A packed St Peter’s Church in Cregneash listened to the arguments for, and argued against, the church inviting Manx National Heritage to use the building.
‘I know who this church belongs to,’ began Archdeacon the Venerable Andrew Brown. ‘It’s your church.’
He explained the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) ‘did not believe’ that removing the church furniture, to do remedial damp proofing and electrical work and replacing it, was ‘not proper use of the money.’
He said the church was ‘living off capital reserves’ and they were running out.
‘Congregations are down’ he said. ‘Nearly all churches are standing empty six days of the week.’
Change was ‘painful’ he said. There must be ‘difficult decisions to save it’.
He urged the congregation to ‘grasp the nettle for the future of the church’. Otherwise they may be ‘condemning this to closure’.
Grants would fund necessary work. He said: ‘No change, no grant.’
Rushen parish vicar Joe Heaton said: ‘I asked for this meeting back in January. It was always my intention to invite the archdeacon to come and talk and this [meeting] is not as a result of the media coverage. MNH is not calling the shots. It has no intention of muscling in here. They want it to be a church for a worshipping community. We approached MNH for their advice.’
He was ‘saddened’ he was not approached about this by people. ‘I have an open door.’
Joyce Corlett, a member of the Parochial Church Council, said several years ago the committee identified work that needed doing and £46,000 was raised.
‘Several times we were turned back (by church authorities),’ she said.
Costs had since increased and the money raised had gone into the ‘general pot’ to which people were less interested in contributing.
One congregation member said she had raised funds for upkeep of the church.
‘You have prevented us from doing that,’ she said, before adding the claim that the wainscoting needed removing to repair the damp problem was a ‘red herring’.
Rev Heaton said it was damp. ‘I fear for my life every time I switch the light switch on,’ he said.
One man said: ‘If people come from Canada or US this is one of the first places they come to and this has a very special place in their hearts.’
A priest said: ‘When people come to the church, it’s for the timelessness, things do not alter ... churches are empty because they have been pushed by the fashion of the time.’
A congregation member said the church,‘has paid its way – people all over the world are willing to give money.’
‘At St Peter’s we keep our head above the water,’ added another.
One man said St Peter’s was built as a church. He was raised in Cregneash and went to the church and Sunday school.
He added: ‘MNH has destroyed a living village. I would hate to see them desecrate our church. We all have all sorts of activities here, do not turn it over on a whim. Several times you have talked to us, but you do not listen.’
He added: ‘People do not want association with organisation [that runs] pagan activities [such as Halloween].’
Archdeacon Brown said he respected the leadership of MNH.
He said: ‘They are good and thoughtful men who work to ensure heritage flourishes.’
‘Just walk round Cregneash and look at what they have done to it,’ the resident who said he was brought up in Cregneash replied.
‘The only thing alive is the church. Nearly all the houses are empty.’
Church warden Harry Dawson asked: ‘Are you prepared to meet and listen to the congregation? Are you prepared to put on hold any decision that may have been made?’
Rev Heaton said: ‘I hope this is one of many meetings.’
Rushen MHK Laurence Skelly said the community had raised funds in the past. They would raise more in the future.
The archdeacon said: ‘I have heard loud and clear from this community.’
He said he would take on board their views and speak to the PCC.
They would contact grant organisations and ask if they would continue to offer the church grants under ‘different circumstances’ (ie, without MNH involvement).
A congregation member said: ‘There is a lot of good work going on. We are very passionate about this church, it is very important to us.’
Edmund Southworth, director of Manx National Heritage, told the Manx Independent: ‘It is extremely disappointing that allegations have been made and rumours repeated in relation to St Peter’s Church without the basic facts being checked.
‘Some extraordinary and extreme language has been used to describe our alleged involvement.
‘MNH works closely with church authorities across the island to find solutions to the complex issues facing historic places of worship.
‘We were approached some time ago specifically to advise on the historic fabric of St Peter’s Church, which is in need of major intervention to tackle severe damp and decay.
‘We want Cregneash to be a living village as well as a museum. We want to be good neighbours and so we want to work together with the church.
‘We were delighted with the special church service in connection with the Island at War event last year and have built on this with the development of the 5,000 Years of Faith Walk around the village and surroundings on Easter Saturday.
‘Next week we’ll also be celebrating the opening of the newly-refurbished Quirk’s Croft and our guests will meet at St Peter’s by kind permission of the church.
‘Talk of MNH using the church as a museum interpretation centre is completely incorrect.
‘What we have offered is that, once the repairs were carried out, we would be happy to work with the parish to identify further ways of working together which might encourage new use and provide a sustainable future.
‘These might include more music, educational activities, language, art and craft workshops which draw on the rich Christian heritage of the island. Much of this would depend on how the building was laid out and how flexible it was, although the internal layout of the church is entirely a matter for the parish and the diocese.
‘Our view was that any space used for modern worship would be suitable for other forms of secular community use and we are not seeking or suggesting any specific changes. We have every sympathy for the church and congregation in these difficult times when resources are scarce and tough decisions have to be made.’