Villagers are outraged after their local parish church took the decision to sell off their Victorian-era pews so that obese couples wouldn't struggle to fit down the narrow aisle on their wedding day.
St Andrew's Church in Okeford Fitzpaine, Dorset, is selling the 150-year-old wooden benches at a price of £200 each. The precious pews will be replaced with modern chairs, which can be easily moved around to make more space down the aisle of the sanctuary.
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."
It added that the pews were not suited to the “human form of today".
Many of the parishioners are unhappy, however, and wish to see the antique pews remain firmly in place. Helen Sherwood Clinkard, a spokesperson for the 'Save St Andrew's Pews' 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 have seen a picture of the chairs that will replace them. They are horrible. They look cheap and cheerful. I wrote to the vicar and she sent me this statement of needs from the PCC.
"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."
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".
He added: "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."