Closing consecrated church buildings

Churches, like other buildings, can out-live their original purpose. Those no longer required by the Church of England for regular public worship may be closed. The first thing to do, as early as possible, is to hold a public meeting to explain the church is at risk of closure and to invite responses, help or suggestions from the congregation and local residents. This may produce helpful results or a different future for the building!

The decision to close is that of the local community – churches are not closed by a bishop or a committee; they only complete the legal process to make effective the parish’s decision.

Certain questions need to be asked when deciding about closure –

  1. In what way is the church not required for mission, worship and community?
    1. Is this because the present church is ineffective when matched to the above criteria, or
    2. because the criteria can be met by using adjoining parish churches?
      (in which case it should be demonstrated that:
  • The particular churchmanship or tradition has been considered
  • The distance to and accessibility of alternative parish churches evaluated)
  1. What does the surveyor’s report say about the structural condition of the building? Have any essential repairs been costed? Why is it not possible to execute the essential repairs?
  2. What sources of grant have been considered, have applications been made? What is the result of those applications?
  3. If appropriate, what recommendations have the Church Buildings Council made? Have these recommendations been explored?
  4. Is division of the church possible to enable part community or commercial use?
  5. Has an alternative use been identified? Have any possible purchasers or lessees been identified? How certain are we that they have the financial resources to carry through their proposals?
  6. What are the financial implications for the Diocese if the building is closed for public worship and not alternative use can be found?
  7. If the church is to be replaced will this be with a Parish church or a Parish Centre of Worship? How suitable is that building to be a PC or a PCW?

Types of process for closure

Once the decision has been made the next question is: –

Is my church

   

Consecrated

(check with diocesan Registry if unsure)

or

Unconsecrated

(usually a mission church vested in the Lichfield Diocesan Trust on behalf of the parish)

         
Closure process under
Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011

 

Closure with help from
Lichfield Diocesan Trustfollowing charity law requirements

 

Closure and disposal process for consecrated churches

Consecrated churches can only be closed to public worship (allowing for future alternative uses) under the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011. This is a statutory legal process - church legislation which has the force of an Act of Parliament and is part of the law of the land, giving the Church the means to allocate and redistribute clergy, money and buildings – and whose primary duty is to require diocesan mission and pastoral committees to act with “due regard to the furtherance of the mission of the Church of England.”

As with unconsecrated church buildings, before any final decisions to close, a public meeting should be held. Involve as many local people as possible to let them know the building is at risk of closure. It is possible suggestions or new uses can emerge from such a meeting and may help the local community to manage the change positively.

The closure process and who is involved

  1. A consecrated church can only be legally closed for regular public worship by a pastoral church buildings scheme made by the Church Commissioners.
  2. Closure proposals involve both local and national consultation with interested parties. This usually takes 3-4 months, but can take longer if people object.
  3. Churches should carry on holding services because it is important not to prejudge the result of a consultation. Occasionally, for safety reasons services might be suspended, but this should only be done with permission from the Bishop.
  4. The roles of individuals and bodies in the closure process are explained below.

Role of the Incumbent and PCC

If a parish is considering a closure, the DMPC secretary should be consulted; the Archdeacon will also usually be involved:

  • PCC Minutes should record any discussions or formal decisions, including any vote(s) (with numbers for and against).
  • The incumbent, PCC and patron are statutory interested parties who will be consulted locally by the DMPC and nationally by the Commissioners.

Role of the Area Mission and Pastoral Committee/Diocesan Mission and Pastoral Committee

  • Gather and look at the views of interested parties including the clergy, PCC and Patron.
  • Receive a report from the Church Buildings Council on the historic interest and architectural quality of the building and contents.
  • Ask for the views of the local planning authority.

Role of the Church Commissioners

Once they receive the Bishop’s proposals for closure the Commissioners:

  • Put them in legal form as a draft pastoral church buildings scheme.
  • Send copies to the interested parties and arrange for a notice to be fixed to the church door.
  • Publish a notice in a local newspaper.
  • Post a copy of the draft scheme on the Commissioners’ web site at http://www.ccpastoral.org/consultation
  1. Anyone can send written comments to the Commissioners for or against the draft scheme within 28 days. If no one objects, the Commissioners make the Scheme and agree with the Bishop the date it comes into effect.
  2. If there are objections, the Commissioners’ Pastoral Committee (made up of bishops, clergy and laity from around the country) looks at them and will:
  • Ask for the Bishop’s views and any further comments from those who wrote to them for or against
  • Decide whether it is necessary to hold a public hearing, usually at Church House, Westminster to look at the case, or conduct a private meeting
  • Decide whether the draft scheme should go ahead or not, or be sent back to the Bishop to think about again

and then

  • Explain their decision in a Statement of Reasons.
  1. The test is whether the building is no longer needed for public worship. Any Scheme which the Commissioners decide should go ahead can then be made, as long as none of the objectors have been given permission to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
  2. If a church closes and the parish is left without a parish church the bishop must license a building (or part of one) for public worship. This will normally, but not necessarily, be in the parish.

Marking closure

  1. Once the date of formal closure has been decided, the parish can hold a final service to mark the building’s past and memories associated with it.
  2. When the building is vacated it should be left tidy and inflammable materials should be removed to help prevent any sense of decay, deter vandalism and reduce fire risk.

What is the effect of closure?

There are various legal and practical impacts of closure – these affect the building, contents, registers and records, churchyard and churchyard memorials.

The church building after closure

  • “Ownership” of the building (and contents) transfer automatically to the Diocesan Board of Finance (DBF) which is responsible for care and maintenance, insurance and safekeeping of contents until its future is decided.
  • The church wardens should give details for all insurance policies for the building and contents to the DBF. Although they have no financial obligation, the incumbent and church wardens have a duty to help the DBF to supervise the building against damage.
  • The DBF can allow the building to be used occasionally for worship, including worship by other Christian bodies, with the agreement of the Bishop and incumbent.
  • The Quinquennial Inspection process no longer applies but the building and contents are still subject to faculty jurisdiction for the time being. They are no longer exempt from listed building and conservation area control.

The church contents after closure

  • The churchwardens should agree on the annotated inventory of contents with the DBF, making a note of any items that have been removed either for safe-keeping or permanently, giving their original and new location.
  • Except for registers (see below) contents should remain in place until the building’s future is decided, unless the DBF removes items temporarily for safekeeping. This can be done without a faculty but full details must be sent to the incumbent, PCC, Commissioners and local planning authority where relevant.
  • Contents should not be permanently disposed of at this stage contents as this could affect future options for the building.

Registers after closure

  • Under the Marriage Act 1949 any current marriage registers of a closed parish church should normally be sent to another church in the parish, or where the Bishop decides, so they can eventually be sent to the Superintendent General.
  • Any baptism registers and other parochial records will normally be sent to the new parish church. Sometimes it might be decided, with the agreement of the Bishop and the PCC, for them to be placed in the diocesan record office, (this should always happen where the parish is left without a parish church). This is an opportunity to deposit parish records in the appropriate diocesan record office, who are always happy to advise.
  1. For Shropshire parishes the designated DRO is Shropshire Archives (Castle Gates, Shrewsbury, SY1 2AQ; telephone: 0345 678 9096; email: archives@shropshire.gov.uk
  2. For Staffordshire parishes the designated DRO is Staffordshire Record Office (16 Eastgate Street, Stafford ST16 2LZ; telephone 01785 278379; email staffordshire.record.office@staffordshire.gov.uk

The churchyard after closure

  • Closing the church building does not affect ownership of the churchyard. It remains the PCC’s responsibility to care for the churchyard and insure it in respect of third party or other risks
  • The incumbent and PCC should not enter into any Open Spaces Act or maintenance agreements for the churchyard without prior consultation with the DBF and the Church Commissioners, as this may jeopardise what happens to the building.

Finding a new use for a consecrated closed church building

  1. The “use-seeking period” usually lasts up to two years, by the end of which the Commissioners have to decide on the building’s future.
  2. For listed buildings or those in a conservation area, the DMPC’s duty is to look for a suitable new use and report to the Commissioners. For unlisted buildings it has to develop proposals for the future of the building (which might include demolition).
  3. When a use is found the Commissioners prepare and publish a draft pastoral church buildings (disposal) scheme to decide on the building’s future, giving 28 days for anyone to make comments. The Scheme will usually give permission for:
    1. the proposed use of the building (and any land included);
    2. the way the church will be disposed of;
    3. disposal of contents in line with the Bishop’s instructions.
  4. If there are no objections the scheme can be made. Objections are looked at by the Commissioners’ Church Buildings (Uses and Disposals) Committee who will decide, after a public hearing, if the scheme should go ahead.
  5. Sometimes the future of the church building is provided for in the same Scheme as closure including, for example, if a new place of worship is being provided or a suitable use has already been found. This avoids uncertainty around what will happen to the building when it closes.

After a new use is found for a consecrated closed church building

A Church Buildings Disposal Scheme usually comes into effect when any conditions such as planning permission or listed building consent are in place. From this date:

  • the property vests in the Commissioners (for sale) or the DBF (for lease).
  • the legal effects of consecration no longer apply
  • the property is no longer subject to faculty

Disposal of contents

The Bishop’s instructions for contents might include:

  • keeping them in the building
  • sending them to other churches in the local area
  • sending them to a diocesan treasury or local museum.

Burials, tombstones, monuments and memorials

If land containing burials needs to be disposed of a Ministry of Justice Order will usually allow these to remain in place if they should not be disturbed. On very rare occasions they might be removed and re-interred elsewhere on the Bishop’s instructions.

Covenants

Covenants will be included when the property is transferred and a copy will be sent to the incumbent. This makes sure that:

  • the property is only used for authorised purposes
  • it is protected from unauthorised changes or demolition
  • local people feel reassured and to enable public access to tend or visit any graves at agreed times
  • human remains, tombstones, monuments or memorials are protected from being disturbed.

Unless the building is being replaced by a new place of worship in the same benefice, two-thirds of any net profits from the disposal go to the Diocesan Pastoral Account for the mission of the Church and the remaining one-third goes towards financing the Church’s share of funding the Churches Conservation Trust.

If no suitable use can be found

Suitable uses are found in most cases but, if not, the Commissioners decide between vesting the building in the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) or demolition.

The Commissioners will prepare a draft scheme and carry out a consultation to decide on the building’s future and look at any objections (see 4.4). In some contested demolition cases the Government might have to hold a non-statutory public inquiry.

If the Scheme goes ahead, the building and contents will vest automatically in the CCT, or the Commissioners or DBF will demolish the building and deal with the site (in the case of site disposals, the information above will generally apply to contents, covenants etc.).

The process for church closure flowchart

The church PCC or DCC decide that their building is no longer viable. This could be for a number of reasons such as: dwindling congregation; repair costs that cannot be funded; income not meeting expenditure. The PCC pass a resolution and inform their Archdeacon.

   
The Archdeacon informs the Area Mission and Pastoral Committee, and if they are in agreement with the decision, the Archdeacon calls a Public Meeting. Attendees must include PCC, local organisations, local ward councillors, other churches and any other interested parties. The purpose of the Meeting is to gather views and see if a wider agreement is reached.
   
The AMPC then asks the Church Buildings Council to do an Inspection Report. This provides an independent view of the viability and future of the building. Alternative uses are considered as well as the building’s condition.
   
The Report goes to the Diocesan Mission and Pastoral Committee and also to the AMPC.
   
The Diocesan Pastoral Officer then draws up draft Proposals for the closure and any associated changes such as to the benefice/parish/parsonage house etc. (this may also include the sale of the building if it is known at this point who it will be sold to).
   
The AMPC have to agree the draft Proposals, and this then moves to Consultations. All interested Parties are asked to reply within 6 weeks.
   
If no one objects, the Proposal goes back to the AMPC who review the responses and decide if they are happy to recommend the draft proposals to the DMPC.
   
If the DMPC are in agreement, the draft Proposal then goes to the Bishop.
   
If the Bishop is in agreement, he signs the Proposals and it is returned to the DPO who sends the signed copy to the Church Commissioners in London along with other necessary documentation.
   
The Church Commissioners prepare a draft Scheme and issue it to each church that will be affected and any interested Parties.
   

If no one objects, the Scheme is made and brought into effect. It is signed off by the Church Commissioners. The church is officially closed and becomes the responsibility of the DBF. The DMPC then looks for new uses for the building.

 

If an alternative use is found, it is either sold or leased.

 

If an alternative use cannot be found it is either vested in the Church Conservation Trust or it is demolished.


Page last updated: 18th October 2021 9:26 AM