A DWINDLING church congregation faces being left high and dry if plans to close their place of worship go ahead.
People in the remote village of Rookhope, a former lead mining centre, built the attractive St John The Evangelist C of E church themselves at the start of the last century to replace a previous building.
Now the Diocese of Durham plans to close the pretty stone-built church in the North Pennines, 320m (1050ft) above sea level, to the dismay of its remaining worshippers.
Its Diocesan and Pastoral Committee is due to meet later this year, but is expected to recommend to the incoming Bishop of Durham that St John is to close.
Worshippers would have to travel to Stanhope, three miles away, but some villagers will find this difficult as there are no buses on Sundays.
In a letter to Durham County Councillor John Shuttleworth, Paul Stringer, the diocesan secretary, said: “The proposal to close the church of St John, Rookhope, for regular worship and unite the parishes of Rookhope and Stanhope has been taken after much local discussion, including with the Parochial Church Council of Rookhope.
“Before deciding on its recommendations to the Bishop, the committee is required to ascertain the views of all interested parties before coming to a final decision.”
Coun Shuttleworth said: “It will be an incredibly sad day if St John is to close, but this is looking increasingly likely. It will be the first church to close in Weardale.
“My grandmother Gladys Hogarth was a church warden there for years.”
Church warden Betty Bowman, 81, said: “I have been worshipping at St John’s since I moved to Rookhope in 1956 and would hate to see it close.” Coun Shuttleworth added: “St John was built and paid for by the people of Rookhope in 1905 to replace a previous church at the opposite end of the village next to the graveyard.
“If the building is closed and then sold, then the proceeds of any sale should remain in the village. I personally believe the diocese could fight harder to keep it open.”
Rookhope now has a population of around 300 residents, of which only around half a dozen attend church services.
Worshipper Margaret Oxley said: “It will be very sad for the village if St John were to close, but nothing final has been decided yet.”
Rev Susan Kent, whose parish in Upper Weardale comprises seven churches, including St John, was unavailable for comment yesterday.