Residents in a remote village who have been left without a church should be the ones to benefit from a sale of the listed building, claims a local councillor.
After parishioners in Rookhope, County Durham, learned just over a week ago that their Sunday service at the 110-year-old St John The Evangelist C of E Church was to be the last, councillor and resident John Shuttleworth is demanding recompense.
The attractive stone-built church was actually paid for and constructed by villagers so he says it’s the community who should benefit from any sale. “I think it’s fair that the money from the sale should go back to the village,” said Coun Shuttleworth who aired his views in a letter to the Diocese of Durham.
Fears over the church’s future were raised over a year ago amid dwindling congregation numbers in Weardale’s former lead mining village but the councillor says the closure announcement was so sudden that he and many others were unable to attend.
“I thought they would have said the last service would be Easter Sunday with a little celebration of the life of the church but they chose not to do that which I think is wrong,” he said.
“We were told on the Friday the last service would be the Sunday.” Coun Shuttleworth, whose grandmother was a warden at the church for about 30 years, says villagers rebuilt St John’s on a hill-top in 1905 after the original building was taken down.
“The people in the village raised the money and built the church. Nearly everybody in the village has given money to furnish it and pay the stipend.
“Now it will be probably be used for something else.” Rookhope, which has about 275 residents, could do with the sale money for local facilities which include a club and village hall, he said.
Among those attended the church’s last service was 82-year-old Betty Bowman, herself a former church warden there for many years.
“There were mixed feelings,” she said of the sadness at the closure mingled with celebration of its past during the special occasion which drew lots of visitors from outside the village. “I’ve worshipped there since 1956,” she said. “One resident, who’s 87, has worshipped there all her life. But there was too small a congregation and money needed spending on it. It was on the cards to close.”
Now they are forced to rely on the kindness of a car-owner to ferry them to services at other churches, including one six miles away at Stanhope. Coun Shuttleworth is currently awaiting a response to a letter he has written to the pastoral and closed churches diocesan secretary in London.