Holy cross

Plan to replace benches with stackable chairs at Holy Cross Church in Bearsted awaits approval

A devotee from a church in Bearsted said plans to replace 20th-century pews with stackable chairs would ruin the historic building’s “charm and vibe”.

Holy Cross Church began discussing the proposal a year ago with the aim of making the building more accessible and flexible for the community.

One devotee feels that the “magic” of Holy Cross Church in Bearsted will be lost if the pews are replaced with stackable chairs. Photo: John Taylor

The Church Lane building began using movable chairs around 20 years ago, when part of the benches were removed to make more space.

After the success, he now hopes to remove all existing benches in favor of a more modern approach.

But the decision was not supported by all.

John Taylor, who has been worshiping there since moving to the village three years ago, says he feels the “magic” of the sacred building will be lost.

He said, “My objection is that there was no discussion with the devotees.

A decision on the future of the benches is expected in the
A decision on the future of the benches is expected in the “coming weeks”. Photo: John Taylor
The pews as they now stand in Holy Cross Church in Bearsted.  Photo: John Taylor
The pews as they now stand in Holy Cross Church in Bearsted. Photo: John Taylor

“They want to do it for the flexibility but I think that takes away the magic.

“This was announced during the lockdown via email and I’m not sure if it was widely publicized.

“If it passes, I’ll complain.

“The young people told me that the chairs are nice because all cathedrals have chairs and it’s true but I think a cathedral is a completely different thing, it’s a huge and cavernous place but a parish church this is little.

“I believe the benches give a charm and a vibe that you don’t get from a cathedral.”

The chairs have been criticized for looking messy when stacked.  Photo: John Taylor
The chairs have been criticized for looking messy when stacked. Photo: John Taylor

The decision to remove the pews was unanimously supported by elected officials in the church, but before any changes can be made it must now be approved by the diocese. This should happen in the next few weeks.

While he understands the reservations, Reverend John Corbyn says there has been extensive consultation and he fully supports the changes.

He said, “Especially in the current climate, we need a flexible building for worship and non-worship activities so that the building is used as much as possible so that more people benefit from it.

“It will help mothers and toddler groups, and it will make a huge difference to concerts, exhibitions and the Christmas fair.

“Sometimes we have small congregations that need more space, and sometimes we have to accommodate as many people as possible in order for it to help us.

Rev.  John Corbyn.  Photo: Andy Payton
Rev. John Corbyn. Photo: Andy Payton

“Even without a cushion, the chairs are more comfortable than a bench because they have been specially designed.

“It’s like going from Aldi to Waitrose but with seats. We go from cheap to nice and comfortable.”

Reverend Corbyn added: “These are just early 20th century benches, they are not historic and they are very basic.

“I remember the discussions about this when I first came here some 20 years ago. As soon as we removed the benches from this section, we regretted not removing more.

“It was a great success and our group of mothers and toddlers benefited greatly as it is the only one in the region.

“It’s like going from Aldi to Waitrose but with seats. We go from cheap to nice and comfortable.”

“The church hall was way too small for them and we had to limit the number. Making more space allowed us to accommodate them longer.”

The church can currently accommodate around 150 people. Replacing the benches will replicate this, but also mean it can be pushed up to 200 if certain situations allow.

This isn’t the first time an argument has broken out over similar plans.

In August 2018, Gillingham Baptist Church underwent a £ 1million renovation which saw the pews replaced with modern seating.

Earlier that year in Sittingbourne, Reverend Michael Resch’s plan to replace the original Victorian seats with steel-framed chairs at Holy Trinity Church was blocked by a judge.

St. Mary's Church in Lenham.  Photo: John Westhrop
St. Mary’s Church in Lenham. Photo: John Westhrop

The deputy commissioner general of the Diocese of Canterbury, argued that the removal of the original items, which were installed in 1919 to commemorate those who died in World War I, “would harm it as a building of a special historical interest ”.

Parishioners have debated the possibility of removing the Victorian pews from St Mary’s Church, Lenham, which are running out of steam in 2018.

Since then it has been decided that only two pews at the back of the church will be replaced, the rest will remain as is.

Some 52% of those polled were in favor of the idea.

Despite their condition, it has not yet been decided whether the remaining benches will be restored.

Reverend John Huggins said: “At the moment we just don’t have the funds.

“Someone has to come in and look at the benches story that’s coming up soon.

“The conclusion was that they don’t have much historical value, but the wood they are made from could be, so we have to wait and see what they say.”

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