Thinking Anglicans

Church of England guidance on memorials with contested heritage

Church of England press release

The Church of England has published guidance for parishes and cathedrals addressing concerns over memorials with links to slavery and other contested heritage

The new guidance enables churches and cathedrals to consider the history of their buildings and congregations, and to engage with everyone in their community to understand how physical artefacts may impact their mission and worship. It offers a framework to approach such questions locally and, where necessary, to engage with the relevant bodies who oversee changes to cathedral and church buildings.

In June 2020, the Church of England announced a consultation on approaches to contested heritage following a series of cases around the country. The work forms part of ‘Open and Sustainable Churches’, a long-running programme seeking to identify issues affecting the ability of churches and cathedrals to provide worship and welcome, offering support and resources to tackle these.

The guidance published today has been informed by a wide-ranging consultation which has included every Church of England diocese and cathedral, as well as heritage bodies, specialists in church monuments, and those with an interest and specialism in UKME representation in the Church of England.

It notes that while churches and cathedrals are, above all, places dedicated to the worship of God, for a range of reasons, members of communities may not always feel welcome in these buildings. One such reason could be the presence of objects commemorating people responsible for the oppression and marginalisation of others.

The guidance specifically addresses the issue of heritage associated with racism and the slave trade – including plaques, statues, inscriptions and other monuments, but hopes that by doing so it will establish a methodology which can be used for other forms of contested heritage.

The guidance does not prescribe solutions, but presents a range of options and considerations, together with suggested models for local consultation and discussion. It encourages balanced, inclusive decision-making.

It also states that while ‘no change’ may be the outcome of such a consultation, this is not the same as ‘no action’ and encourages research, consultation and reflection where concerns are raised, to assess how much objects may impact on missional, pastoral and liturgical activities.

On publication of the guidance, The Church of England’s Director of Churches and Cathedrals, Becky Clark, said:

“With this guidance, the Church of England is seeking to provide a framework for parishes and cathedrals to lead discussions about how the heritage in our buildings can best serve our commitment to be a welcoming and inclusive Church today.

“Church buildings and their interiors have been adapted over centuries in response to practical needs, architectural styles, as well as to society itself.

“The issues of contested heritage require us honestly and openly to discuss ways in which our buildings can demonstrate our commitment to social and racial justice as a reflection of our faith in Jesus Christ.”

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Froghole
Froghole
1 month ago

Since parishes have received scant relief from the Commissioners since March 2020, I would suggest that if the central authorities wish the parishes to undertake this work (think how extensive it is likely to be in Bristol or Liverpool and their respective environs), then they provide appropriate grants in aid, rather than pass the cost to PCCs. After all, unlike most parishes, the Commissioners can well afford to put their money where their mouths are. Now, how far should this go? Think of the Drax family, since – courtesy of Richard Drax, MP – they have been in the news… Read more »

C R SEITZ
C R SEITZ
Reply to  Froghole
1 month ago

I wrote a brief piece on this earlier in the year.

https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2021/01/canceling-culture

How far indeed. It brings to mind the praise of Job’s righteousness and Satan’s ‘we’ll see about that.’

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  C R SEITZ
1 month ago

Many thanks for this, as ever, Prof. Seitz. That is a very useful piece. As I see it, the Church – at least in England – is impaled upon the horns of an insoluble dilemma. This is not only because of the material difference in opinion between the majority of the clergy and the majority of the professing laity in relation to this question, but also because the very last thing a rapidly declining Church needs is to be caught in the vortex of the ‘culture wars’. Frankly, I am antipathetic towards ‘cancel culture’, but I am also of the… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
1 month ago

The Church of England’s job first and foremost is to proclaim the Gospel, and teach the virtues of humility and tolerance.  We seem to be experiencing so much of the opposite currently, both in the Church and in our national life. Obviously evil should be condemned, but at the same time a proper sense of proportion retained. Much of the current furore is due to ignorance of history – both good and bad – and people substituting their personal whims and prejudices. I realise this won’t go down well with some contributors, but focus and comments on TA seem to… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
1 month ago

Thank you, Froghole and Rowland, for drawing attention to the current skewed priorities of the C of E, the impossibility of consistency in such an exercise, and also to the virus of tetchiness that has infected TA of late. It’s impossible to move in Burton on Trent, from where I write and where I last ministered, without being reminded of beer and the Bass family. In town and its environs are several magnificent 19th and early 20th century churches by such architects as Bodley, Somers Clarke, Micklethwaite and others, funded by the profits of alcohol intoxication and the sweat and… Read more »

Susannah Clark
1 month ago

I suggest education is the best response to these ‘contested heritage’ issues. What might be good is that, as church communities, we actually acknowledge there’s an issue, and it would be fine to explore that in church with overhead slides, and call out what went on before – possibly encouraging people whose ancestors suffered such terrible abuse to take centre stage and express their feelings and views, and get a message home. . I am descended from Scottish slave-traders and plantation owners from St Croix, and I’m aware that I owe some of the privilege I was born with to… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Susannah Clark
Becky Clark
Becky Clark
1 month ago

Thank you Froghole for your thoughts and for the fascinating history of the Drax family. You are absolutely right that in many cases there is no clear line on what might be considered contested. The guidance is something that was requested by a number of parishes and cathedrals to help them with exactly this issue, and I hope that on reading it yourself and others will be reassured that it doesn’t pre-suppose or prejudice any particular outcome. It is rooted in the need for a local response. Myself and my team are working with a number of churches who are… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Becky Clark
1 month ago

Sorry to disagree with Susannah and with you, but I consider that this ‘initiative’ is utterly misguided. With respect, may I suggest (if you have not already done so) that you read the article by Dr Seitz linked to his reply to Froghole above. That, I suggest, is how mature Christian thinking people should be looking at this subject.

Becky Clark
Becky Clark
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
1 month ago

I agree with much of what Dr Seitz says, but change is the nature of heritage – which is not the same as history. Church buildings have always had the ability to change, from removing pews to putting in solar panels. The guidance we’ve published is about facilitating that existing process in relation specifically to contested heritage, because this is a topic parishes are dealing with and have asked for support with. It isn’t an initiative created by the national Church, but a necessary engagement with an existing societal topic.

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Becky Clark
1 month ago

Ms Clark – thank you so much for this (and I have communicated with you about other church-related subjects by email in the more distant past)! Whilst I share the ambivalence of other commentators about this entire subject, I sense that the political momentum behind this whole issue reached such a fever-pitch last year, that it would have been almost impossible for the Church not to do something. I also feel that the Church is going to be damned if it does something, and damned if it does not. The only way it could probably proceed is by producing a… Read more »

Lottie E Allen
1 month ago

The whole “cancel culture” cesspool constantly generates more heat than light. When are we going to wake up to the reality that there is no such thing. Its simply a nationalist exercise in smoke and mirrors to distract attention from economic and political incompetence.

If, as some have commented, TA is being more tense and narrow, could that be because nationalism has divided all our conversations (outside and inside the Church) with a view to seeding endless rounds of conflict and disagreement.

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