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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 January 2005, 20:06 GMT
Church closure 'painful decision'
By Anna Browning
BBC News Website

More than one church a week could close to worshippers in the next few years, while the UK stands to lose priceless heritage, claims the Ecclesiological Society.

St Peter's in Arthington, West Yorkshire, is one such parish under threat.

For the 10 churchgoers of a West Yorkshire hamlet, the threat of losing the building which has been the bedrock of their community's life for the past 200 years is a very real one.

St Peter's Church in Arthington has been put forward for "redundancy".

With a sitting capacity for 250 people, the grand Victorian church has outlived its heyday when it served three surrounding estates and their workers and is now simply too costly to keep up.

Church bells - generic
Time could soon be called on St Peter's in Arthington

The Rector of Lower Wharfedale, the Reverend Stewart Lewis - in whose parish Arthington has fallen since 2002 - said it was a hard decision, but one which had become necessary.

He said: "Whenever a church that has been part of a community closes, or has to consider whether it should close, it is a very painful decision.

"But the church at Arthington is typical of its time, a very big Victorian church which served the community as it was then, and has proved in the 21st century to be too big to be sustainable.

Community life

"Being very pragmatic and considering its responsibility the parochial church council has decided to apply for church redundancy.

"It is not an unusual situation at all. Originally, the church was built with a choir school, and as well as that there were the surrounding estates and a number of labourers and tenant farmers who would have been expected to go to church.

The bottom line is there are a lot of bills to pay, and for a congregation of 10 it's a big commitment
Reverend Stewart Lewis

"But now I think the community recognises that it would like to retain the church but that's not quite the same as a community that is prepared to use it as a place of worship.

"People who tend to move into the area sometimes don't share the same commitment to the community of which the church is part, and in a lot of cases they are living in a community but are not necessary contributing to it in a way that sustains its life.

"The bottom line is there are a lot of bills to pay, and for a congregation of 10 it's a big commitment.

Hope from a strange quarter

"For the village this hasn't been an easy decision to reach and it is certainly one that won't go ahead without an awful lot of consideration."

But there could be one glimmer of hope - from quite an unusual quarter.

Rev Lewis said: "Since we have instigated the process for redundancy the Coptic Church of Egypt has expressed a possible interest in taking the building over as a place of worship.

"It is an ancient church dating back to the 3rd century and is part of the Orthodox church.

"The Coptic Church in North Yorkshire is looking for a new spiritual home and we very much hope it will be St Peter's."


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