THE aisle at St Andrew’s Church in Okeford Fitzpaine, Dorset, doesn’t appear particularly narrow. Nonetheless, it has been deemed not wide enough to allow obese couples to walk side-by-side on their wedding days.
The solution to the problem, according to Premier Christian News, is to dispense with the Victorian-era pews and replace them with modern moveable chairs.
The decision has gone down like the Hindenburg, with locals saying it’s a devilish disaster.
Helen Sherwood Clinkard, a spokesperson for the “Save St Andrew’s Pews” Facebook group, said:
There are about 1,000 people in Okeford Fitzpaine and I would have said three quarters of them are against what is happening.
We were totally unaware about the gutting of the church and the removal of the pews until they were recently listed for sale. The pews are part of the history and heritage of the church. If you strip out the pews then the soul of the church is gone.
I was gobsmacked when I read some of the reasons for wanting rid of the pews. There have been weddings in that church for generations and to my knowledge there has never been an issue before about large people not being able to fit down the aisle.
How is it that the human body is now so different to that of our great-great grandparents?
I am 68 and I have been to that church most of my life. I have never seen or heard of anyone trip over one of the pews before. It all seems like a poor excuse to rip out the pews.
The church in Okeford Fitzpaine is selling the 150-year-old wooden benches for £200 each.
A recent report by the local PCC concluded:
We have also had occasions at weddings where the couple have been too large to be able to walk side by side down the aisle. With chairs we would be able to widen the aisle.
In a statement, Rt Rev Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury said he was fully behind the plan, insisting that churches are:
Community buildings which have to adapt to the needs of the community as those needs change. The changes have come after a very wide consultation and ample opportunity over a long period to comment on the proposals.
Although I am unable to control what the PCC does with the church building, I am able to say that I am fully supportive of their plans which are designed to enable the church building to continue to be a valuable asset to the community into the future.
Some pews are being removed and have been offered for sale on Facebook. Such a public sale is hardly consistent with a suggestion that has been made that the works are being conducted secretively. The removal of the pews will make it easier to achieve social distancing at public worship.
At the time of posting 50 people were using Premier’s ridiculous prayer panel to pray:
That all the parties involved in this situation would act with kindness and grace. May a solution be found that is suitable both for the church and the wider [oh dear] community. Amen.