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Baptist church ‘raises eyebrows’ with chapel

24 February 2017

STEPHEN OWEN

Quiet space: the lectern and the communion table designed by Stephen Owen

Quiet space: the lectern and the communion table designed by Stephen Owen

IN A rare move for a Baptist church, a small prayer chapel has been included in the £5-million Millmead Centre being built in Guildford, Surrey. The space includes two specially commissioned works by a former member of the community, the sculptor Stephen Owen.

One is a lectern in the shape of a cross with a nail through it; and the other a communion table with a base carved from a single block of oak. The cost of almost £60,000 was met by one anonymous donation.

Mr Owen, who is now based at Talybont, in mid-Wales, said: “It is quite unusual for a Baptist church to have a separate chapel — almost a Lady chapel. It raised eyebrows. It was a bold move as part of their building redevelopment pro­­gramme, but one that has proved how much a quiet space is needed in the lives of people today.”

The lectern’s base is rough and has splits where written prayers can be inserted. “It’s rather like our broken lives before we receive Christ’s love,” Mr Owen said. “The surface changes towards the top where it speaks of our being made perfect in Christ.”

The table’s base was cut from a block of 180-year-old green oak. “Within a month of its instal­lation,” Mr Owen said, “it had split — like the stone table in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on which Aslan was laid; so it speaks of the fact that Christ is risen and the earth could not contain him.” The large hole through its centre picked up the theme of his empty tomb, he said.

The pastoral leader of Guildford Baptist Church, the Revd Dr Ian Stackhouse, said: “I was keen that we gave some space for a more con­templative strand of our spirituality. When you enter that space, it wraps you in.

“Originally, I had a bit of stick about it, as Baptists are not really strong on this kind of thing; so it was quite ironic that one of the first groups to use it was the staff team of St Saviour’s Anglican Church in Guildford. That was really cool: Baptists loaning a chapel to an Anglican church.”

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