Worshippers join hands across the town after fire

Rev Ron Forster (right) and Father Lawrence Jones at St George's church in Morpeth.
Rev Ron Forster (right) and Father Lawrence Jones at St George's church in Morpeth.

SMOKED-OUT Morpeth parishioners are forging new friendships in a temporary move across town.

Worshippers at St Robert’s Church in Oldgate saw their Sunday morning Mass dramatically disrupted in June when fire broke out in the Sacristy.

The blaze was contained within the room, but the church was affected by smoke damage and now the time has come for the Roman Catholic parishioners to move out for restoration work to be completed.

However, they do not have far to go as members of St George’s United Reformed Church in Bridge Street have invited them to pull up a pew in their building.

The Reverend Ron Forster said: “I was talking to a St Robert’s parishioner who was telling me they had to move out of the church so almost without thinking I said they could come to us and two hours later I was having a conversation with Fr Lawrence from the church.

“I then thought I should have checked with other people in the church so I rang and wrote emails to the Elders and they were all enthusiastic.

“St Robert’s service is at 9am and ours is at 10.30am so it is really nice to see people talking to their neighbours as they come in and out when perhaps they weren’t aware that they went to another church.

“A lot of people are saying they are glad this has happened because they can get to know each other. This wouldn’t have happened 30 years ago, but it just shows the spirit of openness and togetherness that there is now. It would be nice to have a united service, but there wouldn’t be the room for everybody.”

It is not the first time that St George’s has come to the rescue as it previously hosted Morpeth Methodist Church when it was being re-modelled in 2004.

Work at St Robert’s includes carefully cleaning the statues and Stations of the Cross and re-decorating, as well as introducing a new altar, lectern and central heating system. It is due to be finished by December.

Parish priest Fr Lawrence Jones said: “The fire originated in a basket in the Sacristy. The drama of it was that we were all in the church for the 11 o’clock service and ten minutes in I could hear a crackling noise in the Sacristy. I asked the altar server to open the door and it was just a wall of fire and smoke.

“I don’t know how I remained calm, but I turned to the congregation and said, ‘We have a fire. Please leave the church calmly and if anyone has a mobile phone please ring the fire brigade’, which they did. In fact, they went out too calmly. I think they thought I was joking or it was part of the sermon.

“Thankfully, the doors from the Sacristy into the church are so thick they contained the fire and preserved us, but the smoke did get into the church and caused some damage. It doesn’t look too bad until you get close up.”

Two of the church’s Sunday Masses have now taken place at St George’s and for the 11am service worshippers may soon decamp to the pub after the Riverside Lodge offered the use of a room.

Fr Lawrence, who has recently returned from a trip to Rome to replace his charred cassock, said: “We have been meeting in the school hall next to the church, but it is a bit tight so we might well go to the Riverside Lodge.

“The other churches and the community have been very supportive in offering help.

“We are finding it very comfortable at St George’s. The parishioners have been made welcome and they think it is a beautiful church. I think they prefer St George’s now, especially as they have cushions on the seats.”