Christmas as usual for churches

TWO Morpeth churches are reopening their doors just in time for Christmas.

Anglican parishioners at St Mary’s Church in Kirkhill were forced out in October for at least six months of planned renovations, while across the town in Oldgate the Roman Catholic church of St Robert of Newminster had to close in August for restoration after a fire.

However, both churches planned to host their usual Christmas services, and true to their word they will be open this weekend.

There will be a frantic clean-up day on Saturday at St Mary’s when the builders move out to prepare for two services on Christmas Eve.

The re-opening will initially be for one night only until the renovations are complete in February, and for the special occasion there will be a special guest, with Assistant Bishop Frank White leading the midnight service.

Church Warden Frances Major said: “We are without a rector at the moment in Morpeth so we are rather short on priests. The assistant bishop’s visit will be good in two ways because it will be a service that we would have wanted him to do anyway, but it also gives someone else a break.

“I think there is quite a bit of excitement among parishioners to be getting back into the church, but I’m not quite sure how things are going to happen because the building work is still going on. Although work has stopped for Christmas and New Year, there is a big wooden screen around the area where the new door will be, which takes out about a sixth of the church, and people won’t be able to see anything of the work.

“We will certainly have flowers and holly and the normal things like that. We normally have a pretty big Christmas tree, but there won’t be space for that because we are trying to get as many people in as possible. We may manage a little tree.”

The first phase of the £100,000 make-over at the 12th Century church includes creating a new disabled access, toilet, kitchen facilities and community space, but fund-raising continues for the second stage to provide new heating and lighting systems.

The church will host two services on Christmas Eve, before closing again. During the closure parishioners will use St James’s and St Aidan’s churches.

At St Robert’s it is a different story as the church is now fully open after its restoration work.

The fire in June caused smoke damage to the building, but now everything has been cleaned, including the stained glass windows, statues, art work and Stations of the Cross, and a new carpet and heating system have been added. A new altar and lectern should be in place by Easter.

The church reopened for Mass on Sunday after months of services at St George’s United Reformed Church.

Parish Priest Fr Lawrence Jones said: “We have been meeting at St George’s so we are very grateful to the parishioners there for their hospitality and making us feel so welcome. It was sad to say goodbye to them, but it is a delight to be back home.

“I think the general attitude is that people are happy with the way the church has been decorated and with the fact that everything has been cleaned. It is like a new church.

“The great thing is the central heating system — for the first time we have a warm church. The fire damage has been the making of getting all sorts of things done. The carpet also makes the church feel warmer and it is quieter. It has made a big difference.

“It has been a difficult time being out of the church and people have been very patient. I’m very grateful to everybody who has helped. We had two days of cleaning to get the place right, the flowers are there now and the crib will be in soon.”

The church has also benefited from new hymn books and people are invited to dedicate each one to a loved one for a suggested donation of £10. It could even be done as a Christmas, birthday, wedding or baptism gift.

Fr Lawrence said: “Each time a parishioner opens a hymn book to sing they will see the dedication page and will pray for that individual or family.”

Dedication forms are available from the presbytery at Collingwood House.

The church, which played host to the St Robert’s First School Nativity play this week, is also open for visitors to view.