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Chancellor rules against coffee-table altar

05 September 2014

IT WAS unseemly that a table that was to be used as an altar should also be used for serving refreshments, Chancellor Mark Bishop ruled in the Consistory Court of the diocese of Lincoln.

His comments were made when he refused to grant a faculty "for the provision of an oak table . . . which may occasionally be used as an altar", in the Casewick Chapel of St Michael and All Angels, Uffington.

The proposed altar was a chapel table that had an open-sided lower shelf at the base. The Chancellor found no objection in terms of the table's being suitable in design to serve as an altar, and said that he would have been pleased to authorise it on that basis. But he could not permit a faculty to be issued if the purpose of the table was to be used both as an altar, and for serving refreshments.

The Statement of Need attached to the petition for the faculty explained that after the refurbishment of the Casewick Chapel, an increasing number of events were taking place there; so a place for serving refreshments was needed. The table was therefore required, and the shelving underneath would be used for storage. Whenever a service was held, however, the table would be used as an altar.

The Chancellor said 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. . .'"

Canon F2(2) of the Church of England states that the Lord's table "shall be kept in a sufficient and seemly manner . . . and shall be covered in the time of Divine Service with a covering of silk or other decent stuff, and with a fair linen cloth at the time of the celebration of the Holy Communion".

The churchwardens' obligation was to ensure that the Lord's table was kept in a "sufficient and seemly manner", and what was proposed did not amount to that, the Chancellor said.

The design of the table as an altar was commendable, and the proposed storage of toys on the shelf beneath, hidden by a suitable cloth, would be acceptable, "but an interchangeable use of the altar as contemplated was most certainly not".


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