Christians have faith in thriving business

PERHAPS the busiest man at the 10th annual National Christian Resources Exhibition this week was Mark Groes. He buys and sells pews. Also fonts, altar screens, pulpits - anything, and business is booming.

Every year, many churches replace fixed pews with movable seating. Others are simply closed. All that furniture has to go somewhere. Mr Groes aims to rescue it from bonfires.

Mr Groes's company, Pew Corner, based in Shere, Surrey, has grown at 40 per cent a year since he founded it five years ago. The 10,000ft of storage space overflows outside. The purchasers, he says, are usually from the leisure industry: wine bars are especially keen on pews.

Everything an adult Christian speaker might need was there at the exhibition at Sandown Park, Esher, in Surrey. There were pulpits, joke books, candles, communion wine, clerical outfitters, even a firm of specialist church-bell restorers.

The only thing missing was the congregations. But the four-day exhibition, which finished yesterday, has steadily grown over the last 10 years. There were more than 10,000 visitors this year, and it is much less narrowly evangelical than it used to be.

The Tablet, the Roman Catholic weekly newspaper, had a stand, as did Forward in Faith, the Anglican organisation for opponents of female priests. But Penfold Press, distributors of Protestant comic strips with titles such as 'Can a Catholic be a Christian' was absent after its presence last year offended many.

Exhibitors who take the word of God seriously had developed a fondness for puns. 'Pew Corner' was more than matched by computer companies' offerings such as the Christian diary software, In His Time, which has a devotional add-on called My Utmost For His Highest. In His Time offers the busy Christian a prayer diary, to keep track of requests and the responses they produce.

Other software included at least five versions of the Bible, programs to keep a congregation well-managed and generous, and Churchyard, a program for organising graveyards.

For Christian children there were computer games, including Jericho: 'You, Joshua, must lead the people into God's land of promise . . . Conquer the Canaanites, Amorites, and Hittites as you collect the silver and gold . . . defeat the enemies of God]'

(Photograph omitted)

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