Church pews removed so obese people can fit down the aisle

Church pews have been removed from a 700-year-old church in case obese couples struggle to walk down the narrow aisle.

The 32 Victorian pews have been put up for sale for £200 each as part of alterations to the inside of Grade II listed St Andrew’s Church in the Dorset village of Okeford Fitzpaine.

The pews, which are fastened to the floor, will be replaced with modern chairs that can be moved to create space when necessary.

The church authorities say the pews’ removal will make it easier for disabled people and wheelchair users to access the nave. It will also allow the congregation to socially distance.

Church authorities also say getting rid of the 16 rows of pews would remove a potential ’embarrassment’ involving overweight brides and grooms squeezing down the aisle.

The Parochial Church Council (PCC) says in a report: ‘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.’

Church pews are ill-suited to the ‘human form of today,’ and removing them will also remove the health and safety risk of people tripping over them, the PCC says.

The pews have been listed for sale in the parish magazine and on Facebook and will be collected by the buyers next week ahead of the work starting.

St Andrew’s Church parishioners are not pleased with the decision and a row between the rector, Reverend Lydia Cook, and her parishioners has erupted.

The parishioners claim Cook has locked them out of the church as a result of their protests. These have included a demonstration with banners reading ‘Save the pews from the devil within.’

Cook has reported a perceived threat of criminal damage to the building to the police.

A spokeswoman for the Save St Andrew’s Pews group says about 1,000 live in Okeford Fitzpaine and three quarters 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.”

“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?”

In a statement the Bishop of Salisbury, the Right Reverend Nicholas Holtam, said he fully supported the changes to St Andrew’s Church.

“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.”



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