There are no hard and fast rules about flying flags. However, there are established customs; and some rulings from around the time of the turn of the last century which have not yet been explicitly undone.
The primary flag for use by churches is the Diocesan Flag. This is a normal “St George’s Cross” with the arms of the diocese in the canton (Note that the arms do not include the bishop’s mitre):
Churches which do not possess a Diocesan Flag can use an ordinary St George’s Cross flag of England instead.
The Diocesan Flag is flown on Red Letter days (“Principal Feasts”) in the Church’s calendar.
The Union Flag
Rulings of the Lord Chamberlain during the early 1900s indicate that it is not proper for churches of the Church of England to fly the Union Flag. However, there are certain State occasions when it may be appropriate, such as the Anniversary of the Accession. Even on these days, the Diocesan Flag is the preferred flag to be flown from churches.
The Union Flag is a combination of the national flags of England and Scotland and the St Patrick’s Cross of Ireland, and first came into existence with the Act of Union of 1701. It is the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This is why it is not always appropriate to use this flag: Scotland, Ireland and Wales have their own national Churches.
The physical design of the flag and method of attaching it should make it difficult to fly the Union Flag upside-down, but it can happen. The correct way for the Union Flag to fly is with the broad white stripe in the hoist at the top:
The Bishop’s own Standard is simply a flag of his coat of arms. This is personal to the Bishop of Chichester and is used in much the same way as the Royal Standard. For most purposes, even when the Bishop is present, the Diocesan Flag will suffice. Chichester Cathedral is unusual in that its arms are the same as those of the diocese, so this is also the Cathedral Flag.
Flying at half-mast
Flying flags at half-mast is a sign of mourning. When raising or lowering a flag at half-mast, it must always be raised or lowered by going to full-mast first. Half-mast is usually defined as one flag-width from the top of the flagstaff, but this may need to be adjusted for the height/length of the flagstaff and the size of the flag to be flown.
The Royal Standard is never flown at half-mast. With that exception, when flying at half-mast is appropriate then all flags are flown thus.
Sundays are a celebration of the Resurrection, and consequently it may be felt more appropriate to celebrate that by flying flags at full-mast on Sundays, rather than the mourning of half-mast. However, local and national sensitivities must be borne in mind.
In general, it is not appropriate for churches to fly flags other than the Royal Standard, Bishop’s Standard, Diocesan flag or the Union Flag. There may be exceptions when a church has two flagpoles (see below): in this case it would be possible to fly a Naval Ensign for a Naval service, for example, together with a Church flag. Occasionally (with more than one flagpole) the flags of other nations might be flown as a courtesy to foreign visitors. Flagstaffs at the top of towers should be reserved for the Royal Standard, Bishop’s Standard, Diocesan flag (or Union Flag when appropriate), and it is not proper to fly other flags from church towers.
If there is only one flagstaff available, then the flag to fly is the first appropriate one from this list:
- Royal Standard, if the Monarch is present
- Episcopal Standard, if available and the Diocesan Bishop is present
- Diocesan flag, if available
- St George’s flag
- Union Flag
More than one flag
Never fly two or more flags from the same flagstaff. This implies subjugation, and was used on captured ships — the victorious side’s flag above the defeated country’s.
If more than one flag is to be flown, all the flags must be the same width [the shorter dimension, as opposed to length from hoist to fly]. Some flags are of a shorter length than normal — Switzerland is actually square.
If a church has more than one flagpole, then the one on the left when looking at the front of the building — or the highest — has precedence, and the following is suggested as a suitable order. This order may need to be adjusted if the flagpoles are differentiated — for example, with finials of a mitre and a crown [for Church and secular flags respectively].
|Leftmost or highest||1. Royal Standard (when the Monarch is present). This flag is always first, regardless of any differentiation.|
|2. Bishop’s Standard (if the Diocesan Bishop is in attendance)|
|3. Diocesan Flag or St George’s Flag if no diocesan flag|
|4. Union Flag, when appropriate to use it|
|All of the above can be flown from a tower. The flags below should not be.|
|5. Other personal Standards and Borough banners|
|6. White Ensign, if Royal Navy is represented|
|7. Army flag, if the Army is represented|
|8. RAF flag, if the Royal Air Force is represented
|9. Red Ensign, if the Merchant Navy is represented
|10. Other organisations granted flags, eg RNLI
|11. Flags of other nations, generally in alphabetical order
||The generic name for all types of “flag”
||The top-left quarter of a banner
||An officially-recognised or statutory banner of an organisation or country
|Fly||The part of the banner furthest from the flagstaff
|Full-mast||The position at the top of the flagstaff
|Half-mast||A position lower than full-mast (see the text for an explanation)
|Hoist||The part of the banner nearest the flagstaff
||The banner of a person or body which has a coat-of-arms