Balancing heritage and mission

Sir Mark Hedley talks about how he approaches decisions as Diocesan Chancellor

Last week we interviewed Sir Mark Hedley as he was about to start on the Visitations for this year. But having the Diocesan Chancellor in front of you was too good an opportunity to miss. So we wanted to gently probe the mind of the ultimate arbiter of our faculty applications.

Diocesan Chancellor since 2002, Sir Mark says most of what he does is a paper exercise with only 5 actual court hearings in the last 8 to 12 years. He estimates he has to review about 6 faculty applications per month usually with only one of those requiring any great scrutiny. And it is only one or two applications a year that are truly contentious.

Sir Mark is a strong defender of the system seeing his role as balancing a line between heritage and mission. “if the church of England didn’t have the ability to run its own planning authority – which is essentially what the faculty system is – we would then be under the jurisdiction of the local authority.” Sir Mark contends “that would leave crucial decisions in the hands of a body that doesn’t understand our mission needs, nor has the time to get to know what they are.”

Sir Mark praises both Archdeacons and the Diocesan Advisory Committee for their flexibility in the organisation of the faculty system in our diocese - “They offer sensible latitude – which I approve” – and very much wants to be seen in a permission giving role. “we need to have a sensible line between the proper stewardship of our built assets and the recognition that these are living places of worship. The more a parish can be encouraged to think a scheme through properly and be realistic in their vision the better”.

In fact the area that concerns Sir Mark most is a parish’s ability to fulfil their contractual obligations. “I am always checking whether a parish can fulfil its contract liabilities. It is the foremost question in my mind and it’s one that challenges parishes to have discussions about their priorities”.

One thing is clear, Sir Mark is aware of the fine heritage tradition that we have in our churches and the challenge that presents us. “we are more than heritage sites – we are places of worship and mission and my role is to facilitate that in the best way I can. How  a church spends its money is there business not mine ”