Historic churches facing closure

Date: Friday 16th February 2018
SUPPORTERS: Outside Clifton Church are (left to right) Sara Holliday, Sarah Harden, Kath Benson, Tony Williams, John Allan, John Holliday and Claire Bland.
SUPPORTERS: Outside Clifton Church are (left to right) Sara Holliday, Sarah Harden, Kath Benson, Tony Williams, John Allan, John Holliday and Claire Bland.

BOTH Clifton and Brougham churches need a “significant injection of fresh blood from the community” to keep them open.

A letter to parishioners from St. Cuthbert’s Church, Clifton, states that it and St. Wilfrid Church, Brougham, could close due to “dramatically” declining numbers of worshippers.

The letter states: “The position is that numbers have declined to the point where our ageing congregation is no longer able to maintain active church life unless there is a significant injection of fresh blood from the community.

“St. Wilfrid, Brougham, is facing similar problems. Although not immediately facing closure, it may not be far behind and since Clifton and Brougham are a united parish, the difficulties affect both communities with the same degree of uncertainty.”

The death of churchwarden Maureen Wilson and loss of reader David Brockbank through ill health has made it “impractical” to run affairs and maintain regular worship at Clifton, while also having a knock-on effect for the church’s financial position. The church is no longer able to afford a “realistic contribution” towards ministry costs.

A consultation on the closure of the churches is being held at 7-30pm on Monday, 26th February, at Clifton village hall.

Services are held at the churches twice a month, but the number at Clifton is to be reduced to once a month in order to save funds. The Clifton and Brougham churches are part of North Westmorland Churches, which also includes Askham with Lowther, Bolton, Cliburn, Crosby Ravensworth, Great Strickland, Morland and Thrimby. The Rev. Stewart Fyfe is the vicar for these churches.

The average number of people who attend services at Clifton is about eight, while Brougham is down to only four regular worshippers. Sarah Harden, who has lived in Brougham all her life, said there have been times when she has been the only person at a church service.

She said that over the last four years congregation numbers had fallen. She is also a Clifton and Brougham parish councillor and said there haf also been a fall in numbers on the council, from 11 when she first joined to now just three.

St. Cuthbert’s was built on a site that has likely contained a church for more than a thousand years and the oldest part of the structure is the 12th Century nave. It has been Grade II listed since 1968.

St. Wilfrid’s was rebuilt on the site of an earlier church by Lady Anne Clifford and has also been listed since 1968.

Alternatives to the closure of Clifton church would be to retain the building for occasional use, such as weddings, funerals and christenings. This is known as a festival church and requires members of the community to come together to form a friends organisation, which would be responsible for the maintenance of the building.

The other option would be for parts of the building to be leased. In similar situations across the country, parts of churches have become doctors’ surgeries or post offices.

“We really want to put it across that we are not pretending that the church will close. It will have to close if someone doesn’t come up with an idea,” said Mrs Harden.

John Holliday, a dairy farmer who lives opposite Clifton church, has lived in the village his whole life. He first heard about the plight of the two churches just before Christmas and attended a preliminary meeting.

Mr Holliday, who is not a regular churchgoer, said the meeting was an “eye opener” as he heard how small the congregation was and how much maintenance work was required for both churches, although that at Clifton was in a better state than Brougham.

Mr Holliday said that at Clifton there is only a temporary churchwarden in place. Should around 10 members of the community step forward, the church could be run on a reduced service pattern.

Mrs Harden said a church was not just a religious institution, but also a place for people to get together and socialise.

“People expect it to be there when they get married, but they don’t think “who is looking after it for the rest of my life’,” she said.