I was delighted to attend the 50th anniversary of St Mark’s in Stockton-on-Tees recently. I was vicar of St Mark’s from 2003.
In 2007, we realised that expenditure was far exceeding income, church membership was declining, and the building, an ugly 1960s prefab, was needing serious money spending on it. The PCC explored the options and decided to close the building and join with the neighbouring parish, Holy Trinity.
Once the decision was finally made, we closed ten weeks later. As our legal status was a church worshipping in a parish hall, we were not subject to the usual rules which would have prolonged the process considerably. It was hard work, but we did a really good job. The Revd Sue Giles, Vicar of Holy Trinity, did a brilliant job in leading Holy Trinity in offering a generous welcome to the people of St Mark’s. Most of the congregation moved to Holy Trinity and integrated well. A few people went to other churches in the area, and that was fine. Some took a while to find their feet in other churches. In the end, only one couple stopped going to church altogether.
It was a real pleasure to see everyone again, more than five years on. I was bowled over by the joy and vibrancy of spirit. I was told that when something needs doing in the church, it is the people from St Mark’s who volunteer. The church is growing and thriving. There was no residual resentment, no regrets.
Sometimes, church buildings have to close. When this is done well, new life can flourish. Nothing is wasted, the old becomes the compost, the tilth, that enables new shoots to grow. St Mark’s didn’t die, it entered into a new life with Holy Trinity, and is thriving.
For me, it wasn’t just a celebration of 50 years of St Mark’s, but also a proud recognition of 5 years of integration with Holy Trinity, of embracing change, and giving room for the Holy Spirit to make good things happen.
The new vicar, the Revd Paul Neville, is newly into post. The church is looking forward to working with him. There was a sense of excitement and readiness for something new. Great things will happen. The church is ready.