Churches to merge in mass shake-up

A string of Preston churches look set to merge in a move which could spell the end of service at one of the city's most iconic buildings.

A review by a leading Lancashire cleric have recommended Sunday masses come to an end at St Walburge's in Ashton and that the listed church be merged with Sacred Heart.

A new report says the St Walburge's building is too big and expensive to maintain - but leaves the final decision on its fate up to church leaders.

More than a dozen other Roman Catholic parishes in Preston could also merge under revised proposals by the cash-strapped Diocese of Lancaster.

Parishioners today branded the end of Sunday and vigil masses at St Walburge's a "horrendous" thought.

Jim Aherne, who organised popular Latin masses at the church attend by 400 people last year, said: "I think it's desperately sad.

"There is the will of the people to have mass on Sundays but the powers that be seem determined to stop it.

"But we are not giving up on St Walburge's and we will not take it lying down quietly."

St Walburge's, which boasts the country's third-highest spire, could later form part of a "super parish" with Our Lady and St Bernard's and St Peter's and St Paul's, which are also due to merge soon.

The Fit for Mission review was launched by the Diocese of Lancaster last year amid spiralling costs, falling attendances and difficulty recruiting enough new priests.

Restoring St Walburge's and keeping it running has been estimated to cost 3m.

The latest report does not make it clear how many churches could close or be sold off as the proposals are still being consulted on.

Author Canon Aidan Turner has stressed that churches which no longer offer Sunday mass may still provide weekday masses or community activities.

St Wilfrid's in Preston city centre is among the churches to have been declared safe in the review. The church attracts almost 600 worshippers on average to mass.

And English Martyrs could become a new "lighthouse" Catholic Centre for the Preston deanery.

The Plan in Full

- St Ignatius and English Martyrs to merge early in the next decade, with Sunday and vigil masses to stop at one if attendances continue to fall. English Martyrs could become a Catholic Centre for deanery-wide organisations

- St Wilfrid's to remain unchanged

- St Joseph's, St Teresa's and St Augustine's to merge early in the next decade, putting an end to Sunday and vigil masses at St Teresa's

- St Maria Goretti and Blessed Sacrament to merge in the next decade if attendances continue to fall

- St Anthony's and Holy Family, Ingol, to merge early in the next decade, with Sunday and vigil masses ending at Holy Family if attendances continue to fall

- Our Lady and St Edward's to remain unchanged

- St Clare's and St Mary's in Fernyhalgh to merge soon, ending masses at St Mary's. St Gregory's could later join them

- St Andrew's in Cottam to merge with St Mary's in Lea, with Sunday and vigil masses ending at St Mary's. St Robert's in Catforth culd later join them

- St Francis, Goosnargh, and Our Lady and St Michael, Alston Lane, may be linked after 2015

- Sts Mary and James, Scorton, to link with Sts Mary and Michael, Garstang, early in the next decade and then merge into a new parish

- Holy Family, Freckleton, to remain unchanged

- St Mary's in Great Eccleston to remain unchanged

-St John, Kirkham, and St Anne, Westby Mills, to merge into a new parish at an early date with Sunday and vigil masses ending at St Anne's

- St Patrick's, Morecambe, and Holy Family Morecambe to merge at an early date

- St Bernadette's, Lancaster, to remain unchanged

- St Peter's in Lancaster could become the new Catholic Centre for the North Lancashire deanery

- St Thomas More in Lancaster to stop Sunday and vigil masses early in the next decade and become a pastoral centre

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