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Chancellor’s ruling on the Leckhampton sale

03 October 2014


From the Archdeacon of Cheltenham

Sir, - Shiranikha Herbert's report "Chancellor lambasts 'really stupid' sale of painting" (News, 26 September) tells only part of a judgment with wider significance.

The Chancellor recognises in her ruling - which I welcome as a sensible resolution of a sorry tale -that this is "an active church priding itself on its outreach into the community" in which "every opportunity is being used to advance its mission".

It was this enthusiasm that led to these events and, appropriately, a rebuke to a priest and churchwardens who have otherwise been exemplary in furthering the mission of the Church. Despite this, the Chancellor still grants the faculty, commenting that "there really [was] no historic link between this painting and the church." The way the parish went about this may well have been "really stupid", but the proposal itself to sell was not necessarily so.

This was recognised by our diocesan advisory committee, who recommended the granting of a faculty, but not by the Church Buildings Council (CBC), which was the only party to oppose the sale.

Its attitude was that the painting's simply being in the church established a link; that there must always be a presumption against sale; and that, even if it was not wanted, the parish should "learn to love" it. The CBC was unable to offer any advice on how the parish might manage the financial consequences of a refusal to sell, or the implications of this for its mission and ministry. Tellingly, the CBC's representative could not remember whether mission had ever been discussed at CBC meetings.

Responding to this, the Chancellor helpfully comments: "The CBC is but an arm of the wider Church of England and I was left with the unhappy view that the purity of their efforts . . . could be regarded as unbalanced and unrealistic to a struggling parish."

She goes on to reject the CBC's approach to this case, saying that its "blanket ban on sales without any discernment of the relative significance of the painting was unhelpful", and that failure to consider mission rendered its approach "too limited".

This judgment should, first, encourage parishes to recognise that there are times when it may be right to consider selling an object, but to do so only by following the proper process. Second, the CBC must now re-evaluate its policy and give serious thought to how, as an arm of the Church of England, it is engaged in mission. Its present position is, I regret to say, a source of perplexity and even anger in much of the Church.

Parishes need to be assured that the CBC is a partner in mission and ministry. Sadly, this has not been felt to be so on this occasion.

2 College Green
Gloucester GL1 2LY


From Dr Robin C. Richmond

Sir, - The Revd Jacqueline Rodwell appears to have given an astonishing reason for throwing out from Emmanuel Church, Leckhampton, a painting of the Virgin and Child by Franz Ittenbach, an acclaimed German Nazarene painter.

Ms Rodwell stated that the previous priest had been of an Anglo-Catholic background and not, as she was, Evangelical; so the painting was now "deemed theologically inappropriate for the church".

The arrogance is breathtaking. Quite how a depiction of Mary and the Christ-child can be theologically inappropriate in a church beats me and, I suspect, many other people.

Our parish churches contain many religious artefacts from past and present which are not only evidence of a rich and ancient liturgical history, but aid prayerful worship. Parish priests in the Church of England are stewards of the fabric, furnishings, and contents of the churches to which they are licensed; they are not the owners.

Ms Rodwell appears to have set herself up as sole arbiter of which furnishings and artefacts are theologically acceptable. My experience suggests that she is not the only Evangelical priest who operates in this arrogant manner, not only with regard to which artefacts are acceptable, but also on all sorts of traditional practices in the Church of England.

Presumably, she would like to set about the removal of all depictions, in our parish churches, of Mary and the Christ-child, wall-paintings, roods, stained glass, green men, and the few remaining stone altars and figures of Christ and the saints which she finds theologically inappropriate. She must find much that is inappropriate in Gloucester Cathedral: forget worshipping in the beauty of holiness, and anything that encourages this.

Providence Cottage, Burying Lane, The Downs, Bromyard, Herefordshire HR7 4N

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