A SUCCESSFUL appeal to raise £1 million could transform a holy club into “a vibrant and inspiring meeting place” says a senior Saddleworth spiritual leader.
Failure to meet the seven-figure target, warns Reverend Canon Sharon Jones, could see St Chads Church, Uppermill remain a “fossilised relic of the past”.
Canon Jones, Team Rector of Saddleworth, outlined her vision during a public meeting at St Chads, a Christian place of worship since 1215AD.
“We didn’t want to ‘tart up’ an old building as the only way to justify the money being used,” she said.
“The church has been seen as a bit of a ‘holy club’ in the past. But the crisis is a huge opportunity to reimagine and use the church history and sense of belonging to take us into the future.
“Think light, colour, space. Think of retaining all that is most precious that points beyond itself to a greater, deeper reality.
“We have tried to imagine the potential for this building to be a lot more than it has been: not a fossilised relic of the past but a vibrant and inspiring meeting place.
“We seek to look beyond ourselves to the needs of the community and ways we can partner with others to make a difference in people’s lives. We need to be bold, courageous and visionary.”
The canon said the removal of pews would create flexible seating but retain the focus on the church as primarily a place of worship.
“But we also imagine and desire to partner with business to create ‘The Pilgrims’ Rest’ coffee shop seven days a week for individuals and groups to find friendship and stillness amid beauty and history.
“This is an opportunity to dream and imagine a space for wedding fairs, archiving, educational opportunities, art displays and for children and young people to be challenged and reassured by life’s bigger picture of faith.
“We want a space more flexible for drama and music and to reconnect with the community in new ways.
“We hold in our minds the many walkers, cyclists, tourist and heritage hunters who come this way looking for beauty and connection.
“We believe it to be the way forward and we are excited and energised about what it to come.”
Canon Jones added: “We urgently need businesses and individuals interesting in partnering with us to make it all a reality.
“Enthusiasts, those who care, those who think it matters seekers, mystics, poets, creative folk with energy and vision.
“But also those who can simply pray and encourage and offer guidance and wisdom.”
The first phase of the restoration, costing £150,000, is the east gable project including restoring the east window.
Future phases will include repairs to the tower, the roof and ceiling, restoring of each window in north and south faces and internal reordering.
Charles Baumann, spokesperson for Saddleworth Historical Society and Saddleworth Civic Trust, said the church was part of the community’s fabric and suggested a concerted effort approaching councils, businesses and community organisations to help save the landmark.