A MEDIEVAL listed church in Warwickshire has been told it cannot replace its pews with modern padded chairs as an “overly casual appearance can be incompatible with a house of God”.
A ruling by the Consistory Court of the diocese of Coventry said that the pews at Holy Trinity, Long Itchington, could be taken out but replaced only with un-upholstered wooden chairs.
Parishioners at Holy Trinity were keen to get rid of their pews as they said that moving them when they needed more space in the nave was difficult and time-consuming.
But despite their having the backing of the PCC and the diocesan advisory committee, the Chancellor, Stephen Eyre QC, ruled that the church’s plan to replace the pews with chairs designed for use in churches with “wine-coloured upholstery” might be off-putting to newcomers.
“An overly casual appearance can be incompatible with a house of God and can be as unattractive to newcomers as an appearance of excessive rigour,” the judgment said. “An emphasis on quality and seemliness is not only appropriate in buildings dedicated to the Glory of God, but is also part of what attracts those new to the Church.”
Holy Trinity was permitted to remove its Victorian pews, despite concerns from the Victorian Society and Historic England, but it must replace them only with high-quality, non-padded wooden chairs.
The parishioners were especially keen to change the heavy pews as the church held a Messy Church service each quarter with games and food, as well as harvest suppers, Christmas markets, and other village events such as concerts.
After researching what other churches had done, the PCC decided that having comfy chairs would ensure that any newcomers found the space “warm and welcoming”.
The diocesan advisory committee expessed some reluctance about the plan, but concluded that the proposed new chairs were appropriate as “a number of similar churches have introduced similar chairs and found them suitable for their needs”.
One of the church wardens, Maureen Mitchell, told The Daily Telegraph that the court’s decision would hinder the mission of Holy Trinity.
“This is going to knock us right back, where at the moment we are a growing church. When you go to the other churches in this area they have all got them . . . but the Victorian Society have put their oar in and said no,” she said.
“Many of the congregation are elderly and they are entitled to comfort now and again. I think they’ve all got their hearts set on these padded chairs and now we can’t have them.”
Judge Eyre ruled that experts, including those at the Church Buildings Council, had found that well-designed unpadded chairs could be just as comfortable as upholstered ones, and tended to last longer.
“The preferences of the petitioners and the Parochial Church Council cannot prevail over the consensus of expert opinion in circumstances where the objectives justifying the reordering can be achieved without upholstered chairs,” his judgment concluded.