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Rev'd Canon Vincent Fenton

The Rectory, 14 Hartside Close, Crook (01388) 760939


Mr Stephen Gardiner

7 Park Terrace (01388) 760414 - 



Mr G Waterston

1 Railway Terrace, Stanley Crook



The Deanery consists of the following Parishes or Benifices.


St. Catherine

Priest in charge:

The Rev'd Canon Vincent Fenton - (01388) 760939

Associate Minister: The Rev'd Linda Lindsay - (01740 655649)

Secretary: Mrs Margaret Compton: email


St. Paul

Priest-in-charge: Fr David Spokes - (01388) 747914

Reader: Mr Peter Booth


Wolsingham: St. Mary & St. Stephen

Thornley: St. Bartholomew

Satley: St. Cuthbert

Stanley: St. Thomas

Tow Law: St. Philip & St. James

Priest-in-charge: Revd Jon Whalley (01388) 527340

Honorary Curate & Assistant Minister:

Rev'd Geoff Lawes - (01388) 766585

Reader: Mrs Catherine Lawes (Licensed to the Area Dean)


Eastgate: All Saints

Frosterley: St. Michael & All Angels

Heatherycleugh: St. Thomas

St. John's Chapel: St. John the Baptist

Stanhope and Rookhope: St. Thomas

(Rookhope, St. John the Evangelist was closed on 12 March 2014)

Westgate: St. Andrew

Rector: Vacant (For enquiries, please contact the Area Dean)

Curate SSM: The Rev'd Brenda Bloomfield

From Rev'd Canon Vince Fenton, Area Dean

Our Deanery was one of the first to produce their Plan and over the ensuing years, we are becoming aware that it needs to be developed so that it reflects where we are as a Deanery now.   

There is, as I say, much more still to do as we continue to hold our Deanery in prayer.  How we can participate with God in His outreach to those around us is just one area that needs to be reflected in a new plan, if we are to be effective as a Deanery.

If as you read through the document that follows, you would like to comment or make suggestions, then please do contact me.

Rev'd Vince Fenton: Area Dean.

Epiphany 2015

Deanery of Stanhope: 'Building for Mission and Ministry' Advent 2005.


In July 2004 Synod appointed a Pastoral Committee to look at issues relating to the health of the church within the deanery. We looked at how communities were being nurtured, at the functioning of existing parish structures and church buildings, the role of clergy and lay ministers, at our ecumenical relationships and at how the Kingdom seemed to be developing and growing.

The committee met several times during the autumn of 2004 under the chairmanship of Mrs Val Ward, our lay-chair, the result of these meetings identified a need to have a focused examination of local church practice which could then be prayed through leading to a discerning of how the Holy Spirit was speaking to the deanery about our future.

The result was that during 2005 each of the sixteen congregations engaged with the 'Building for Mission and Ministry' process. This began with a deanery conference in January, followed by a series of congregational meetings during the spring and summer at which questionnaires on local mission and ministry were written up. These were collated and a Vision Day held in September. (Sample questionnaires from Westgate, Wolsingham and Stanley form an appendix to the report). This report summarises the findings and is offered to the diocese to be used as a way towards shaping the future for local church life within the deanery.

Historical context.

The current shape of the deanery is largely a product of the late Victorian church building initiative. In 1805 the then three parishes, Satley, Wolsingham and Stanhope were served by the three ancient parish churches with St Johns Chapel as a chapel of ease within the parish of Stanhope. As the process of industrialisation developed so population increased, smaller parishes carved out of the larger ones, parish churches Sunday-school rooms and mission halls were erected, and so by 1905 there were seventeen parish churches, all with parsonage houses, and served by almost thirty full-time clergy. A hundred years later we still have sixteen parish churches, now served by five clergy of incumbent status, plus one assistant curate.

The Victorian church-building process, begun with Wilberforce's bill encouraging private individuals to build churches, developed via the 1838 Pluralities Act and Peel's Church Building Act of 1843. Thus the national initiative, fuelled by both government and private monies, produced 154 new parish churches in the diocese of Durham, 14 of them in the deanery of Stanhope.

The new parishes, each with church, parsonage, and often church-hall were served by a new and growing generation of clergy. To be an Anglican clergyman at this time was to belong to the largest professional body in the country, the peak year for ordination being 1886 when some 814 men were ordained. This, together with an increase in the patronage of livings held by the diocesan bishop, changed the nature of the parish and the nature of mission and ministry across the deanery. Instead of very large parishes, served by the incumbent and his two or three curates, living close to each other and serving a scattered community, there were now smaller units, each with individual parish church and vicar.

Unfortunately, in the Stanhope deanery the Victorians misread the economic and sociological trends. In Weardale lead-mining from the 1880's went into a decline and thousands left the dale to find work and a new home. The church was stuck with its buildings, often in what now seem to be rather odd places, and ever since then has struggled valiantly to maintain church-life in an increasingly unsustainable way.


The deanery pastoral committee, having been given its task of discerning a way forward that will help the church better fulfil its vocation has used the 1984 Anglican Consultative Councils "five marks of mission" as a grid to lay over the individual parish responses, and also the discussions which were held at the deanery Vision Day. The "five marks" are as follows:-

1.   To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom

2.   To teach, baptise and nurture new believers

3.   To respond to human need by loving service

4.   To seek to transform unjust structures of society

5.   To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew

      the earth. 

Mission and Ministry within the Deanery (2005).

To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.

The following quotations, from different ends of the deanery, show that proclamation lies at the heart of our church communities:

"to share God's love to all regardless of belief or church affiliation. To share the Gospel - the Good News-that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and that he rose from the dead."

"the church that cares, that heals hurt lives, that comforts old people, that challenges youth: that knows no divisions of culture or class: no frontiers, geographical or social."

So there is a general consensus that proclamation is vital to our church-life. There were marked differences though in the way the good news was proclaimed, in particular with the role of the parish church. For some congregations, the existing church building was seen as not only essential to mission, but as in itself somehow defining "the church", and that the raison d'etre of the congregation or P.C.C. was to maintain the building at all costs because therein lay the proclamation of the kingdom.

For such parishes, the building is the greatest symbol of the gospel, the icon of the presence of God within the life of the community, an open door to the love of God to all living within the parish. Willington, for example, felt that to lose its building would be an 'enormous tragedy'. That would certainly be the case for Willington, a well-cared-for church with good facilities and in an important location. 

Other parishes for example, Heathery Cleugh and Frosterley, felt an ambivalence towards their church building as a means of proclamation within their communities. It was felt that they had inherited a particular building, that building had been of significance for several generations, but that the significance was now diminishing, the building was becoming more difficult to maintain, and far from helping the work of proclamation, the building was now holding back that work of mission. Parishes like these contemplated the future without their present building as heralding a new era for the church. The developing of 'holy space' within a community building, such as a village hall, school, or even pub would be a better sign of incarnational presence, and the proclamation of the gospel would be more effective than in a cold, uncomfortable and often badly lit Victorian barn which was exhibiting all the signs of death and decay.

Such parishes pointed out that our Methodist colleagues were much more adaptable when it came to buildings. An interesting example cited was to the west of the deanery where the Methodist church on Alston Moor has closed all its chapels and thus given greater freedom to the Methodists there to get on with proclaiming the gospel without the bondage of having to look after old buildings.

Many parishes are already experimenting with holding services during midweek or even on Saturdays. There is already growth amongst those churches that hold regular mid-week services'. pram services, mid-week Eucharist, choral evensong, prayer and praise evenings. The pastoral committee feels that such services could become a more important feature of Christian proclamation within communities.

To teach, baptize and nurture new believers.

This is a huge area of concern for the pastoral committee. At our Vision Day, the nurturing of the People of God came up time and time again as a priority, but a priority that was not being realised and with our present way of delivering ministry was unlikely to be realised. One comment was that young Christians were being 'spiritually starved to death'.

Many P.C.C.s expressed a desire 'to share fellowship and experience... to share friendship and care... to promote Christian education in the bible and its teaching' (Sauey), but very often an inability to see how this may happen, or just a vague hope that one day it will be better, 'hopefully when Geoff Lawes comes to the parish...' (Tow Law).

On the Vision Day several people articulated the difficulty in the following way: as clergy or lay ministers so much effort, time and energy is spent manning the machinery of the parish system: the upkeep of the building, fund-raising to pay the parish share, clergy and other parochial expenses, the upkeep of the churchyard, diocesan regulations and so on, that there is very little energy left for teaching the faith, careful preparation for baptism or confirmation, or the work of nurture. 

Some good work does happen: house groups, bible study groups, prayer groups, children's work. But parish after parish expressed concern that not enough is being done. Two possible ways forward were explored by some P.C.C.s. Firstly that a fresh emphasis is placed upon the training of lay ministries to engage with the work of teaching the faith and nurturing discipleship. One reason for our poverty in this area was felt to be the decline in the number of ordained priests. In the days, still within the memory of many, when there was a resident clergyman in each of our parishes, the role of nurture was largely fulfilled by him. With fewer clergy, and the number of four stipendiary posts across the deanery will now be the reality, the work of nurture has to be a partnership between ordained and lay ministries. If the deanery is to grow into this we need help discerning who those people may be, and some good training for those called to this ministry.

Secondly it was felt that the way in which clergy have traditionally worked, within their own parishes, militated against the nurturing work of the deanery. The question was raised as to the possibility of clergy and lay-ministers working together in a much closer way than is now the case, and in an even closer relationship than that envisaged by the "Localities" process. Such a vision would see the deanery split into its two localities, one to the east of the A68 and centred at Crook, and the other to the west of the A68 and centred around Wolsingham or Stanhope. Future clergy would be licensed to the "locality" and would work across that whole area. Lay ministers would be the local link and point of contact for their own communities. This is already happening in parts of the benefice of Upper Weardale, for example in the parish of Heathery Cleugh, the vicar lives ten miles away and so the local church links are the wardens and Authorised Pastoral Assistants, or in Frosterley, where the lay reader is the local Christian point of contact for that village.

The clergy and lay ministries in each locality would then work as a 'college' offering teaching, catechesis and nurture in a coherent way. How such a college could look was described in the Westgate paper thus:

"We talked about the centrality of prayer to ministry and the need for a life of ongoing daily prayer in the Dale, the possibility of a form of shared daily life located somewhere centrally within the Dale for clergy and key lay people, of people within the Dale coming to this centre for teaching sessions and bible study, for occasional meals, for spiritual guidance, or simply to join in the daily life of prayer. We talked about people going out from this centre to nourish the life of prayer and ministry in the surrounding communities."

To respond to human need by loving service.

All the completed questionnaires demonstrated a clear understanding that this aspect of mission is at the heart of the church. Thornley wrote of its inclusivity, 'involvement' within the community came out in the reports from Wolsingham and Rookhope. For Eastgate its building acted as a focus for Christian service in that particularly hard-hit parish. Most P.C.C.s (eg. Howden/Hunwick) expressed a desire to engage more fully within their own community and at the Vision Day there were conversations as to how the deanery or locality could respond to national or international crises. This lead on to a recognition that local churches across the deanery need help in order to be able to respond to need. One initiative in the rural parishes in the west of the deanery is to hold training sessions with the Bishop's Advisor in Pastoral Care. Issues such as bereavement counselling can be tackled locally to help those already engaged in pastoral work and give guidance to the local church as it seeks to discern those with particular gifts.

To seek to transform unjust structures of society.

A healthy mixture of repentance and humility need to be kept in mind when the deanery thinks about mission as it relates to justice issues. From the twelfth century when King Stephen and his episcopal nephew Hugh, Bishop of Durham, first took responsibility for the stewardship of the land: its rock and minerals, its animals and the pasture they were raised on, its rivers and the fish that migrate up its streams, to the middle of the twentieth century when the Commissioners sold off that land to local farmers and distant business syndicates, the church has often been guilty of injustice on a lavish scale. Certain celebrated events such as the Battle of Stanhope in 1818, where the chief players in that drama were the wealthy and powerful Bishop of Durham with the Rector of Stanhope, pitted against the poor and weak miners of the upper-dale, have moulded themselves deep within the folk memory of the deanery.

Many conversations during the year have focussed on issues relating to life in the deanery, and a weather-eye kept on our own Christian practice lest we become as guilty of injustice in our own way as our ecclesiastical forefathers were. Issues touched upon included the church's role in education and youth work. Some parishes thought about the provision of a youth worker, others about the funding of a drop-in centre which could also be used as a means of outreach, Christian teaching and alternative worship.

Issues raised by P.C.C.s like Stanley were to do with social housing, public transport, the provision of local services in our remote areas such as health facilities, shops and Post Offices, levels of policing, and the threat to small schools. Many Christians are actively involved in living out their discipleship by seeking to transform injustice with an involvement in local politics, union activity, membership of local health and other community groups, voluntary work in local, national or Third World charities, and Fair Trade initiatives.

One initiative that came up at the Vision Day and was explored at Rookhope (Rookhope is our only L.E.P. thus far in the deanery), was the potential conversion of redundant buildings to low-cost housing for young or elderly people, increasingly unable to afford housing in the commercial market. All the parishes demonstrated that to be church is to be at the centre of the community, and there was much brave and imaginative thinking as to how this could be realized.

To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the earth.

The sixteen parishes wrestled with the realities of the ecological crisis facing the planet and in both the questionnaires and the Vision Day demonstrated their willingness to engage with how that wrestling impacts on the worshipping and witnessing life of the local congregation. The danger in separating our discipleship as Christians and our life within the community as citizens was noted and often resulted in animated and useful conversation.

The decline of traditional industries such as coal mining, the steelworks, lead and fluor-spar farming especially since the outbreak of foot and mining, cement making, and the troubles within foot and mouth disease in 2001 have sharpened the perception that to be a Christian is to have a real contribution to make to the current debates on the environment. A modern theologian, John Zizioulas, from the Orthodox tradition has done much work on the notion of mankind as 'priest of creation' and writes thus-

"The scientist who is a Church member will be able to recognize that he is carrying out a pare Eucharistic work, and this may lead to the freeing of nature from its subjection beneath the hands of modern technological man. The Eucharistic conception of truth can thus liberate man from his lust to dominate nature, making him aware that the Christ-truth exists for the life of the whole cosmos, and that the deification which Christ brings, the communion with the divine life (2 Peter 1A), extends to 'all creation' and not just to humanity."

This growing realization has led more congregations to consider an active involvement with groups such as `eco-congregations' or 'Earthcare'. The churches in upper Weardale are making important contributions to debates about the future of the Eastgate Cement Works site.

Churches are also being forced into asking searching questions about the impact on the environment in their use of existing buildings. Is it responsible stewardship to spend enormous sums of money on Victorian buildings where the future of such a building is doubtful? Is it responsible stewardship to consume gallons of fossil fuels to heat a church for an hour a week for ten worshippers? (If you're lucky! The chance is that the heat will simply rise to awaken the bats out of hibernation and the worshippers will still be frozen).

And what of clergy housing? The two old and large parsonage houses left in the deanery (Stanhope and Hunwick) work well in terms of providing Christian hospitality but are hardly reasonable to look after on a clergy stipend, and the newer properties are either too small and cramped (Wolsingham), or badly built and incongruous within the local landscape (St Johns Chapel). We would hope that a new strategy for housing clergy in the deanery could be looked at by the diocesan Houses Committee. Possibilities such as the selling of houses at St Johns Chapel, Frosterley, Hunwick and Tow Law, the building of an extension to Wolsingham and the purchase of a curate's house near Stanhope rectory could all be looked into. Willington and Crook parsonages are good houses and already work well.

Efforts are now being made to look seriously at using renewable sources of heating, a deanery pilot study is being considered with the encouragement of the D.A.C., and one P.C.C. (Stanhope) has ordered a feasibility study (again with the encouragement of the D.A.C.) for ground-source heat and solar panels on its ancient parish church.

The Deanery Plan:

A possible way forward Advent 2005 - Advent 2006.

The farmer and his son were devoted to their old threshing machine. True, it had not worked for many years - it had stood in its barn lovingly cared for and the hope was that one day it would be transferred to the local folk museum for people to admire. The trouble was that the farmer and his son spent nearly all their time cleaning, oiling and tinkering around with this old, obsolete, and yet rather beautiful machine. And, as the farmer's wife pointed out many times, the work on the farm was going by the board while they spent all their time cleaning, oiling and tinkering around with their old, obsolete, and yet rather beautiful machine. "The trouble is,"the wife remarked, "the harvest is ready and you two will miss it all because of this old machine".

The deanery pastoral committee offers this report and plans with the same sense of urgency that the farmer's wife felt. We offer to the deanery and diocese a plan for the year Advent 2005 to Advent 2006 and would like to invite the diocesan missioner, Rev. Dr Rod Alton Smith to work with our lay-chair, Mrs Val Ward, over the next year on certain initiatives.

But first, we need to state our limitations as a pastoral committee and our role in this process. Some of the P.C.C.s felt anxious about the formation of a deanery mission and ministry plan, best summed up by St Johns Chapel:

"In general, we felt that this was a threatening exercise that the diocese was wanting us to undertake so they could have an excuse to close us, despite reassurances that this was not the case, and the diocese had no power to close the church. We didn't understand several of the questions and were perplexed by others. We are a small, struggling congregation, who don't have the time or the energy to do anything beyond exist. We feel that the diocese always wants more money out of us, expecting us to give over 110 per person per week, just to pay the parish share, let alone the running costs for the building and clergy expenses, and we just can't do it.

It is not the task of the deanery, nor in fact, the diocese, to bully, threaten or cajole small and often struggling communities. And it is our understanding that it is only the local P.C.C. that can close buildings. Yet it is the clear and unanimous view of this committee that the status quo is unsustainable, and that some closures are not only inevitable, but will be for the better growth of the Kingdom within the deanery. We are not sure where that can go, but there must be some serious consideration given by the bishop and his senior staff to change what is considered by us to be an outmoded piece of church practice.

But back to some initiatives that are achievable:

1.   This report recommends that stipendiary clergy numbers should be maintained at four: two to the east of the A68 and serving Willington, Hunwick, Howden, Crook and Stanley, and two to the west of the A68 and serving Tow Law, Satley, Thornley, Wolsingham and the united benefice of Upper Weardale.

2.   Many of our smaller churches have average congregations of less than ten, P.C.C.s of less than five. Often the buildings they serve have an enthusiastic group of supporters (they sometimes appear to be a sub-committee of the local Women's Institute), who act more as a 'Friends of the Church' rather than as a P.C.C., and who will turn up for an occasional fund-raising event or special service. Such churches are finding it increasingly difficult to find lay officers, pay their parish share, keep their buildings in reasonably good order, and frankly can hardly be said to be operating as parish churches.

We ask that those churches be helped by taking from them the burden of parish church status if need be by creating a new category to help them face the future. This is an obvious area that we need help with from the bishop and his senior staff and the diocesan pastoral committee to work with legislation that will free our smaller communities from an increasingly unsustainable burden.

3.   Certain parishes face important decisions about their future and will need to adapt to face that future. A few (Crook is the best example) have already done some re-ordering and can offer good facilities as well as liturgical space. Others need identifying and help to move towards their future.

4.   We need to develop better ecumenical links. An open meeting for church leaders was held at the beginning of October and relations are warm and friendly. Perhaps we could work in our two localities to move even closer. An agreement not to duplicate worship and witness during major festivals would be one idea, a working towards another L.E.P. or less formal covenant is another possibility.

5.   To arrange lay training courses on subjects ranging from children's and youth work, bible study and pastoralia to leading worship, P.C.C.s and locality meetings. This to go alongside the development of a "college" of ministry and seeking a location within which to bring to birth the vision expressed by Westgate.

6.   To have a deanery residential retreat (not a conference), in late spring or early summer.

Two quotations to finish, the first from Ian Bradley's book "Colonies of Heaven" and writing of our Saxon/Celtic spiritual forebears, who, "produced a model of ministry that was collegiate and communitarian rather than individualistic Ministry in all its aspects, liturgical, pastoral, evangelistic, educational, was not the solitary task it so often is today. It was rather undertaken by teams of men and women, ordained and lay, who lived together in a community and operated from a common central base from which they went out among the people preaching, teaching, baptising, administering the sacraments, caring for the sick and burying the dead. Community life in some form was the normal and accepted expression of vocation, not just to monastic profession but also to clerical orders of any kind and indeed to a variety of lay ministries.

The second quotation is by Peter Allan C.R. from a book "Priests in a People's Church" by George Guiver: "Some plod on with extraordinary faithfulness, as though it will all come right again soon; some give up, faced with the indifference and incomprehension; some launch out on what seems often to their friends to be a path of incredible idiosyncrasy. The problem is experienced at the spiritual, liturgical, theological, moral and social levels. It is proper to speak of crisis, but in the New Testament sense: a moment of decision and judgement, a moment of God. It is not a disastrous moment, not a time of catastrophe, no matter how much of what we now know and treasure is going to disappear in the generation to come. For Christians committed irrevocably to the centrality of the incarnation, this time, this history is God's time and God's history.