Tim commented on my post last week that he didn’t know what the faculty process was. The faculty process is essentially the church equivalent of gaining planning consent. If you want to build an extension on the back of your house (in the UK) then you need to get approval for that from the planning department. If you don’t get that consent (which can be voted on by the council) then the council has the power to remove such an extension (this was the principal issue at stake at Dale Farm).
In principle, the faculty process does make sense. There are some ‘de minimis‘ regulations which mean that minor changes don’t need a faculty, and there is, in theory, a clear procedure set out for how to obtain a faculty that is sought. My gripes about the faculty process flow from the following two thoughts:
1. it is very centralising and undercuts local autonomy. The planning process, which the faculty process reflects, is very much a modern creation, part and parcel of a modern Western state.
2. it is highly politicised, in that, if you get English Heritage on side, and you are on good terms with the hierarchy and so on, it is more straightforward to get consent for what you are trying to do. Of course, English Heritage, as their name suggest, have a vested interest in preserving historic buildings and that interest does not necessarily coincide with the interests of an on-going church community.
Now, just as the over-centralised state doesn’t have much of a future in the context of Transition and all that that involves, nor does the centralised structure of the church, of which the faculty process is one example. I can envisage a time – indeed, I know of colleagues’ situations where this has in fact happened – when a church community simply says to English Heritage ‘If you want to keep it like it is, fine, here are the keys, we’re off to rent the School Hall’ (EH backed down on that one).
Put simply, the faculty process is a dinosaur in the time after the comet has hit. In order to prosper, the church must become much smaller and more nimble – the mice that became men, rather than the dinosaurs entering into history. How might that happen? Well… I’d need to do more study to really thrash it out but it would involve a) a massive expansion of the ‘de minimis’ provisions, b) provision of a democratic (parish resident) process to establish consent, replacing the standard DAC/Chancellor system and c) a structural bias in favour of approval vis-a-vis English Heritage, so that they would have to formally object and take a parish to court if they wanted to stop a development, rather than, at present, simply indicating that ‘it wouldn’t be quite right’.
My belief is that this would liberate the church communities to shape their buildings around their worship and life, rather than having to shape the latter to the former in Procrustean fashion.