In other words, operate the church as if it were a mosque. Source: Church can remove pews to attract local Muslims, court rules
A Church of England church has been allowed to remove its pews in order to cater for local Muslims. St Thomas Werneth, in Oldham, near Manchester, has been given permission to remove the pews to allow it to hold more events with the wider community, which is “broadly Muslim”, the Chancellor of the Diocese of Manchester said.
In a ruling made last month, Geoffrey Tattershall QC said that the church would be allowed to remove the seating because the proposals would have “major public benefit outweighing any harm resulting from the loss of the pews”.
The 19th century church is the only one in the parish and is in an area which is 88 per cent non-white British.
“Its continuing presence is important in enabling social cohesion and contact between local Muslims and Christians,” the Chancellor said.
“The purpose of the re-ordering of the Church is to open up the Church for community use, as part of its service and mission to the mainly Muslim community in the parish and to enable the wider community to share its heritage.
“The Church wishes to be a place of welcome, growth and engagement for the local communities.”
The plan was supported by the Venerable Cherry Vann, the Archdeacon of Rochdale, who said there was “significant interfaith work” going on in the area and “a genuine desire among some of the Muslim leaders to build bridges and work in partnership with the Church.”
“Moreover there is clearly some goodwill towards the church in the (at present) largely Muslim community in Werneth and it is important that the church has the flexibility and capacity to exercise a ministry of hospitality to those living in the parish through a variety of community-based activities,” she said.
Local church school St Thomas in Werneth was earlier this year reported to have only Muslim pupils.
The Victorian Society raised concerns about the plans, which it said would be “damaging” to the Grade II listed church.
“Individually the pews are not of major importance as objects in their own right. However, en masse, they make an important contribution to the character of the interior of the church.
“The rhythm of repeating pews, the dark wood and the shape of the aisle drawing the eye to the east is an important element of what makes this a Victorian church interior,” it said.
The plans are part of an extensive refurbishment of the church’s interior, including a new heating system, new flooring, and new disabled access and toilets.
The pews are set to be replaced by 125 stackable chairs as well as 8 new pews “to give a bit of solidity to the arrangements of seating”.
The Chancellor said he had “no hesitation” in ruling that the pews were “not of any significant historic merit, particularly since they were only recently installed in 1970”, and could be removed.