WORSHIPPERS have clashed after a church's 'tragic' decision to rip out its pews and replace them with new chairs.

St Edburg’s Church on Old Place Yard in Bicester is removing the historic furniture so that it can be more flexible in both its religious and social role in the town.

It says that, by having chairs that are not fixed to the ground, it will allow the church’s space to be used for community events.

But people are in disagreement about whether it is an appropriate thing to do with some saying the Victorian pews are a ‘traditional element’ of the Grade I Listed building that should be kept, and others saying it is time for them to go.

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Karen Jones, 52, from Bicester, who was a pupil at St Edburg’s School and attended the church, says the removal is a sacred violation.

She said: “I think it's disgraceful. I have seen friends and family christened, married and buried there. It's a place of worship and not a church hall.

"The pew is a place of reflection and where we consider those who have sat there before us and the joy, sadness and celebration is almost tangible.

“The scraping of chairs is not conducive to this process and does not reflect the true nature of a place of worship. If a church hall is needed then I am sure that would get support, but this act is sacrilege of the highest order.”

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Kathy Moss said on the St Edburg’s Church Facebook page: “A church should have pews. The character completely changes when they are removed and replaced with chairs.”

Margaret Lovell commented: "Such a shame to hear that the pews will be replaced by chairs and thus take away one of the traditional elements from such a lovely church."

Other churchgoers, however, agree that the church needs to keep up to date with its role in the community.

David Lambourne commented: “The church, as with everything else, has to move with the times.

"Tradition is not the reason people attend church. By moving on it enables the church to not just survive but flourish as a community building as well as a venue for worship.

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“Very few fixtures and fittings make a jot of difference to the ambiance of a church - it's the people therein who bring it alive.”

Helena Gleeson said: “While I love pews and the look (and warmth of the wood) that they bring, it is a fact that the church needs to be adaptable to allow the current and future generations' Christians and non-Christians access to it. It is still a lovely Church.”

Once the pews are removed, a few will be kept by the church to honour its heritage and the rest will go to people who would like to have one - for a donation.

The new modern furniture will consist of 268 wooden chairs, 248 of which will be without arms and 20 will be with arms costing a total of £58,728 which resident Reg Paul Connor described on Facebook as ‘ludicrous’.

St Edburg's is also purchasing 20 new book holders, six tables and stacking trolleys.

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The chairs will allow seating at smaller services to be more informal and at larger services the congregation can sit in rows.

There have been changes to the interior of the building in the past such as box pews introduced and removed as well as benches.

Revd Canon Verena Breed, Team Rector and Vicar of St Edburg's Church, said: “We have a great love for our Grade I Listed building which has a rich history reaching back more than 900 years.

"Like all churches, the building has been adapted many times over the centuries and the work we’re embarking on means that people with wheelchairs, walkers and pushchairs will, for the first time since the pews were put in, be able to sit together with their family and friends at baptisms, weddings and funerals.

ALSO READ: Church's pew removal 'harmed its historical significance'

“The changes to St Edburg’s follow due legal process and input from the Victorian Society and Diocesan Advisory Committee.

"We’re really excited about how our church is growing and changing to meet the needs of our community. These are improvements that will also increase flexibility to support community events such as the Christmas Tree Festival, concerts, coffee mornings, and exhibitions.”

Over three quarters of the pews have been removed already and now the remainder in the naval will be replaced.

The church closed last night and the removal will now commence with the church re-opening in time for Palm Sunday on April 5.