Wigan’s churchgoers have the opportunity to give their views on far-reaching plans to transform how the borough’s Anglican Church is set up.
Proposals drawn up under Transforming Wigan have been put out to public consultation as the Church of England tries to modernise for the challenges of the 21st century.
The reform is based on streamlining Wigan’s existing 29 parishes into just seven, with the Benefice of Wigan being created and overseen by a Team Rector and served by 17 vicars.
Senior church leaders have stressed the positives that could come from some of the changes while accepting that many parishioners may be apprehensive about such radical alterations to the church’s structure.
Area dean Philip Anderson, who ministers at St John’s Church in Pemberton, said: “It is now over to the people of Wigan, over the next couple of months, to comment on the details of the plans.
“We’re hoping people will take the time to look at this and they are welcome to ask any questions and write in with their comments, whether critical or positive. There will probably be a mixture of both.
“The Church of England is grappling with how we can work more effectively and support each other better.
“When we had lead stolen from our roof a few years ago our church wardens and volunteers were left with this enormous challenge. It felt quite isolating.
“That has been one of the features of church life in Wigan and elsewhere in the country. That’s why part of the consultation proposals is about working more closely with colleagues.
“It will mean we’re not spending our time trying to negotiate the complexities of listed buildings and can concentrate on serving the community.”
The consultation document is the result of several years of meetings between Wigan clergy and a series of discussion and feedback events.
The seven new parishes will be Wigan Central, Wigan East (Chapelfields), Wigan North East, Wigan North West, Wigan South, Wigan Town Centre and Wigan West.
The document says that each parish being its own charity means each one is individually responsible for finance, governance, recruitment, health and safety, safeguarding, building maintenance and many other issues that crop up in running churches.
Leaders are hoping that pooling resources will enable some of these background roles to be done more efficiently.
The revamp is being supported by £1.2m of investment from the Church of England and the Diocese of Liverpool.
The document also says there are no plans to close any other churches in Wigan, with St Peter’s in Bryn shutting its doors something that had already been on the agenda due to its unsuitability for continuing worship. Every church will also keep its own line in the parish accounts.
However, the reforms did recently hit the headlines when Rev Denise Hayes, the popular minister in Marsh Green and Kitt Green, announced she felt her talents were unsuited to a hub leader’s role and decided to move to Hattersley.
She is not the only member of the Wigan clergy departing for pastures new, with Rev Bob Pearson and Rev Sian Gasson also taking up new posts.
Rev Anderson said it was understandable some people might find the planned changes concerning but stressed benefits were already happening and could be seen.
He also said the reform was very much something Wigan was willingly doing to address problems it is facing.
Rev Anderson said: “We were planning that Denise would be staying but she felt called to go. People move and the church is like the rest of life in that.
“Of course some people are unsettled and one of the challenges with any kind of change is communication.
“One of the fears is that this is something being done to us, but that isn’t my perception. We asked for the help.
“The project didn’t arrive with a perfectly-drawn blueprint and actually that was one of the initial criticisms, that there wasn’t a detailed plan.
“A lot of work has gone into this, it hasn’t landed out of the blue sky. This is several years of discussing, listening and reflecting.
“I think, like with any change, people have anxieties because they think it will never happen. But over the last year I would definitely say anxiety in the churches have subsided.
“I think we are already beginning to see the positives. In my church five years ago all our money went on our beloved building and paying for me, but by sharing resources we have been able to focus on youth work and working among some of the poorest people in our communities, which is a top priority for the church in Wigan.”
The consultation is open now. More information on the proposals is available at churchwigan.uk
Any comments or questions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or given over the phone by ringing 01942 410910.