VII Secular uses of buildings

What does Canon Law say about the use of church buildings for secular purposes, such as school speech days, concerts and plays, jumble sales, discos and dances?

The use of a church for secular purposes is not of itself unlawful since the canons specifically mention such use. The churchwardens ‘shall not suffer the church or chapel to be profaned by any meeting therein for temporal objects inconsistent with the sanctity of the place’ (Canon F15). If the speech day is to be addressed by the diocesan bishop, then the chance of profanity is probably remote. But if the speaker is

to be a pop star notorious for his or her bad language, or a local councillor whose party promotes racist views, then the use could be unlawful.

As far as plays, concerts and exhibitions of films and pictures in churches are concerned, Canon F16 provides (amongst other things) that the minister ‘shall take care that the words, music and pictures are such as befit the House of God, are consonant with sound doctrine, and make for the edifying of the people.’ The bishop may make general directions as to such use and the minister is under a duty to obey them.

Jumble sales, discos and dances would generally have been thought to be a profane use of a church fifty years ago, but opinion is now more tolerant towards secular use. It will be a question of fact to be decided in each case whether or not a use is profane.

An incumbent may forbid any or all such secular uses, even if the churchwardens and PCC are in favour. If a minister fails to fulfil his duties under Canon F16, he could be liable to discipline under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003. However, there is no legal sanction that can be taken against churchwardens who fail to fulfil their obligations.

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