The church was built in the 1870s and enjoyed a strong Anglo-Catholic tradition since that time but last year it became clear that a significant number of the congregation were not happy remaining in the Church of England and wanted to join the Ordinariate.
With the rest of the congregation against such a move, a split was inevitable. The departing church members included all but one of the Parish Church Council but it was an amicable farewell and the Bishop of Durham was even invited to come and preach their final service on 19 February before they joined the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady, part of the nearby Walsingham at St Anne's RC Church.
Fast forward a few months and the church that refused to die is confidently planning for a brighter future with the 73 registered members left in the congregation. That number even includes some who returned to St James the Great after the split.
David Warren, who became Parish Church Council Chair, said: “We knew for a year that they were going to leave and it was a difficult time. We were a congregation divided, some committed to St James the Great, some committed to leaving for the Ordinariate. What happened was difficult at an individual level because some friendships were fractured. Some relationships suffered.
“When the others left, there were times when the viability of the church was questioned but we lost fewer people than we expected and a hard core remained to continue worshipping at St James the Great. We have also seen some people return after having kept away. I sat at the back of a service not long after the split happened and thought ‘this looks pretty much as it looked before’.”
Because of its nature as an Anglo-Catholic Church, which takes in elements of both churches, St James the Great has a congregation comprising one third local people and two thirds who travel from further afield because they are attracted by the tradition of Anglo-Catholicism.
David said the Church’s commitment to the idea remains strong, adding: “When something like this happens you are obliged under the rules to reconsider whether or not you would like to stay as an Anglo-Catholic Church and we have reaffirmed that. We have always been an Anglo-Catholic Church and we wish to remain so.
“We have changed some things. Previously, we had a daily Mass. Now, we have three a week, which are reasonably well attended. The previous ones were not always well attended.
“We see what happened to us as an opportunity and our message is that we are still here. We are open for business.”
Fellow Parish Church Council member Phillip Patterson said: “There is a feeling of optimism now. What happened has been liberating. I think some people are either coming back having previously kept away or are coming for the first time. I am certainly seeing some new faces.”
Along with the new Parish Church Council, leadership of the Church rests with The Venerable Granville Gibson, a highly experienced and respected clergyman who was brought in after the departure of the congregation members.
He said: “There is a real positive feeling about what is happening at the Church. There is an energy and an enthusiasm and I am thrilled to be part of it.”