Churches are set to find it easier to add cushions to pews as officials aim to relax rules on adding soft furnishings in order to meet environmental targets.
Under plans due to be voted on at the General Synod, new church laws will change to make it easier for vicars and parishioners wanting to add cushions, kneelers and carpets to their churches.
Previously, permission for such changes would have required a “full faculty” – the Church’s version of planning permission – but the proposals would amend the rules so it is not required in all cases.
They are being put forward by officials as part of the Church’s target of achieving “net zero” carbon emissions by 2030, and form part of a package of legislation that will be voted on next month. If passed, the changes will be rubber-stamped in July.
Church officials claim relaxing the rules would mean buildings can more easily retain heat and therefore reduce their heating bills.
Vicars, parishioners and petitioners who want to make major changes to church buildings have to submit an application to the Consistory Court – the Church’s own court – of which there is one in each of the 44 dioceses overseen by a chancellor.
While the proposed changes may appear minor, campaign groups can oppose them and provide written submissions calling for the preservation of historic pews and other cosmetic aspects of churches.
Debates about changes to historic pews, and even the colours of cushions, have also resulted in rows between traditionalists and reformers.
‘Consider environmental and heritage significance’
Documents released on Friday as part of the Church’s green strategy propose that changes to “kneelers, hassocks, pew runners or cushions are permitted so long as they do not result in a major change to the overall appearance”. Cushions were previously only able to be introduced without permission if they did not result in a change to overall appearance.
Becky Clark, the Church’s director of churches and cathedrals, said trying to heat such big buildings “is always a problem” and admitted that the introduction of soft furnishings “can be quite controversial”.
“In churches, stone or wooden benches or hard seating can be a factor in people feeling cold because, when you sit on them, the heat in your body goes out into that material,” she said.
“Putting cushions on seats, putting rugs on benches or small floor runners underneath pews or seating can help stop people feeling cold and you can reduce the heating.”
Joe O’Donnell, the director of the Victorian Society, said it was important that listed churches “fully understand the significance of their building and its furnishings” and that any changes do not lose “what is special and nationally important about them”.
Diana Evans, the head of places of worship strategy at Historic England, added that all proposals should consider “both environmental and heritage significance”.