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Opening up St Thomas's for wider use

posted 18 Jun 2013, 15:16 by St. Thomas' Church Aboyne   [ updated 18 Jun 2013, 15:18 ]

The question 'How do we make more use of St. Thomas's Church?' has been on the minds of St. Thomas's Community Advisory Group for many months now. First there is the question 'Why do we need to do this?', to which there is a wide range of answers:-

  • From our perspective as a Christian organisation, our church building and grounds offer a huge opportunity for outreach to the local Community and wider afield, by opening our doors and sharing our unique facilities. I recall the time that Peter Brunt welcomed an inquisitive young group of boys into St Thomas's after a Holy Week service, and one responded with the comment 'I've never been inside a church before.'!!
  • As a grade A Listed Building, Historic Scotland and the Scottish Churches Architectural Heritage Trust, who both gave us grants for our refurbishment project 8 years ago, expect us to open our doors to the public.
  • From our own financial standpoint, we are currently running a large building for just one regular weekly service, plus occasional extra services, totalling about 65 services per annum. With our insurance and heating costs running at £4800 p.a., this works out at a rate of about £75 per service. We could reduce this cost per church opening by increasing the usage and charging for it.
So, what do we need to do to make St Thomas’s ‘a Place to go to’?

I quote Bishop Bob from his article in Northern Lights, April 2013:

“ And then there’s COMFORT. Hard wooden pews (or chairs) in normally not-too- warm churches aren’t the most friendly or welcoming things to sit on. You wouldn’t go to the theatre to sit on something like this except for something very different such as the Globe Theatre in London. Normally people expect a level of comfort when they go places these days - comfort isn’t something in which our churches excel.”

So we don’t just have support from +Bob for this – he is actively encouraging all congregations in the Diocese to become more welcoming and actively invite others to our churches.

What we have already done – Seating and License

We have already made a start with using ‘our church space’ in different arrangements:

  • STomp – single chairs in an oval shape around central aisle – up to 15 people. Sometimes around tables for activity.
  • Thinking Day event – over 50 participants – chairs in square shapes with a central area in each for a table for all the different activities.
  • Agape Harvest service - rectangular arrangement of chairs at back of church around a table.
  • Good Friday – put 3 lines of chairs across the central aisle.
These have been given very positive feedback – and suggestions to do more.

We have also applied for, and received, a Public Entertainments License – which allows us to hold public events and charge for them.

The Group has made a proposal at the last Vestry meeting to run some trials with different seating arrangements for a range of events over the summer months.

Next steps

  • Remove chairs from the rear of the church to allow space for socialising at the back, around the statue.
  • At the concert on Sunday 26th May, the chairs will be arranged across the aisle and the access up and down the church will be via the sides.
  • Assess removal of about half of our chairs, and how to manage temporary seating for the occasional large attendance event.
  • Run further trials with different seating arrangements and assess these arrangements.


Of course that only addresses the seating aspect that +Bob talked about. There is also the ‘not-too-warm’ environment in St. Thomas’s. This is of course a more difficult and potentially expensive problem to tackle, and we are starting to look out for ideas on this now.

The Community Advisory Group appreciate that changes like this can be unsettling for some. However, we hope that this note helps with understanding why we should not stand still, and why we should seek to improve the comfort of our building to increase worship, to benefit our congregation and to encourage wider use by the Community. We are open to all suggestions and ideas as we move forward.

On behalf of the Community Advisory Group, Warren Burgess