Vicar's 'happy-clappy' scheme is unseated

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The Independent Online

A row has broken out over plans by a charismatic rector to remove pews from his medieval church.

The Rev Martin Down wants to remove 16 carved oak pews from the 14th- century St Nicholas' Church to allow space for worshippers to dance and express themselves during "happy clappy" services. But the proposal to replace all the south aisle pews with modern chairs has upset many villagers in Ashill, near Watton, Norfolk.

Traditional Church of England supporters have complained that removing them would spoil the character of the church. Several have already stopped attending services, because they do not like the colourful approach, which attracts many people from outside the village.

Squadron Leader Ian Forsyth called for the pews to stay, in an open letter he delivered to all 600 homes in the village. His letter claimed the loss of the "beautifully" carved pews from one aisle would leave the church unbalanced.

The row is the latest example of the differences between church traditionalists and the growing number of charismatic worshippers, who claim they get messages from God during services.

Mr Down, 55, who is supported by his church council, has argued that the pews were only installed in 1860 and are not an original feature of the church.

But Ashill parish councillors have also objected and are calling for the pews to be kept as "part of the church fabric". They have also demanded that if the pews are taken out, they should be kept safe so they can be put back if necessary.

The parish council chairman Richard Leighton, 49, said: "The church used to be very traditional - but over the last two or three years, these charismatic services have taken over. It is very alien if you are not used to it."