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Out with the pews in with moveable chairs

Hundreds of churches a year are applying to remove their pews, but it is causing dispute among parishes. According to The Times, nearly 250 churches a year are applying for pews to be removed.

However, heritage groups and some parishioners complain the removal is causing unnecessary "destruction and desecration".

Priests have warned that churches with dwindling congregations will close unless they get a new lease of life as community hubs.

Removing fixed pews and replacing them with moveable chairs creates open spaces that can be used for local groups and events, bringing in income and new worshippers.

Over the past decade, there have been about 100 requests a year from Church of England churches to remove four or fewer pews and 140 a year to remove more than four, according to unofficial estimates.

According to an investigation carried out by The Times, there have been about 30 occasions in the past 18 months where disputes over pew-removal have ended up in front of consistory courts, which rule on matters involving church land. In almost all cases, parishes are given the go-ahead by church chancellors.

The Victorian Society, which is consulted over changes to 19th-century heritage, warned that some churches were "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" in removing fine examples of Victorian design.

Most older churches have undergone much remodelling in their history. The Victorians introduced a mass of fixed pews that were free to use, removing most of the enclosed "box pews" fitted in the Georgian era, which could be rented for private use.

Church courts usually insist that changes, including the choice of chairs, are tasteful and fitting. The pews are normally destroyed, recycled or sold. Some churches have come up with innovative ways and uses for the old pews too.

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