Steyning Methodist Church:

The pews have finally had their day!

We find more and more that we are limited in our worship by the layout of the pews, and we have taken the reluctant decision to replace them with chairs. Reluctant only because this will inevitably change the 'feel' of the building, but we are looking forward to sitting comfortably during sermons. The change will also enable us to hold some services in the round, or allow us to arrange a single central aisle - a long-standing complaint about our Church for weddings.

Removing the pews from the Church
The raised sections of floor Work started on 5 February 2001. The first step was to strip out the pews, which were sold as a job lot to a commercial buyer, apart from two which were bought individually by members of the congregation. This revealed the raised floor sections each side of the two aisles, which we have decided to reduce to the same level as the aisles in order to provide a safe surface for chairs.The area behind the communion rail will remain raised, and the pulpit will stay in the same position. Everything else is coming up.
With the first of the floorboards up and the raised joists removed, you can see the five longitudinal brick piers which support the floor. These seem to be in good enough condition to leave untouched, but new joists will need to be inserted to span the gaps. All the raised sections of floor removed

The pulpit hanging over the void belowThe area under the pulpit has needed special attention, because the joists supporting the raised floor also support the pulpit. Once the floor was lifted it became apparent that these joists had to be replaced as well, so the pulpit was moved out of the way.

The pulpit joists being replaced

The large void area under the floor gives us plenty of scope for laying new mains wiring in, and for tidying up the PA/loop aerial system wiring, but we also intend to add new large skirting board sections around the walls containing hidden trunking. This should enable us to extend the electrical system in future, but we still need to plan that area carefully before the new floor goes down. After all, once it is down we want it to stay there for another 125 years!

The floor joists are almost completeThe new floor joists were in position and levelled by 15 February. The new floorboards can be seen in the pile in the centre of the Church, with the pulpit moved to one side on what remains of the old floor.
"The Mole" laying out wiring Most of the electrical cabling had already been laid in position by this stage, but there were still a few loose ends which had to be sorted out while the floor was being laid, which needed someone small to reach the more inaccessible spots. This was a job for young Stuart, who leapt at the chance, and can be seen at left laying out the cables in the corner under the organ. He earned the nickname of "The Mole" while he was doing it.
Sanding the old floor surface offBy 5th March the floor was complete and ready for varnishing. First we had to sand the old surface off the parts of the original floor in order to match the colour of the new. We hired an industrial sander to do this and expected to be able to complete it within a day, but one section of carpet had been glued to the floor, and the sander couldn't cope with this - it simply melted the glue and moved it around! The only way to remove it was to dissolve it with white spirit and scrape it off. Once this was done, and the surface removed, the whole floor was given one final sanding along the grain to remove the scuff marks and to prepare it for staining.
Staining the floorWe opted to stain the floor with wood dye first rather than use the more modern woodstain. The drawback was having to apply it by rubbing it in with a rag rather than painting it on, which took three people most of the day. We worked in parallel from the back wall forwards, and it was a great relief when we finally reached the pulpit and the end was in sight. The advantage was that we could leave it to dry and still go back to correct any patches where the stain was uneven. This proved to be necessary the following day, as some areas were more heavily stained than others, and the boundaries between some areas were noticeable. After a touch-up with diluted dye we were ready to varnish.
The Minister checking out the WorkersBy 9th March the varnishing was about half-way complete, with the second coat going on under the watchful eye of our Minister, Rev. Pat Hunter. With at least one day needed to dry between coats, we laid the final coat on 12th March, ready for the new chairs to be delivered on 15th. As it happened, the floor had extra time to harden as the chairs were delayed, so we had one service on all the old chairs we could gather up, and then on Monday 19th....

... they arrived! The volunteers turned out to carry them up the path from the delivery van, and to arrange them in the Church. This took longer than we had thought, because we had many more options, and tried out lines, arches, and even considered how to arrange them for a service in 'the round'. We also tried to allow room for a bridal procession, and tried to pre-empt any 'access' requirements to allow for emergency evacuation. Our estimates were not far off, but we probably have a few more chairs than we can comfortably fit in at one go. This is the right side to be, though, to allow for those days when we have a full Church. (Yes, they do happen!)

The final milestone was a special service of re-dedication on Sunday 15th April, at which we hid a 'time capsule' under the floor. We hope it will be discovered by a whole new generation of Steyning Methodists many years in the future.