Barnard Castle United Reformed Church closed its doors at the beginning of October. The church had a long history, going back to the Independent congregation that originally met at Cotherstone in Teesdale in the 1740s, and later moved into the town in the early years of the 19th century. At that time there were several non-conformist churches in the Dale, some with histories going back to the years of persecution following the Act of Uniformity of 1662. Often it was in rural areas like Teesdale that Independent congregations were able to survive, and even thrive, as people literally took to the hills in order to worship in the way that they felt called to do.
Now the congregation has grown too small to maintain its buildings and continue the life and witness that have been so faithfully followed over the years. The church is to be advertised for sale, but in the meantime The Christian Fellowship who also meet in the building have been given permission by Synod to continue to use the church until sale is completed.
Services during the final weeks included a harvest festival with gifts to the local Foodbank, and opportunities to say goodbye to guest preachers who have served the church well over the years. The well attended closing service was held on Saturday October 1st, led by the Tees & Swale Group minister, Revd Hilary Collinson. Then the following day just the local congregation met for the final time for a quiet communion service.
Looking back, and looking ahead, Barnard Castle elder Elizabeth Conran has written in the last edition of The Link, the church magazine, about the closure of small rural United Reformed churches,
“Not enough heed has been paid to history. History inspires. We need to catch again their spirit of faith in action and stand up for our beliefs. It’s so needed in present times. So as we close our doors and disperse, let us remember that we still have a calling: ‘Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about by so great a cloud of witnesses, ….., let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith … ‘ (Hebrews 12: 1-2).”