The Palmer, Alcock, Sharp & Tindall Trust (P.A.S.T.) 2012
Late 'The Traditional Church of England in Ashford' (Founded 2003)
“That even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away; to cleave to those which shall abide”
COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS etc.
Isn't it the case that, in Mediaeval times - in fact often until the Victorian era - the Nave of a church was used for Parish Activities, markets etc? So what's the problem?Indeed, churches were often used in such a way. A rood screen or altar rail was there in some cases to keep animals away from the altar if a cattle market were held in the church! Those primitive mediaeval folk thought that all this was perfectly acceptable so long as the screen or rail kept the Sanctuary from profanement. I hope we have come a long way since those days! The above question has no substance, and is a favourite ploy amongst some members of the Church of England to justify tearing out pews - it suits their agenda when they have given up on the use of a church as a church! This pew removal was done at Ivychurch, to name just one church of many, and Barn Dances have been held in the Church since. Yes, in the Church - I ask you?! Such dancing might well have been held as fine to be held in a church by mediaeval persons, but do we really think that is acceptable in the 21st Century when there is so much debauchery in the world? Let's keep God's houses of prayer as the special sanctuaries of peace which we need in this mad world today.
Basically, there is no substance in the assertion that it is acceptable to use any part of a church building (obviously this excludes the belfry, vestry or kitchen facilities!) for anything other than either worship or activities which are within the Canon Law of the Church of England - held to be those things which do not profane the sacred building. But Canon Law (this is what church law is known as) is only as good as those upholding it, so it is the responsibility of diligent people of the Parish to report activities which do profane the building to their Diocesan Bishop and then to keep on pressing the matter with said Bishop! Bishops would often rather turn a blind eye and let these things happen because they know that the Church of England (through its own fault, we would add) is short of money, and every parish or benefice of the Church of England has to pay a huge amount (called a quota) each year to the central Church of England fund - the amount runs into many tens of thousands of pounds for a church such as Ashford - so if an activity is a way of making money they will often let it happen if no-one objects. But we should be above such monetary considerations: first and foremost we are Christian Church and should be setting an example to the secular world - shifting about allowing wrongful activities in church to raise some cash is disgraceful. Let us remember what Jesus himself said "My Father said 'My House shall be a house of prayer' but ye have made it a den of thieves". Now, we're not saying that those who attend such events are thieves (!), but Scripture is not always to be taken in an absolutely literal sense. What Jesus was saying is that his Father's (i.e. God's) House should not be used for trivial and secular activities which profane it (i.e. cheapen the place which is God's House through the questionable nature of activities) but that it should be a house of Prayer - ie somewhere that anyparishioner can visit, especially in time of need, either for private prayer or for public prayer (i.e. services; worship). That is what all the building is meant for, and it has, through all time, been equipped as a church. We actually have no firm record that markets or the like were ever held in Ashford church, and it has been pewed since 1745. A final word on the original question; as I say, one along with many others used to justify doing something (also such as shaking hands and saying 'peace' to each other halfway through a service;) because it is a 'return to the early church'. Well, we used to go bear-baiting in mediaeval times: I wonder if you suggested that we should return to that practice - perhaps even hold a session in church! - what all these people who want to return our churches to being used for similarly unseemly practices of screaming, dancing and jumping about (but somehow acceptable to the current aelite ruling classes at their own whim which they don't think they need to justify) would think of that? When you think about what these people have to say for themselves, it's not hard to shoot their argument down!
Why shouldn't the church be altered then? After all, has it not been altered over the centuries to cater for the needs of the people of Ashford?
This is of course quite true, the church has undergone many alterations during its history, but we need to look at why alterations took place and whether the reasons for them were sound. The church was first pewed in 1745. The galleries which we now must keep (because they are something of a rarity) were a necessity in early days because the church had to accommodate so many people!
Pews in the South Gallery - English Heritage have demanded these be retained, though the ones in the Nave which they seem happy to let be disposed of are of much better quality.
A hundred years ago the people of Ashford would have dearly liked to be rid of the galleries, but they had to stay because there was a need for all the seating! Now we have been ordered to keep the galleries and all the pews therein by organisations such as English Heritage because those pews date back to the 18th Century and it is also supposed that some of them may once have been the pews from the Nave. No matter that the current pews in the Nave are of much better quality, being as they are of oak, the heritage organisations rank the plain pine pews as more worthy! But why did alterations take place to this church over the centuries, and were they all for the good? Well, the Nave was extended to the West by one bay in 1861 to accommodate the growing number of townspeople. The numbers of townspeople were of course increasing not least because of the coming of the railway. Earlier still, the North & South walls of the Nave had had to be taken down and rebuilt to extend the width of the building again in an attempt to improve seating capacity. In those days the pews were mostly rented by families and histories of the church tell us that the pews were not of a good sort and cluttered the building very badly. None of these foregoing alterations however, were done as a gimmick or an experiment on a whim, but because the prevailing conditions at the time necessitated increasing the space - and that was a fact. The plans we are presented with now are based only on what might happen. There are no certainties that the propsed alterations would bring any real benefit to most of the Community. All that the current plans prove to anybody is that some of the people at Ashford Parish Church have given up on trying to make this church viable as a church with a large and happy congregation and instead want to turn it over to secular uses, some of the congregation having in fact by their past actions been responsible for causing schism within the congregation; they now expect to be rewarded with a scheme that completes what they perceive as utopia (some of which will be inappropriate in God's House). We might also ask why the pulpit, lectern and altar reredos are Victorian? Well, the Victorians, fallible though they were in many ways believed that an important ex-Collegiate church such as Ashford should be equipped with the most lavish and beautiful items, and wealthy townspeople, following the Commandments of God as they did "If ye have much, ye are to give much" did indeed do that. The layout of the church as it stands makes it very clear that the lay-people (parishioners) are to sit in the Nave and the Ministers & Choir (the Choir are a representation of what began as "Vicars Choral") are to occupy the choir stalls in the Chancel. In recent years there has been a backlash against this - it smacks of 'class' you see, and there is a certain type of person today simply obsessed with old-fashioned class-war. Do not doubt that the recent ideas which have unfortunately reared their very ugly heads in many lovely old churches: with choir, clergy and congregation all being squashed together in one indistinct lump are a misguided attempt at symbolising equality. The rather ironic thing is that an awful lot of Church officials today are far more domineering than previous generations ever were, but as with so much of the world today, it is all about what it LOOKS like - all spin and no substance.
I will touch finally in this section however on a most unseemly time for our dear Parish Church, and there are certainly a few similarities which can be drawn between that time and the plans we are now faced with. As many will know, the 17th century was a very unsettled time in Church & State, and at Ashford, the primitive Non-conformists intruded into the church under their Pastor, Joseph Boden in 1643, ejecting the rightful Vicar, John Maccuby. Boden and his people caused much damage to the Church and College with their vile puritanical nonsense, removing or altering many items which had been part of the inherited property and faith of the Church for hundreds of years. Their greatest act of vandalism and heresy occurred in 1644 during the Civil War. I shall here quote from the preamble to the list of subscribers who paid for a new and decent altar piece to be set up; Boden's lackeys having hacked the old one down: "Whereas the ancient Altar and Altar-piece of the Parish Church of Ashford, having been both decent & ornamental, rising with a fine ascent and the same railed in after a decent manner, were in the time of rebellion, in the reign of our truly pious and martyred sovereign, King Charles the First, of blessed memory, in the year of our Lord 1644 sacrilegiously defaced and removed, the Altar razed even unto the ground and some of the materials converted to their own private uses by men as well of factious and rebellious principles and practices as sacrilegious; and to perpetuate this their infamous act and sacrilegious depredations, the then Churchwardens, Joy Starr and William Worsley two of the actors in so great and villainous a profanation and profuse wasters of the church's treasure, had their names cut in stone which they placed in the wall where the ancient Altar-piece stood, as a monument thereof, but is now taken out and broken to pieces, it being a shame to our church that the names of such men should remain there, already too long, who under the hypocritical mask and disguise of abhorring idolatry, dared to be guilt of so bold a sacrilege as to violate God's altar." Right, well now, in 2009 we are not talking about the destruction of the High Altar, but the removal of a very fine set of pews which generations have sat in and faithfully worshipped the good God as well as other alterations which rather than adding to the building as has usually been in the past constitute major alterations of a kind that would render the church a very different place than it is today. If the pews were to be removed it is entirely probable that profane practices would be allowed to take place in the building, and surely a few generations hence an altogether more righteous and sober generation would lament the damage and loss of heritage in similar terms as those used by the writer of the above preamble, round condemning Starr & Worsley in the strongest possible terms. Not satsified with the wrecking of the Ancient Altar, on Christmas Day 1644 Boden went on to have the Fogge Coats of Arms taken down out of the College windows and disposed of - these were in stained glass. It should be remembered here that it was Fogge who had the church rebuilt and endowed in the mid 15th century: what sheer folly of arrogance to take down the Arms of the man who wrought such noble work? And why, today should we dispose of pews purchased in the time of Canon Alcock, who brought Ashford Church from a state of virtual disuse when he began his Ministry in 1847 to the great success it was by the time of his retirement in 1887. Returning to the 18th Century, Maccuby's sucessor Nicholas Prigg who took the Pastorship (if one might call it that - vertainly these two villains were not Vicars!) of the Church on in 1647 was no doubt of the same stamp as his predecessor, but happily was ejected in the year 1662, in which year the Book of Common Prayer as revised in that year was brought into use in all churches across the land and continued in virtually all Church of England churches as the one and only true recognised formulary and service book until the 1960's when trendy ideas began to catch hold. Happily most of these ideas are finally losing favour as they have failed to increase congregation numbers and in fact have usually had the opposite effect - driving faithful people away from their Parish Churches. This is why there are so many people who consider themselves to be Christian but do not think it is worth going to church - and sadly they are right! It is this background that we have to work against and show people that the church will give them a spiritual dimension in their lives which they otherwise would not have.
Hey! Where did that Lectern go after all these years?
The Lectern (funded by public subscription in 1880) and steps (the gift of Mrs Alcock, Vicar's wife in 1882) in their current position - obscured to the South side of the South West tower pillar as though objects of shame and reproach
The brass eagle lectern and its magnificent steps (the steps were given by Mrs Alcock, wife of the Vicar at the time) which were installed respectively in 1880 & 1882 and placed on the North side of the South-West tower pillar had spent their whole life in use in that prominent position (every postcard of the church interior since the 1880’s shows the Lectern in the prominent position – and the nave, beautiful and uncluttered, allowing proper focus on the High Altar). Then, in about 2004 with complete disregard for their time-hallowed position these beautiful objects were moved to the South side of that pillar, where they are now very much obscured and seldom used, if at all, and a cheap modern reading desk takes their place and is used at the main Communion Service on the horrible dais which has been laid for the makeshift altar and chairs on which the choir sit (both of these changes are also very much ‘bones of contention’). There are also tacky banners hanging from the Nave pillars as shown here, which make the place look cheap and cluttered and a gantry propped between the galleries in the nave for lighting
This picture clearly shows the lighting gantry
which seems to have become a permanent feature over the past few months, and it looks horrible, only adding to the cluttered appearance, so at the moment the church interior doesn't look as it should.
How the church interior should look - neat and ordered.
With this kind of mentality, it's no wonder that some people involved with the church think that the crazy proposals they are now bringing forward are good ones and that they are somehow ‘in sympathy’ with the building, which they clearly are not! As one of the proposals is to move the pulpit to where the Lectern currently is, where will the Lectern be put then? It isn't featured or mentioned in any of the future plans that I have seen. It will be retained of course, only because it will have to be, but it belongs where it was until 2004 and seeing this replaced is yet another facet of our campaign.
To have the Nave Altar and chairs cleared away
Following replacement of the front pews and carved front rails in their rightful place at the head of the Nave whence they were removed in 1999, we would then wish for the Nave Altar (which is actually a credence table) and the chairs to be returned to the St Francis Transept whence they came so that Transept would once again be as laid out in 1969; daily small services of Matins & Evensong could then be held in that Transept, which contains some fine tombs of the Smythe family. Seeing to it that those tombs are properly cleaned and restored is yet another project which requires funding and which we wish to see completed.
Here can be seen the makeshift dais. The central panel needs to be discarded, the carpet taken up on both sides, the pews which are missing from the front on either side, replaced, and the Lectern which can just be seen at the right hand side, replaced in its historical position.
Her Majesty the Queen & the Jubilation year 1970
One of the front pews which we want to see put back was occupied by our Queen at the 1970 jubilation service to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the church, and a brass plaque was made recording that Her Majesty occupied the pew, and fixed thereto. The plaque has currently been moved to a different pew and this is misleading our church visitors.
New Heating plan
There is nothing at once particularly objectionable in proposals for the new ground-source heating plans as long as it will not result in any irreparable damage to the pew platforms, floor or any other furnishings, or require very much intrusive boring in the churchyard (which after all is still a sacred burial ground, even if closed), but the old pipes and, indeed, heating system should be retained even if a newer system is installed. These massive old pipes really add to the character of the church, running round the pew platforms as they do, and are just as worthy of preservation as any other part of the fabric of the building. The boiler which runs this system is obviously very old – I don’t know the exact age but would guess Victorian - the pipes which run all around the pew platforms certainly are and we want all these pipes preserved in their current position. Today, people pay a fortune for these old systems, with pipes and all, and I cannot think of another church which ever had a system quite like the Ashford one; and certainly none which has been retained as with ours; this must make it a rarity and thus worthy of preservation - in the same vein as preserving the galleries on grounds of rarity. Painting the set of pipes at the rear of the church with white paint (on the west wall) was a mistake; these should be stripped of the paint and then repainted in black; or in fact all the pipes could be stripped down and polished up with black grate polish if that was how they originally were.
The North Transept until 1927 was used as the Vicar’s vestry, with the choir robing in the current downstairs vestry. Then in 1927, an upper floor was added to the choir vestry and this now forms the Clergy vestry. I have not yet been made aware of the exact plans for what they call ‘renovation’ of the Vestry, but one can bet that it would be just about as unsympathetic as the rest of the plans for the church. If this is the case, any plans for reordering of the Vestry will also be opposed. Removing the cupboards and cassock hanging spaces in the Lower Vestry would be acceptable as they are of no great age and fairly poor quality, but having done that, replacement with cupboards and hanging areas in high quality timber (preferably dark oak) of grand Victorian period design to complement the rest of the lower Vestry would be most appropriate. The wall clock in the Vestry should be serviced by a competent horologist and the beautiful framed testimony given to Dr Wilkes, first Choirmaster & Precentor and which hangs high on the Vestry wall very much out of sight should be taken down and cleaned before being placed on the Vestry wall in a much more prominent position, preferably along with a picture of Dr Wilks. There is some clutter in the North East corner of the Vestry which should be searched through and anything of possible interest retained as also with the drawers of the central vestry table. It is important to note that in all probability there are small fragments of wood which have at one time or another been broken off items such as the fine carved rood screen… these should be retained and refixed by a competent workman. A plan by our former Vicar, Canon Everett was to hang a number of large pictures which are currently in the Warden’s Vestry - and are old paintings and drawings of the church – from the wall of the Lower Vestry as it ascends the flight of stairs, and it would be most pleasing finally to bring this plan to fruition. The pictures were cleaned and restored by the late Mr Tom Hall a few years ago. The Upper Vestry, notwithstanding its comparatively recent age is a most quaint and interesting room. Clearly, especially at the upper level the window from the church into the Vestry spaces is filthy and needs thoroughly cleaning and possibly repairing, which might require removal. As for the remainder of the upper vestry space it seems quite adequate for a staff of one Vicar and several curates, and with the College (Vicarage) being so close to the church, it can hardly be thought that any further facilities in this Upper Vestry would be required other than what is already there. Again, in both cases of Upper & Lower Vestries, we would be suspicious that the whole practice would be of change for the sake of it. The choir and clergy are left wanting for nothing of any reasonable nature as the Vestries currently stand. We are open to useful new and good ideas, but cannot think of any at present, so would recommend simply a good restoration of that currently existing, and a tidying of the space behind the organ pipes. It would be worth investigating the possibility of using that space (and if possible space under the organ pipes if there is any) for the storage of folding staging of the type which is used in Hythe Parish Church for concert staging.
Stage for appropriate concerts (such as piano recital, organ recital, choral concerts and school nativity plays)
aforementioned staging can then be wheeled very simply from the short
distance comprising the area behind the organ pipes in the North
Transept into place under the tower for any seemly concerts which
might be scheduled to take place, with the stage being built and removed
the night’ under the tower space; any lighting required could
be rigged up under the tower space quite easily, (the proposed design
for the gantry which they wish to permanently install from the nave
ceiling looks as though it could instead be fitted and then removed
‘on the night’ just below the ceiling of the tower space as
access can be easily had from the ringing room - the room from which
the church bells are rung). It would be perfectly simple to set a
gantry as required on the floor under the tower and then someone
could draw the gantry up using appropriate equipment to the required
level when setting up for the concert, afterward lowering it in the same
manner. Pictures exist from the 1950's of perfectly
acceptable staging arrangements for nativity plays held under the tower space, and
the effect was very acceptable, so it has already been tried and works
The West-end of the church
Plans here are less controversial purely because this area was re-ordered in about 1985. However, one needs to ask whether the works now proposed are really that necessary. Hard by the church, at the East End we have a perfectly good church hall, often underused, with perfectly useful toilet facilities. Why would we duplicate this at the back of the church by installing lots of toilets? One improved toilet, updated, is understandable, but more than that? Unless of course the plan is to sell off the church hall, which wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility! Such a plan if there were one should be roundly condemned and is merely a symptom of the way in which the Church of England central body will grab any money it can from parishes to try and prop up its flagging finances, a situation quite of its own making having invested badly on stocks and shares, and having flooded our Parish churches with ridiculous innovations which have made congregation members vote with their feet and stop attending church. With regard to the Crothall Room, where coffee is taken on many a Saturday morning amongst its other uses: again, improvements of one or another nature could be acceptable, but the serving hatch idea (to serve drinks to people from the room directly into the church) is to be deprecated in the strongest possible terms. Whilst a few souls may, on a Saturday or Sunday, take their tea or coffee in church, the idea of serving it from the Crothall Room into the church sends out entirely the wrong message. It could well lead to people having drinks during services rather than just after and we need to make very clear dividing lines between what is the small ‘social’ area at the rear of the church and the main body of the church which is God’s house and not a free-for-all. Any idea to serve copious amounts of alcohol at concerts will not only fly in the face of Christian teaching on the subject of drunken-ness, but would only serve to increase the rowdy and drunken behaviour which Church Yard residents currently have to endure and which a few members of the council have gone to great lengths to try and curb.
A West-End Porch