Monday, October 24, 2011

A few more thoughts about faculties

Tim commented on my post last week that he didn't know what the faculty process was. The faculty process is essentially the church equivalent of gaining planning consent. If you want to build an extension on the back of your house (in the UK) then you need to get approval for that from the planning department. If you don't get that consent (which can be voted on by the council) then the council has the power to remove such an extension (this was the principal issue at stake at Dale Farm).

In principle, the faculty process does make sense. There are some 'de minimis' regulations which mean that minor changes don't need a faculty, and there is, in theory, a clear procedure set out for how to obtain a faculty that is sought. My gripes about the faculty process flow from the following two thoughts:
1. it is very centralising and undercuts local autonomy. The planning process, which the faculty process reflects, is very much a modern creation, part and parcel of a modern Western state.
2. it is highly politicised, in that, if you get English Heritage on side, and you are on good terms with the hierarchy and so on, it is more straightforward to get consent for what you are trying to do. Of course, English Heritage, as their name suggest, have a vested interest in preserving historic buildings and that interest does not necessarily coincide with the interests of an on-going church community.

Now, just as the over-centralised state doesn't have much of a future in the context of Transition and all that that involves, nor does the centralised structure of the church, of which the faculty process is one example. I can envisage a time - indeed, I know of colleagues' situations where this has in fact happened - when a church community simply says to English Heritage 'If you want to keep it like it is, fine, here are the keys, we're off to rent the School Hall' (EH backed down on that one).

Put simply, the faculty process is a dinosaur in the time after the comet has hit. In order to prosper, the church must become much smaller and more nimble - the mice that became men, rather than the dinosaurs entering into history. How might that happen? Well... I'd need to do more study to really thrash it out but it would involve a) a massive expansion of the 'de minimis' provisions, b) provision of a democratic (parish resident) process to establish consent, replacing the standard DAC/Chancellor system and c) a structural bias in favour of approval vis-a-vis English Heritage, so that they would have to formally object and take a parish to court if they wanted to stop a development, rather than, at present, simply indicating that 'it wouldn't be quite right'.

My belief is that this would liberate the church communities to shape their buildings around their worship and life, rather than having to shape the latter to the former in Procrustean fashion.

3 comments:

  1. Hi Sam. I completely agree with the spirit of your post. I am appalled by the faculty process, its cumbersome nature and the general pomposity of the assumptions that are made, and I would love to see its rapid demise. So I hope you don't mind if I offer a couple of corrections:

    Faculty jurisdiction isn't, as you state, a replacement for planning permission. If you want to build on your church site you will need planning permission as well as a faculty, as we have found out here. What it does exempt you from is listed buildings consent. But even this isn't a huge benefit since, as you rightly say, we must consult EH and other statutory bodies anyway before applying for our faculty.

    Both these points, to my mind, strengthen your argument rather than weaken it. The faculty process does nothing whatsoever for churches other than add another layer of bureaucracy. However, even if the C of E were to abolish it overnight, it would not have the power to create the "bias in favour of approval" that you are calling for. That is a matter of Government policy and law. Although it's interesting that the present Govt. are moving in that direction.

    Anti-faculty types like you and me also ought to acknowledge that the system does at least allow the "de minimis" route that you refer to, even if it not used half as often as it should be. If we were to revert to listed buildings regs. instead of faculties we would lose that.

    Still, good thoughts. Come the revolution, eh?

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  2. My guess is that the most visited churches in England are those that were made unique by crazy vicars before the faculty system was imposed on us.

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  3. In our Diocese of Edmonton (in which, I'm tempted to observe, your church can be historic if it was built before lunch time yesterday), we simply have a diocesan policy that if you are going to spend more than $10,000 on the property you need the consent of the Diocesan Property and Planning Committee. Usually the only concerns of that committee are to make sure that (1) your proposal makes sense, and (b) you can afford to proceed with it.

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