Optimism At The Church That Battled Back From Disaster
It’s the Church that refused to die and now parishioners at The Church of St James the Great in Darlington are planning confidently for the future after experiencing the loss of their vicar and 55 congregation members. The Church, which is in Albert Hill, was torn apart when a significant number of its congregation left to join the Ordinariate earlier this year. The Ordinariate is a structure within the Roman Catholic Church which allows former Anglicans to join but retain elements of their Anglican tradition.
The Church of St James the Great has an Anglo-Catholic tradition (that is to say a Church which has a tradition of dramatic and formal worship ) since it was built in the 1870s. In early 2011 it became clear that a significant number of parishioners wanted to join the Roman Catholic Ordinariate Not everyone among the congregation agreed, however, with many parishioners keen for the Church to continue in the way it had since its creation more than 130 years ago.
The result was an inevitable split and the vicar and 55 congregation members, including all but one of the Parish Church Council, left. On February 19 this year, Father Grieves and those who were about to leave offered their final Mass at St James the Great before joining The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, to worship at St Anne’s RC Church, Darlington. Although the split was deeply felt they invited the Bishop of Durham to preach at their final Sunday and left sadly but amicably.
Now, however, those who remained are looking optimistically to the future. The departure of the 55 has left St James the Great with 73 registered in the congregation, including some whom have returned to worship since the split. Numbers at services can reach one hundred.
David Warren, who became Parish Church Council Chair, said: “We knew for a year that they were going to leave and it was a difficult time. We were a congregation divided, some committed to St James the Great, some committed to leaving for the Ordinariate. What happened was difficult at an individual level because some friendships were fractured. Some relationships suffered.
“When the others left, there were times when the viability of the church was questioned but we lost fewer people than we expected and a hard core remained to continue worshipping at St James the Great. We have also seen some people return after having kept away. I sat at the back of a service not long after the split happened and thought ‘this looks pretty much as it looked before’.”
Because of its nature as an Anglo-Catholic Church, which takes in elements of both churches, St James the Great has a congregation comprising one third local people and two thirds who travel from further afield because they are attracted by the tradition of Anglo-Catholicism.
David said the Church’s commitment to the idea remains strong, adding: “When something like this happens you are obliged under the rules to reconsider whether or not you would like to stay as an Anglo-Catholic Church and we have reaffirmed that. We have always been an Anglo-Catholic Church and we wish to remain so.
“We have changed some things. Previously, we had a daily Mass. Now, we have three a week, which are reasonably well attended. The previous ones were not always well attended.
“We see what happened to us as an opportunity and our message is that we are still here. We are open for business.”
Fellow Parish Church Council member Phillip Patterson said: “There is a feeling of optimism now. What happened has been liberating. I think some people are either coming back having previously kept away or are coming for the first time. I am certainly seeing some new faces.”
Along with the new Parish Church Council, leadership of the Church rests with The Venerable Granville Gibson, a highly experienced and respected clergyman who was brought in after the departure of the congregation members.
He said: “There is a real positive feeling about what is happening at the Church. There is an energy and an enthusiasm and I am thrilled to be part of it.”