If pulpits could talk
From modern Communion tables to ancient pews, Stephen Tomkins hears the stories told by church furniture
For my art O level, one of the subjects for paintings was simply ‘A church’. I lovingly reproduced my own church in oils. ‘Err, yeah,’ said my art teacher when he saw it. ‘I think they probably expected something more… churchy.’
It was a square, red-brick building with chairs, carpet, a central pulpit, plain cross on the wall, overhead projector screen and a Communion table. That was what my experience of church was all about. Something with pillars, pews and arched windows would have been completely alien to me – though it might have got me more marks for technique. I didn’t want to paint a cathedral because it would not have told my story.
Every church interior tells a story, I suppose – about how people have worshipped there, how the building is used now, the experience of the congregation, the priorities of the church.
Altrincham United Reformed Church is one which has been modernised, being completely refurbished in 2014, and the church thought a lot about how they wanted to use the space and what they wanted it to say. ‘We wanted to reduce the footprint of the building,’ says the Revd Brian Jolly. ‘We had a congregation of between 70 and 120, scattered in pews for 300, with people still sitting at the back. Nothing could be moved; the lighting and heating were poor. We wanted to provide a really up-to-date facility with a lot of flexibility. We thought a lot about the look, which we wanted to be contemporary but retain the integrity and atmosphere of the building, to be modern but remain within the tradition. We told Treske Church Furniture about the kind of thing we wanted and they created a Communion table in the round, with a glass top, incorporating textile art.’ …
This is an extract from the June 2017 edition of Reform