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Bombshell plan to axe seven churches

SHOCK plans to close churches and merge parishes have left Accrington's C of E congregations reeling.

UNDER THREAT?: St James' Church
UNDER THREAT?: St James' Church

SHOCK plans to close churches and merge parishes have left Accrington's C of E congregations reeling.

Under the most radical option put forward for discussion by Church leaders, all SEVEN of the town's churches would be closed. They would be replaced by one modern, purpose-built "super church''.

Under this scenario, SureStart - a charity which aims to give children a better start in life - would be invited to take over Christ Church and St Peter's, where it already organises some activities.

St James's in the town centre would be kept as offices but St John's, St Andrew's, St Paul's and St Mary Magdalen's would close. It is not clear what would happen to the Accrington Pals Memorial Chapel, which is housed in St John's Church.

The outlying churches in Church, Baxenden, Huncoat and Green Haworth would stay open and five clergy would be retained. Copies of the discussion document have now been circulated in all the churches.

The hierarchy has been motivated by spiralling costs and the poor condition of some buildings, which are often old and expensive to maintain. The Venerable John Hawley, Archdeacon of Blackburn, who is overseeing the plans, said: "In the Accrington deanery the bill for staff alone is over £400,000 a year, with every priest costing at least £32,000.''

He added: "Lancashire is slow to change. It's a fairly conservative area. People like their traditions and don't like change. In Accrington in particular, these issues haven't been addressed and we haven't moved on. We are trying to get people to face up to the issues and their views will be taken on board when the final decisions are made. We have to come to a consensus and that's why we have put three plans forward. There's no blueprint. There's no God-given directive."

He said the decision would take more than 18 months to make.

Team minister the Rev Henry Dickinson said: "The churches would be closed but I don't know if they would be demolished. If they were pulled down and the land sold there would be a lot of money to build a new church in the town centre but we don't know where yet. The geographical parishes would cease to exist. The "super church" would have to cater for everyone's needs. It's a tall order but it's been done before."

The Rev Kevin Logan said: "I think we are all nervous about it. But in one sense we welcome it because it's long overdue. We have too many old churches. We need to be a leaner, fitter Church for God to use in the 21st century."

After a meeting of St John's Parochial Church Council on Monday night, church warden Andy Shepherd said: "We are going to set up a working party. Everyone is concerned about the plans but we appreciate the problem. Nothing's definite. St John's closing is just a proposal."

The two other options both involve the closure of between two and five churches, mergers and possibly redefining parish boundaries.


Stuart Pike
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