A PIONEERING project has been launched to train new vicars in hard-hit former coalfield communities.
The five-year Church of England-led East Durham Mission Project brings together nine parishes in communities that lost thousands of jobs when their pits closed.
A joint venture between the Diocese of Durham and Cranmer Hall, which is the Anglican Theological College, the project hopes that clergy studying for ordination will better understand the resulting social problems, as they live in these communities for a year.
Parishes taking part will be Peterlee, Easington Village, Easington Colliery, Wheatley Hill, Wingate, Haswell, Shotton, Castle Eden and Blackhall with Hesleden.
The idea is to strengthen the role of the church in the life of communities that face a series of social challenges, many prompted by the collapse of the coal-mining industry, while also ensuring that the ordinands’ training is as realistic as possible.
Reverend Dr Michael Volland, who will run the project, said: “Churches are facing change, congregations are getting older, society is going through all sorts of changes.
“This project gives us the opportunity to try things here and see what works, then ask if it could work elsewhere.”
Bishop of Jarrow, the Right Rev Mark Bryant, said: “Easington is a district with a high level of social challenge and life is becoming more difficult for more and more people.
“As a Church we are determined to do all we can to support people, particularly those local people for whom life is getting more difficult.”