From the Revd Ian Walker
Sir, - Canon Angela Tilby (Comment, 14 March) makes
a valuable point about the disappearance of kneeling in the Church
of England. Linking it to the removal of pews, however, may well be
a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc, and she comes out
with many of the caricatures used by those who say that pews will
be removed "over my dead body". To them, the pews will be replaced
by plastic chairs: the change is driven by shallow, trendy clergy,
and who is going to move these chairs when we have them?
Here at St Andrew's, Epworth, the historic parish church of the
Wesley family, we have recently completed a restoration and
regeneration project that took 15 years, and has transformed the
church from a damp and crumbling building, which was on the way to
becoming a ruin, into a warm and adaptable worship space, which is
also equipped to tell the story of its place in history to the many
visitors who come from all over the world.
We have achieved this transformation through the skill and
vision of our churchpeople, and the generous support of English
Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
As parish priest for the past six years, my task has been to
encourage the people in this project, which started before my
arrival, and to reassure those who felt that they were losing
It has been a long and sometimes painful process, but the end
result has been well worth it. Our chairs are not plastic, but
high-quality wood, with rush seats of the same design as those
recently installed in Ripon Cathedral. They are supplemented by
folding rush-seated chairs from the same manufacturer. We do not
sit on top of one another, and some of us still kneel.
Of course, removing pews was only a part of the project, but it
was what attracted most of the attention. Our church now looks
better, and works better. If I may be permitted to drop a name, the
Revd John Bell, who led a weekend last year, said that we had
restored St Andrew's as a medieval church.
The challenge is now to use this reordered church building for
renewed worship and mission. One of my churchwardens - who was
perhaps not the keenest to take the pews out - said: "They keep you
in order, do pews," and, now that our building has been opened up,
we have to learn to use it creatively and reverently.
Yes, we do take out pews at our peril, but surely the Church of
England, of all bodies, has learned that no worthwhile change is
without some peril.
St Andrew's Rectory
16 Belton Road
North Lincolnshire DN9 1JL
From Mr Stewart Burton
Sir, - I read with some disappointment Canon Tilby's article on
church furniture, as it seemed to me to be ill researched. Canon
Tilby fails to appreciate that churches can actually be used all
week rather than for one hour on a Sunday morning.
We have recently replaced our pews with high-quality chairs,
which have provided us with the opportunity to engage with worship
in new ways and settings (including the opportunity to kneel), and
to explore other ways of being church which the pews would have
made difficult, if not impossible.
Our church building is the only space available to us, and we
would be letting down our community if we did not use it to its
fullest and most creative extent.
11 Tavistock Close
Hartlepool TS27 3LB
From Mr Stephen York
Sir, - Canon Angela Tilby's comments on pews and kneeling
demonstrate the danger of generalisations. In the case of the small
village church that I attend, almost every one of her comments can
be turned on its head.
We are considering removing some or all of the pews for the very
reasons she cites as the disadvantages of chairs. We have a large
set of hassocks, lovingly created over the years by parishioners.
Alas! they are merely decorative. Any attempt to kneel from one of
our pews would result in severe dislocation of the spine, since the
inter-pew space is so cramped.
None of our "comforting ledges" can hold a hymn book, or even a
service sheet or pew leaflet. Chairs would give us the opportunity
for decent spacing between rows, so that kneelers could kneel (and
at last use those lovely hassocks for their intended purpose).
Chairs would give us the flexibility to accommodate
congregations that vary enormously in numbers, from well-spaced
Sunday-morning services to tightly packed funerals, weddings, carol
services, and so on. Privacy during worship (an odd concept,
surely) is not an issue where all of the regular congregation know
one another, and shy newcomers can still sit in the back row if
We might aspire to holding coffee mornings, but just to have
room to gather for coffee after a service would be luxury
Cambridgeshire PE27 4TQ