The Telegraph reports…
“When the Spanish Inquisition, as reimagined by Monty Python’s Flying Circus, wanted to torture their victims into confessing to heresy there was only one thing for it: to fetch the comfy chair.
Now the use of comfortable seating has become a test of orthodoxy in real life after an ecclesiastical court banned the use of padded chairs in a church on the grounds that they were verging on the ungodly.
In a formal judgment, the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Coventry, ruled that the use of upholstery in a historic place of worship could be “overly casual” and “incompatible with a house of God”.
Parishioners in the 12th Century Holy Trinity Church in the village of Long Itchington, Warwickshire, applied for a special permission – or faculty – to replace their woodworm-infested Victorian pews in order to open up the building for children’s groups and other uses.
The judge, the Chancellor of the diocese, Stephen Eyre QC, agreed with a plan to replace them with stackable chairs, ruling that the pews were of “little merit” historically.
But he ordered that any replacement must not be upholstered after heritage groups including the Victorian Society and Historic England objected, arguing that the planned cushioned seating was “unworthy” for the historic building.
Leading parishioners in the church had planned to buy a new set of chairs similar to those used in neighbouring parishes and even in Lambeth Palace.
They chose wooden chairs with a burgundy coloured built-in cushion, explaining that it would help make the building “warm and welcoming”.
But after receiving objections, Mr Eyre ruled that wooden seats should be comfortable enough, adding that padding could look “shabby”.
And he claimed that, far from being welcoming to visitors, soft chairs might even put people off.
“I accept that the interior appearance of a church should if at all possible not be off-putting to those new to it,” he said.
“However, it is to be remembered that an overly casual appearance can be incompatible with a house of God and can be as unattractive to newcomers as an appearance of excessive rigour.
“An emphasis on quality and seemliness is not only appropriate in buildings dedicated to the Glory of God but is also part of what attracts those new to the Church.
“When considering comfort I must give considerable weight to the expert advice that properly designed unupholstered chairs can be as comfortable as those which are upholstered.”
But Maureen Mitchell, the church warden, said: “Many of the congregation are elderly and they are entitled to comfort now and again.”
She explained that the church, which does not have a separate hall, is regularly used for community events, fundraising and special informal children’s services all of which require hauling the heavy pews out of the way.
“When you go to the other churches in this area they have all got them … but the Victorian Society have put their oar in and said no,” she said.
“This is going to knock us right back, where at the moment we are a growing church.
“The pews are in a terrible state, they have to be moved which is difficult and they are falling apart.
“We have got two [wooden] chairs in the church at the moment on loan which the congregation are testing to see which they prefer.
“We are getting mixed reviews on both of them, I think they’ve all got their heart set on these padded chairs and now we can’t have them.”
She explained that the two church wardens had been left to manage the complicated application process as the parish currently has no vicar after the previous incumbent retired more than a year ago.
“We have been doing this [process] now for two years, it has been a bit of a nightmare,” she said.
“Apparently they’re not going to allow any church now to have padded seats, at least that’s what they’ve said to us.
“Certainly within the diocese that’s what we have been led to believe – no more padded chairs.”
An official in the diocese said that while there was no blanket ban, the use of upholstered chairs in historic churches would be discouraged.”