A SMALL Wayside village church looks almost certain to close in the next few years.

All Saints – ‘the Church in the Woods’ – at Bishopswood near Kerne Bridge has had only a handful of worshippers in recent years and is in the red.

At a public meeting in the village hall this month, parishioners reluctantly agreed that closure was the only practical option.

Twice-monthly services have switched to the village hall for a six-month trial.

All Saints will host an Easter service to mark the most important festival in the Christian calendar.

Rev Tim Starling, the priest-in-charge of the Wye Reaches benefice, which includes Bishopswood, said: “I am so sorry we are this conversation, it is not why I came here and not what I hoped for.

“It is not uncommon for us to have two or three people and that often includes the priest or minister and the organist and that has been very sad to see over a period of 30 years when the church used to be full.

“One of the strengths of Bishopswood Church has been its festival services: carols, Christmas, Remembrance, Harvest but unfortunately there the trend is downward and less and less people are attending those.

“One of the most significant things is that we have run a deficit budget for eight consecutive years which has depleted our reserves by about £18,000 and at that rate the church would be bankrupt – if that were possible – in about three to four years. 

“Unfortunately I am not allowed to let it go bankrupt which is why decisions have to be made now rather than leaving it until we get into a crisis.

“Talking of finances we are struggling big time as a church. It would take about an extra £12,500 a year in extra income to maintain our accounts and start to look after the building. 

This is on top of the quinquennial report which is done every five years on the state of the building and they estimate there is £22,000 worth of work to do on top of the £12,500.

“That is a considerable amount of money that needs to be found should we want the church to continue.

“A huge number of you are connected emotionally to All Saints and over the years many of you have invested huge amounts of time and energy into fund-raising and supporting the church. 

“A huge thank you for all you have done in continuing the life of All Saints for so long and so well.

“But many of these of these people are saying we continue the fight. 

“We are getting older, there needs to be other people who come along and continue the work and unfortunately we haven’t seen this.

“The church is now probably in the wrong part of the village. 

“I can see why it was there 150 years ago but it not in the most helpful place.”

The church – which is up a winding track off the B4234 – was built on land given by John Partridge, the owner of the Bishopswood estate and consecrated in 1845.

“If you haven’t got a car, its not an easy place to walk. It doesn’t have the facilities of a toilet or running water and central heating and it is not an easy location.

“The question I’ve heard is can a village the size of Bishopswood support two community buildings, the church and the village hall.

As lovely as the church is, the village hall has all the facilities anyone could need.

“I think I’ve also heard that there was realistic sense that people are not up for the fight of continuing to look after the church.

“That is sad but it is not a reflection of people’s hearts it is a reflection of the reality of where we are in life.

For the church to be closed, a recommendation would have to made  to the Church Commissioners – who administer Church of England properties – and the Diocese of Hereford.

The Commissioners and Diocese would carry out a survey and consult local organisations about the closure, a process which would take two-to-three years.

There were concerns about the churchyard but Rev Starling said he had been assured it would remain open.

Former Herefordshire county councillor Yolande Watson said there should be a agreement legal agreement with any new owner to guarantee access to the burial ground.

Baroness Jill Pitkeathley thanked Rev Starling for his work and said the possible closure was not a reflection on the local community.

She added: “We appreciate how difficult this is for you and the effort you are putting in.

“This is not about the Bishopswood community because it is a very vibrant one.

“It may not be expressed in the church but we can continue to have that great community spirit. 

“We should remember a church is not about a building but about the people.”

In a show of hands, 20 people indicated they would support with four unsure.