A movable blowup PVC structure billed as the world's first inflatable church welcomed its first worshippers Tuesday, and its owner said it is already drawing interest from around the world.
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 also 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 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. "It is not a bouncy castle, it is 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.
"Nothing like this has ever been created before. I knew deep down it would attract interest, but the response around the world has been phenomenal." He said he had had inquiries about buying or renting the church from 20 countries.
The church, which is transported around in a van, costs around $3,200 a day to rent. Buying it costs $34,700.
Gill, who plans to build several more of the inflatable churches, said he also plans an inflatable nightclub and inflatable pub as well as inflatable mosques and synagogues.
By Sue Leeman