Inflatable church welcomes first worshippers
Wednesday, May 14, 2003
LONDON -- It's got its own steeple and pews, it could float if necessary -- and the devout can erect it wherever they want.
A movable blowup structure billed as the world's first inflatable church welcomed its first worshippers on Tuesday.
Some 47 feet from floor to steeple, 47 feet long and 25 feet wide, the church made its debut at the Christian Resources Exhibition at Sandown Park Exhibition Center in Esher, west of London.
Resembling a giant, bouncy castle, it holds around 60 people standing and comes complete with inflatable candles and "stained glass" windows.
After the church was inflated, the Rev. Michael Elfred, a Church of England minister from Tadworth, central England, invited spectators inside for a dedication ceremony.
"In the church we need to try and get out into the community," Elfred said. "In a fun way this inflatable church may help some Christian communities to do just that."
The church was created six years ago by businessman Michael Gill, 34, of Southampton in southern England for use by a nightclub chain as a promotional gimmick.
That deal fell through, but Gill said that when he saw the finished product he realized its potential as a venue for weddings, christenings or even engagement ceremonies.
"When I first saw it, it was beyond my wildest dreams," he said, stressing it was not a gimmick but "a mobile, traditional English church."
"I realized there would be many opportunities for this product.
"Mobile weddings, christenings -- or even if you want to get engaged and surprise your partner."
He said he had received inquiries about buying or renting the church from 20 countries.
The church, which is transported in a van, costs around $34,700 to buy and $3,200 a day to rent.
Gill, who plans to build several more of the inflatable churches, said he also has plans for inflatable nightclubs, pubs, mosques and synagogues.
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