THE future of St John’s, Birkby is “in the balance” as doubts grow about its ability to remain open.
Part of the historic church’s spire was pulled down in July 2008 when thieves used a lorry to get at its lightning conductor and sell it for scrap.
Work was completed to restore the spire but a catalogue of other problems in the church has left its Parochial Church Council (PCC) doubtful as to whether it should accept money to commit to a restoration project which could take 10 years.
A combination of a small, aging congregation and a commitment to raise £20,000 before Christmas for work to be investigated, has resulted in the calling of a public meeting.
The Rev Sue Clarke said: “The most urgent work is a crack in the east wall, falling masonry from the tower, the rewiring of the electrics and repairs to the roof. The spire is the only part of the church which is now in good order.
“We have had to block off all the way around the bottom of the tower with fencing to make it safe for people.
“The estimate for the roof alone is £540,000.”
English Heritage has offered £179,000 and £20,000 in funding – which must be matched – for the initial development of the work, which would have to be raised by Christmas.
The vicar added; “The main problem is that it’s a very small congregation and all the work on the spire has left it very tired and nobody is getting any younger.
“We haven’t got the key people to take on such a massive project. We would need not only a volunteer project manager but a treasurer that we knew and trusted.
“While there are lots of grant organisations we could go to, we need to prove that the money would benefit community projects and frankly we would struggle with that.
“Even though we are in the heart of the community what happened to the building has sapped everyone’s energy.
“The things we should have been doing as a church all had to be put on the back burner.
“One member of the PCC said it feels like a step too far for this church to take on that kind of commitment.
“In the past people have rallied round and when the spire came down the response was incredible.
“That’s why we’re going to open it up to the public – maybe someone will emerge as a project manager.
“This small group of people cannot do it on their own.
“It would be irresponsible for us to take the money and not be able to complete the work.
“This could be a 10-year project and it’s a big commitment for some of the older people in the parish.
“While the future of the building is in the balance, it is the people who are the church.”
The meeting takes place on Saturday, April 24, at 2pm at St John’s.