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100 years ago: Thaxted flags judgment

15 July 2022

July 14th, 1922.

THE Chancellor of the diocese of Chelmsford has perhaps persuaded some Churchmen that Consistory Courts have their uses. Mr Conrad Noel has many qualities which we must admire, but the commonsense which would make them effective is to seek. Priests have often to face the opposition of their parishioners in order to give obedience to the Church. But none — except perhaps Mr Noel — can say that it is required of him in conscience to hang up political flags in his church [100 Years Ago, 16 July 2021]. In certain circumstances national flags may be tolerated there, those of England and her allies were almost demanded by public opinion during the war. But it is a breach of charity, which may provoke a breach of the peace, to set up political banners which have only a sectional appeal. Mr Noel, who appears to have made a singularly weak defence of his action, saw no harm in being provocative. The Chancellor said, in effect, that he must not be, and took a view of the matter which accords both with charity and commonsense. Since Mr Noel has agreed that the flags shall not be put up again we hope that the last has been heard of a silly business.

The Thaxted case has an interest apart from its main issue in that it was, so far as we know, the first occasion on which a diocesan chancellor has had to consider a resolution on a faculty question passed by a Parochial Church Council. The Thaxted Parochial Church Council was unanimous in favour of the retention of the flags. So far as the reports of the case show, the Chancellor paid no attention whatever to the resolution. One of the supporters of the petition seems to have urged that the Parochial Church Council was not properly elected, since certain persons were not on the roll who ought to have been. This argument is of no avail. The mere fact that a person who ought to have been on the Parliamentary register has been overlooked or improperly struck off would not void a vote given by the elected member, and the Thaxted Parochial Church Council possesses all the legal powers of a council. As to the Chancellor’s action, it may be said that the council only stands in the same position as the old vestry, and that there have been many cases in the past when the chancellor as the representative of the ordinary has ignored the vestry’s opinion. We think that the ordinary ought not to be absolutely bound by the opinion either of the vestry or the Parochial Church Council, and we hold that the order for the removal of the flags was justified. The supporters of the Life and Liberty Movement, however, promised us a democracy, and we shall be interested to hear what they have to say of the over-ruling of the Parochial Church Council.

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