Villages want share of funds

21 November 2014

Village effort: St John the Evangelist, Rookhope - built with contributions from an earlier generation

Village effort: St John the Evangelist, Rookhope - built with contributions from an earlier generation

VILLAGERS have told the Church Commissioners that they deserve to share the proceeds of the sale of their redundant church - because their forebears built it.

St John the Evangelist in the remote  Weardale village of Rookhope, Co. Durham, was built in 1905 with donations from its close-knit mining community. 

St John's fell out of use in recent years. Since 2008, the church, a Grade II-listed building, has averaged just 1.8 baptisms, 0.2 weddings and 0.6 funerals each year. A £30,000 repair bill and a falling electoral roll forced the church's closure in spring.  

A public consultation on its sale by the Church Commissioners ended on Friday. They say that, were it to go ahead, by law the money has to be divided between the diocese and central funds to maintain other redundant churches.

John Shuttleworth, a Rookhope business­man and Durham county councillor, said last week: "The point they are missing is that this church was built with money raised in the village. It was paid for by the people of Rook­hope; so by right it belongs to them, not the Church Commissioners. 

"Over the years, people have done work for the church for nothing, and given money to keep it running.  We have all given, and now they are taking it away. That doesn't seem a Christian way to go. 

"It would be nice of them [the Commissioners] to say, as a gesture, here's £25,000: where do you want it to go? It should be used to benefit the village and its people, for the community. If they think that's unreasonable, then they don't have any Christian values whatsoever."

A spokeswoman for the Church Commis­sioners said that the closure and disposal of churches was governed by the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011, which has the same force as an Act of Parliament. Under the Measure, two-thirds of a sale's net proceeds goes to the diocese to sustain its mission and ministry. The remaining one third goes either to the Churches Conservation Trust, or to care for closed churches that have yet to find a new use.

A formal consultation process was under way, she said, and the sale would not be completed until it was over.

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