretary who will consult the suffragan bishop over the appropriate course of action.

(f)  In the case of straightforward applications (for example, an appropriately worded memorial plaque), a Bishop's Faculty will be granted.

(g)  The diocesan secretary and suffragan bishop may feel that it is necessary to seek wider, objective or informed advice on the work proposed and call a meeting of the Diocesan Advisory Committee.

(h)  The Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) will consist of the suffragan bishop, the Bishop's chaplain, a senior member of the Council for the Care of Churches and the diocesan secretary (also acting as secretary to the DAC).

(i)  The DAC may approve the issue of a Bishop's Faculty.  However, it may ask for amendment to the proposals or require the plans to be delayed pending obtaining further information and/or seeking specialist advice.

(j)  Exceptionally, the matter may be referred to the chancellor of the Diocese.  He will then decide whether or not the Bishop's Faculty should be granted.

(k)  Only when the Bishop's Faculty has been issued is it safe for an order be given for work to be put in hand or for expenditure to be incurred.

(l)  The purpose of the Bishop's Faculty procedure is to protect the gifts of past generations from inappropriate changes, alterations or disposal, and to ensure that any changes are consonant with the doctrine of the Church of England.

(m)  Costs of the Bishop’s Faculty procedure

  • All costs incurred by the chaplaincy, the archdeacon or the DAC in gaining professional advice are borne by the Chaplaincy Council.
  • If the archdeacon needs to visit the chaplaincy his travel costs are borne by the Chaplaincy Council.
  • A further small charge is made to cover the costs of administration in the Diocesan Office (presently £20 for each Bishop's Faculty issued).

8  Memorials and Inscriptions in churches

(a)  Care should be taken by chaplains, churchwardens, and others who may be consulted, that the form of a proposed memorial or inscription is both historically accurate and suitable for a church.

(b)  Intending donors should, whenever possible, be encouraged to commemorate the departed by a gift which will be of use in worship, or otherwise in the life of the parish, rather than by a memorial tablet.

9  Minor repairs and redecorations

These do not require a faculty, but the advice of the archdeacon should be sought before any extensive work is undertaken.

10  Books and Registers

(a)  Each chaplaincy has a responsibility to maintain a number of official record books and registers which should be available for examination whenever the relevant archdeacon (or indeed the Bishop) conducts a visitation.  They ought also to be checked each year before the annual general meeting.  They should be of good quality, written-up in permanent ink, since they serve both as a permanent record as well as historical documentation.

(b)  Service Register

It is not necessary to keep formally separate Baptism and Funeral Registers, though some chaplaincies may have chosen to do so.  It is, however, important that entries are made in the main service register when such occasions occur.

An entry should be made in the main service register of the chaplaincy of any funeral or (as allowed by law) interment of cremated remains (whether the latter be in consecrated ground or in the church building belonging to the chaplaincy).  Reference in the entry to a certificate of death may be helpful.  See B23 (d) and B24

(c)  Confirmation Register

It is advisable to maintain a separate confirmation register which should be signed (in addition  to the Service Register) by the presiding Bishop.  The chaplain should send a return of adult baptisms and of confirmations to the diocesan secretary.  The return forms are available from the Diocesan Office.  (Section B7 advises that a register is kept of those admitted to Holy Communion before Confirmation under the guidelines set out in B10.)

(d)  Marriage Register

If no Register is provided by the civil authority, the chaplain should use the general form prepared by the Diocese.  Registers of Marriages and Books of Certificates that are issued by the Registrar General for England and Wales ― however they may be obtained ― must not be used in the chaplaincies of this Diocese. 

Even when a marriage register is supplied for the chaplaincy by the civil authority, an entry should be made in the chaplaincy service register, giving the names and addresses of the bride and groom.  It should be signed by the officiating minister and by two other witnesses of the marriage ceremony.

Services of Prayer and Blessing after Marriage (whether civil or religious) should be entered in the Service Register; and no certification should be issued.

Marriage Certification

The chaplain should use the general form prepared by the Diocese (available from the Diocesan Office), or one agreed between the chaplain and the archdeacon.

(e)  Depositing old records

When a service or other register is full the chaplain / priest-in-charge should:

  • draw a line through the page following the last entry;
  • inscribe: ‘This register is now closed so that it can be deposited in the Diocese in Europe Archive held at the Guildhall in the City of London.’
  • date and sign it; and return it to the Diocesan Office which will forward it to the Diocesan Archivist.

Plainly this does not apply to any register originally issued by the civil authorities.

(f)  Chaplaincy Terrier and Log Book

A careful record (supported by photographic record where possible) should be kept of all repairs additions and alterations to a church and its contents, or to a cemetery, including copies of all Bishop's Faculties obtained, local planning permissions or other consent for work, quinquennial inspection reports, and plan of graveyards or interment of ashes inside a church building.  A photographic record of all valuable items should be kept as part of a file of insurance certification, in addition to an up-to-date inventory of the contents of the church building.  Copies of a basic parish Terrier and Log Book may be purchased from the Church House Bookshop, 31 Great Smith Street, London, SW1P 3BN.

(g)  Church Business

The papers of the chaplaincy should be kept in order especially with respect to the status of any chaplaincy or congregation as a legal entity under local law.  Further records that should be maintained include the electoral roll, the minute books of the Church Council and the annual general meeting, correspondence and contracts entered into by the Church Council, any local authority permits or licences, safety records relating to health and safety assessments.

(h)  Other records

Personnel records will include references for parish employees, job descriptions and contracts of employment, material relating to the child protection procedure and records relating to discipline or dismissal of employees.  Steps ought also to be taken to secure computer records. 

The European directives on Data Protection are relevant to a large part of the Diocese.  Advice may be sought from the diocesan secretary as to how this may affect chaplaincy records in particular countries.  The UK regulations and best practice (with which the Bishop’s Office and the Diocesan Office are required to comply) will act as a safe guide where church officers are uncertain of the requirements of local statute law.  See also N19.