Nomadic worshippers find new home in Sunderland landmark

Big plans - Pastor Dave Burke outside of Bede Tower, which is going to become a Bethany Church.
Big plans - Pastor Dave Burke outside of Bede Tower, which is going to become a Bethany Church.
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A WANDERING church group is giving thanks having found a permanent home after eight years.

Bethany City Church has bought Bede Tower, in Burdon Road, from Sunderland High School.

The evangelical free church plans to bring the building back to life and turn it into a place for worship and community activities.

Pastor David Burke, minister of the church, said: “We have been nomadic for eight years.

“We have looked at different buildings but none of them were as good as this.When it came up we thought it was perfect.”

Bethany City Church, a division of the Bethany Christian Church, was set up because of the large congregation which travelled from the city centre to Houghton.

Since then they have met for services on a Sunday morning in the Quayside Exchange, High Street East, and held monthly meetings in Starbucks, in The Bridges. Pastor Burke said: “At the moment we meeting in places we borrow and anywhere that will have us, really. It’s just wherever we can get.”

Bede Tower, built in 1851 by then mayor Anthony John Moore, will provide room for the church’s 230 congregation.

“The main room is a theatre which we are converting into a space for worship,” said Pastor Burke.

“There is room for about 250 or 260 people.

“What we would like to do is have two different spaces: one for families and one for more experimental services, and we would like to have plenty of room for guests.”

The church also wants to allow community groups and organisations to use the building.

The plans include a cafe, a soft play where parents and grandparents of young children can meet, rooms for meetings and conferencing, and sport activities.

Pastor Burke said they also want it to be a base for the church’s food bank and debt counselling service, and somewhere where those suffering from loneliness and depression can find friends.

He said: “When we began Bethany City Church, we had a vision: that was to become a lively Christian community in the centre of Sunderland, working for the good of the city.

“We’re very excited about the potential for the church to be a hub for the Hendon and St Michael’s wards and the city as a whole.

“It will be a great place to meet and spend time, especially if you have kids, with great facilities for meetings as well as for worship, prayer and all the things an active church does.”

Pastor Burke said he was interested in hearing from local organisations which would like to join the church in providing other opportunities for local people at Bede Tower.

Twitter: @Monica_Turnbull