Church goers fear a project to redevelop the ancient All Saints building will ‘rip its heart out’.
The Lindfield church has acknowledged the changes will not please everyone, but say it will make the building more accessible for the growing congregation.
One church goer said: “There are plans to remove pews, tear out the pulpit and desecrate the choir stalls, the idea is to fill the place of worship with comfy chairs so that it can become multi-purpose, with conferences, meetings.”
The building is being refurbished by developers Aspire.
“They want to tamper with the Kempe screen, a work by Charles Eamer Kempe, one of the country’s most famous stained-glass artists,” they said.
The church goer added the changes would ‘rip the heart out’ of the church and make it look like a coffee shop.
A spokesman for All Saints said the plans are ‘exciting’.
“Our church building is very ancient and beautiful, but we want to make some well thought-out improvements which will make it even more accessible to our community,” the spokesman said.
The church held three public meetings about the changes to consider the community’s views.
It has recently opened a building to community events including Lindfield Arts Festival, Tiger Arts concerts and recitals.
Aspire describe their plans for the church: “For good or ill, we have inherited an ancient building which is expensive to maintain and repair. If we are to be good stewards of God’s resources, we need to care for it responsibly and look after it to the best of our ability.”
Cannon James Clarke, vicar of Lindfield, said: What we are trying to do through our ASPIRE project is simply to make our beautiful and ancient building adaptable for coming generations of worshippers and more accessible for the community we serve.
“The church interior has, of course, evolved considerably over the centuries in order to adapt to changing circumstances.
“For instance, originally there would have been no pews or indeed any kind of seating at all.
“We have been conscious all along of the need to adapt whilst preserving the essential character and history of All Saints. We want to honour the past, but build for the future. Traditional elements which we have inherited from past generations (like the Kempe screen) will be preserved but placed in a new setting (as they have been once before). In our research we were inspired by a number of Sussex churches which have already gone down this route and have very successfully brought together the ancient and contemporary. We hope our project will achieve the same purpose.”