Churchgoer fails in pew bid

Selmeston Church
Selmeston Church

A Selmeston churchgoer has failed in a challenge to plans to remove four ancient pews from the 150-year-old village church where he worships.

Church of England consistory court judge has branded the objections of Jeremy Shaw “over-stated.”

The plan which drew challenge from Mr Shaw is for removal of a wooden platform and four pews from the west end of Selmeston Parish Church.

He claimed that there were no strong reasons for making what he regards as a fundamental change to the appearance of the church. He also claimed that the costs of the project did not constitute proper use of parish funds. And he argued that if the plan is carried out the reduction in seating would be such that temporary free standing chairs would be needed. These, he said would need to be stacked in an unsightly manner when not in use and could amount to a health and safety hazard in the event of a fire.

However, Mark Hill QC, Chancellor of the Diocese of Chichester and a judge of the Consistory Court has now given his blessing to the plan and ruled that it can go ahead. He has allowed a petition by the local Parochial Church Council requesting permission to carry the scheme out.

Mr Shaw, although he had objected to the church authorities about the scheme did not take part in the court proceedings. But his earlier letters of objection to the church authorities were considered by Chancellor Hill.

Chancellor Hill said, “Mr Shaw categorises the works as ‘a total waste of money’. He can see no reason why the views of the current worshipping community should prevail over those who laid out the church interior a century and a half ago.

“He considers that the removal of a central block of pews will ‘destroy the integrity of the appearance of the interior of the church’ and the alterations will ‘stick out like a sore thumb’. He considers that the present position of the font, surrounded by pews, is symbolic of those baptised being in the midst of the congregation, rather than in an empty space at the back of the church.”

Rejecting Mr Shaw’s claims though Chancellor Hill said, “Notwithstanding the strongly held view of Mr Shaw, this is a relatively minor proposal. The lack of any comment from the Victorian Society (a conventionally conservative organisation) is strongly suggestive that no harm will be caused to the significance of the church as a building of special architectural or historic interest. In my view, Mr Shaw overstates by quite a margin the likely impact.”

He said the Church Authorities had satisfied him of the need for circulation space in the church for socialising following worship, and of the “liturgical benefits” of allowing baptismal parties to gather around the font for Christian initiation.