Preston is to get a £1.5m windfall to reinvigorate the Church of England in the city.
While the Catholic faith has been tightening its belt in recent years, the Anglican church has announced it is about to embark on an “exciting new era” locally.
And the plan will seek to encourage growth across Anglican traditions to meet the needs of a 'strong Anglo-Catholic' history in Preston.
Plans unveiled today show the cash will be pumped into improving the Minster and its partner church St George the Martyr off Lune Street.
The renaissance will also include reaching out to the city’s student population, people under 25 and those without a church connection in a bid to help grow congregations.
And there is even a vision to create a new church to serve people from the new housing developments in the north of Preston, or on one of the city’s social housing estates.
The Bishop of Blackburn, Rt Rev Julian Henderson, made the announcement, saying: “I pray that the work in the coming months and years will create a lasting impact in Preston and
more widely around the diocese.”
The funding has been allocated by the Church of England nationally to create a “resourcing parish” in Preston to encourage “growth across traditions.”
A new Vicar of Preston, to succeed Fr Timothy Lipscomb who retired in 2017, will be announced shortly.
The newcomer will be responsible for ensuring the plans become reality.
A new ministry team of between 10 and 15 individuals will be drafted in and will include clergy who will spend up to two years learning about “parish planting” - the setting up of new churches.
Significantly the team will also include a new full-time Anglo-Catholic priest to be based at St George’s.
Work on the Minster will help develop it into a “welcoming multi-purpose space with expanding catering facilities.”
Building works at both churches are expected to be completed by late September when the diocese plans to formally launch the project.
Bishop Henderson said: “Thanks be to God for this next step in a very exciting adventure of faith.
“I would like to thank all who have been involved in making this generous provision from the national church possible.”
The decision to award the funding to Preston was made last month - two years after the idea of a resourcing parish in the city was first proposed following a visit by the Bishop of Islington, who has a national remit for church planting.
Since then a team, led by the Bishop of Burnley, Rt Rev Philip North, developed the concept into a full-blown application for funding.
He said: “I’m really excited by the prospect of a resourcing parish in Preston, serving people from across church traditions, as well as people who have no connection to the church at all.
“The hard work to get to this stage has been amazing and we now stand at the threshold of an even greater period in the history of the Parish of Preston.”
Bishop North was supported in the scheme by the Interim Vicar of Preston, the Venerable Michael Everitt, who is also Archdeacon of Lancaster.
Welcoming the announcement, Archdeacon Everitt said: “The news that we have secured the funding to begin this revitalisation work is a significant moment for the church in Lancashire, as well as being a huge vote of confidence in the city of Preston.”
Church is 'hidden gem'
St George the Martyr Church has long been described as Preston’s “hidden gem”.
Tucked away behind shops in Lune Street, the near 300-year-old building is the oldest church in Preston - and in recent years it has been showing its age.
It’s future has been in doubt ever since Historic England included it on the “At Risk Register” of ancient buildings in urgent need of restoration.
Now the cash windfall from the Church of England will be used to address the structural faults which four years ago the former Vicar of Preston, Fr Timothy Lipscom, launched an appeal to resolve.
At the time Fr Timothy estimated it would take £750,000 to rectify problems with the walls and to restore its acclaimed organ.
The Diocese plans to bring in a full-time Anglo-Catholic priest to run the church, which was built in 1723.
The Blackburn Diocese says it wants to “foster unity among Christians of different denominations and traditions”.
A statement issued today says that because the Parish of Preston has a “strong Anglo-Catholic tradition,” one of the aims would be to recruit a team vicar “who will become a strong role model for Catholic evangelism”.