We hope you will have all heard by now that the PCC voted by a majority, well over two thirds, to apply to the Diocese for a permanent faculty to remove the pews from St Peter’s Church.
We are now sharing with you the discussion paper from the PCC but have removed the feedback for confidentiality purposes. Also attached is the report from the Architect.
The consultation process we undertook asked parishioners for their views and these were all shared with the PCC, including the questions raised and where possible we have tried to answer as many of these as we could. The questions and considerations on the chairs will form part of the faculty process.
The faculty process has now started and we await formal DAC consent to continue with the faculty. Once we hear back from the DAC, we will update you all on the next steps.
We understand that for some of you this news will be disappointing but it does not change us as a Church or our purpose. Moving forward we want to focus on safely reopening our Churches for collective worship and continue our Mission work supporting both the local community and those most vulnerable here and in other countries.
Churchwardens Paul Fray, Terri Ferro and Rev. Stuart Thomas
Frimley Parish Pew Consultation 2021
A report was sent to the PCC back in January 2021 with a proposal for the removal of pews from St Peter’s Church. As agreed at the meeting a consultation was conducted with parishioners, shared through the PCC members and lead group contacts. This report brings together all the feedback and questions received through the consultation process to enable PCC members to make an informed and considered decision on the removal of the Pews.
The PCC is the only body that can take a vote and make this decision. We’re acting in accordance with the C of E’s synodical process, as we have to legally. All votes for a major decision require a 2/3rd majority of those present. In this instance we’ll be looking for a 2/3rd majority either to replace the pews or to reinstate them. If neither of those are achieved, they remain in the container.
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St Peter’s Frimley is a Grade II listed Georgian church built in 1825. Several improvements were made in 1882, 1884 and 1888 including the removal of the original Georgian pews and replaced with the current pews.
The church was re-reordered in 2011 but due to lack of finances the pews were not considered at this time. However, the Choir stalls were retained and moved to the Upper Gallery for safe keeping.
In July 2020 Frimley Parish PCC discussed the options of reopening St Peter’s Church safely and within the Covid-19 guidance for Worship. As a result, a small sub-committee met to consider a number of proposals including keeping the pews in the church and cordon off the seats and area that could not be used. The committee recommended the temporary removal of pews within the church to support the Social Distancing measures in place. Keeping the pews in the church would have made it difficult to ensure social distancing was adhered to and cleaning schedules fulfilled. This was agreed by the PCC and a temporary faculty was approved by the Archdeacon on 29 July 2020 to remove the pews and place them in a secure storage container.
The pews have now been in storage for 6 months and the temporary faculty is due to end in July and the PCC are being asked to consider the permanent removal of most of the pews in light of the continued pandemic and social distance guidance. There is also the concern of the long-term mental health impacts on people as we come out of the pandemic and how the church can lead and support in the healing process not least by the flexible use of the church which may not have been required before now.
Social Distancing / Safety guidance.
Unfortunately, with the 2nd /3rd wave of the pandemic and continued social distancing rules the use of the pews within St Peter’s church limits the options and numbers that can be in the church safely. Although the positive news of the vaccines gives us hope, strict guidance may be in place for some time.
The condition of the pews has been deteriorating over the years and it was specifically noted when the pews were moved. An Architect’s report on the condition of the pews is here
Mission & Outreach
Longer term, the use of the space in church would be more flexible and support our mission. Prior to COVID-19 the church was being used for ‘Open Church’ offering refreshments, friendship, prayer and companionship to many people within the parish. Once we are allowed to reopen fully this will be a vital activity supported by a flexible space that could offer a safe seating if needed.
The successful & established Youth Café would be able offer wider activities and support for our young people as well as Toddler Fun support for parents and grandparents.
All of these will be particularly important as many people will have been lonely and people’s mental health will have been impacted. The church will play an important part in ‘healing’ and supporting people and having a flexible safe space to do this is critical.
The cost of storage, hiring people to bring the pews back in and repairs and refurbishment is estimated at £2000+. (See architect’s note.) This is if social distancing measures are ended in the next few months.
Cost of news chairs vary but estimates (£75 -£100 +VAT.) Whilst upfront costs would be significant much of this may be paid for by donations and offset from the cost of repairs to the pews.
Vision and Development Plan
Back in 2019 we undertook a consultation with the whole parish on the future development plan. Some of the key themes agreed from this are listed below and the PCC need to consider how would removing or keeping the pews support our Vision.
· Build flexible spaces
· We need to “future proof” our operations, to minimise disruption and ensure that our buildings are in the best possible shape to respond to future events,
· Build toddler fun and youth cafe franchises: - both these areas of work are growing but if the space was flexible, the church would provide the right setting for these groups.
· Maintain elderly event focus (open church)
Reaching out to our local communities
· Broaden music offering (concerts/youth band) – The ability to create a “performance space” will bring the community into the church.
We received around 30 responses to the consultation. The feedback falls in to four categories, those in favour, those who like the pews but fully support the removal of pews to enable the church to offer more to the local community; those who understand the need to remove the pews but would prefer them to stay and those who are vehemently against. I have grouped the middle two categories together as they offer similar views.
A number of questions were raised in the feedback and they are included with a response where we can answer but if not are for your consideration.
The feedback received can be found below.
The responses in favour of the removal of the pews were overall incredibly positive. Many responses were shared verbally. The theme across them was the benefit of moving the church forward for future generations, noting the original reordering greatly enhanced it but kept its true character and it was always the intention to develop this further, without compromising anything. Making the church a more welcoming place for the local community, supporting the church’s mission and outreach whilst still holding onto our traditional worship.
One quote received verbally from a member of the congregation was ‘there is no time for theological traditions when the community will need healing.’
Contextual feedback received was that prior to the pandemic the church was used twice a week for Worship services that accounted for approx. 7hrs a week: 5 hrs on a Sunday and 2hrs on a Wednesday. The rest of the time the Church is used occasionally for Outreach and Mission and Private prayer, but mostly it is not used at all. Chairs would offer more flexibility at these times. Most of those who expressed favour also offered to sponsor chairs and to date over 30 chairs have been pledged.
Middle / either
The responses that fell in this category appreciated the traditional pews in church and their value and historic character. Whilst they would be sad to see them go, they were supportive of the idea of chairs. It was recognised that churches were used for different purposes in previous generations and for the church to progress and move forward to meet the needs of future generations and the local community changes were required. A specific comment was ‘they would rather see the church being used as a church than as a supermarket or bar that other churches have been turned into.’ The main questions asked were around the costs of chairs and moving chairs around.
The responses within this group were very focused on the historical and traditional aspect of the pews. Responses were detailed and the arguments were based around the Church being Victorian and it would ruin and disfigure the interior, people would not be able to worship effectively nor share their ‘most heartfelt feelings with God’ that was good enough for previous generations. Pews were meant to be uncomfortable to enable people to stay alert to God’s word. Chairs would be hazardous, there would be nowhere to put bags, coats and books. The halls should be used for other activities and not the church.
Many questions were asked and we have tried to respond to these below.
Was a Faculty obtained and has the diocese agreed to the storage of the pews in a container?
A temporary faculty was sought from the Archdeacon and approved for 1 year. The faculty stated that the pews would be stored in a storage container. The Archdeacon & Bishop Andrew and Bishop Jo have all seen the container and the church without the pews at the Ordination service. No concerns were raised.
Why can’t the Halls be used for activities and mission and Outreach?
Due to the pandemic the Halls have had to be closed. As result this has impacted greatly on the church finances. Once we are fully able to open the church the income from hall hirers will be critical to support the Parish and enable us to continue with our mission and Outreach. Therefore, any Mission or outreach activities would be best placed in the church. Many of our hirers are looking to come back and prior to the pandemic we were near to capacity.
What activities are anticipated that will require flexible seating arrangements?
We know there is demand for a large flexible space within the community. We have already been approached by Surrey Heath to be used for a Youth Hub – part of the DWP Plan for Jobs. The Youth hub will offer (by appointment) support to young people on Universal Credit in help finding work, mentoring, careers advice, coaching and job interviews. Local employers will work with the local authority and DWP. They prefer the space and serenity of the church to offer this service. Restarting Youth Café and Open Church’ offering refreshments, friendship, prayer and companionship to many people within the parish. As it becomes known in the community that space is available, we anticipate increased interest, evidenced from Farnborough 6th Form College requesting use of the space pre -Christmas
Who would move the chairs?
As well as lots of younger volunteers we also have other people we can call upon to help move the chairs. Any organisations that use the church would be expected to put it back exactly as found.
Why can’t St Francis be used for Youth Café?
St Francis has been used for Youth Café however like St Peter’s hall is it hired out. Many of the children who attend are local to St Peter’s.
Why weren’t the pews stored in the Hall?
Some pews were stored in the hall where we had space however the halls were still open and being hired out to regular users and it was not safe.
The chairs will cost too much how can we afford it?
The cost per chair is approx. £75 -£100 dependent on style, shelf/box for books/ kneeler etc. This is a lot of money and a significant amount to spend in the current climate. However, offset the cost of storage and repair of the pews with over 30 pledges to buy a chair already received this would reduce any costs significantly.
We require a professional report on the condition of the pews.
A report from the architect is here.
Can we keep some pews at the side and in the gallery?
Yes, there would be no intention the to remove the gallery pews. These are in reasonable condition as they are not used as often. Pews could remain at the side of the church replacing the benches that are too high for most people to sit on.
The design of chairs is very important, and they must be able to be stacked and lightweight to move. There would be less seating.
This would be factored in if the decision is made to have chairs. This would include additional chairs that are easily stacked and able to be put out if required for larger services. On average, prior to the pandemic, 100 people attended regular services.
Could we put pews on wheels so they could be moved?
This is worth looking into and a good suggestion and something to consider. However, being able to move a pew is helpful but the length of the pews still restrict how much movement could be made and where they can be moved to. The condition and weight of the pews may also limit if casters can be attached.