The Reordering of St. Mary's Church
By the late 1980's the interior of the church was in need of a considerable amount of restoration. This gave the opportunity to the congregation to give some serious thought as to how the church could be reordered to provide better for the needs of its thriving congregation. The long cruciform of the building had been designed for worship in feudal times, when an illiterate congregation in the nave observed the service being read or sung in Latin in the superb but distant chancel. This was clearly unsuitable for the late 20th century, when the concern was that the whole congregation should be actively involved in worship. Hitherto, the only alternative had been to lead the service from underneath the crossing. However, this meant that the chancel would not really be used at all and indeed it was very difficult to gain access from the nave to any other part of the building.
The solution was proposed by Thame architects Maguire and Co. Although it was in one sense radical, it involved almost no structural alteration to the existing building, the changes being entirely internal. The church now has a beautiful wooden floor (made from North American ash) with an efficient heating system installed underneath it. This adds great warmth and light, character and flexibility to the building.
A person will now normally enter the church through the chancel door into a welcoming reception area. To the right at the east end of the chancel is a small chapel, which is used for early morning services. If you turn left and proceed under the crossing, those with small children can take them into a crèche in the light and airy south transept. Alternatively, to the left of the crossing, in the north transept, there are now modern toilets and a kitchen, and a beautiful upstairs meeting room used for a children's group in the morning, as well as being available for other groups.
Carrying on straight ahead from the crossing you come into the nave. The very mediocre Victorian pews, have been replaced by comfortable seats, which are now facing west towards the specially designed table underneath the impressive west window at the far end.
The overall effect is a delightful blend of ancient and modern. The late 20th century reordering allows the pure and simple lines of the ancient Norman building to speak for themselves.
More than this, the reordering enables the building to be a vibrant centre of worship and mission. The level wooden floor and the chairs, means there is enormous flexibility for a whole range of services of worship, for concerts, for Christian theatre, for quiet prayer, for workshops and other special events such as Alpha suppers. Thus the building really expresses the life of the Christian community, as well as being a wonderful asset for the wider parish and a witness to the glorious fact that after more than a thousand years, God is alive and well in Cholsey!