A CHURCH has been forced to close due to vandalism and dwindling numbers, say the clergy.
Our Lady Roman Catholic Church, in Cemetery Road, Easington Colliery, held its final service last week.
Parishioners of the 1978-built church will now join the Catholic congregation at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church, in Horden.
Although local police officers say they had not received reports of vandalism at the church, parishioners say it was an “ongoing” problem.
One said: “We have been shocked by what has been done, every day something new to fix, always cleaning outside.
“We are disgusted that our church is the target, everyone is upset at the church closing because of vandals.”
Father Christopher Jackson, spokesman for Hexham and Newcastle diocese, said: “What is the best way forward for a small Catholic congregation: carry on regardless until you are down to the last person?
“Better, surely, to join forces with a nearby parish giving everyone a new start.
“Our Lady’s, Easington Colliery has around 60 people at mass on Sundays.
“They will soon be joining the Catholics in Horden to make a congregation of almost 200.
“Over recent months people at Our Lady’s Church in Easington Colliery and the priests who care for them have had several discussions.
“They have looked at ways in which they can continue to be a lively Christian presence in Easington.
“They have taken into account the fact that there are fewer priests to care for them.
“Ongoing vandalism means that there is an increasing amount of work to be done on the church building. All of these factors have led them to see that the best way forward is to be thankful for the past and move forward courageously to the future.”
Bishop Seamus Cunningham, who made the final decision on the closure, attended the last mass at the church.
After listening carefully to local people and their priests, he said: “The Catholic people of Easington Colliery are a great reminder that the Church is people rather than buildings.
“Over the years they have always been a strong force for good and the parish has produced several priests.
“The church they have used has to go but they will continue to celebrate mass at nearby Horden.
“They will strengthen the Catholic community there and continue to be a presence in Easington Colliery. Great good can come out of this.”
The building had replaced by a former Our Lady church which was built in 1923 and demolished.
It is hoped a buyer can be found for the site.