Priest makes an emotional plea to
save one of town’s oldest churches

St. Ninians on Baxtergate is facing possible closure. Outside overview with Father Phillip.
St. Ninians on Baxtergate is facing possible closure. Outside overview with Father Phillip.
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One of the oldest churches in Whitby - built by Captain Cook’s shipbuilders - will be closed by the end of next year, the parish priest has warned.

St Ninian’s Church on Baxtergate dates back to 1777 with only the iconic St Mary’s Church being older.

St. Ninians on Baxtergate is facing possible closure. 1st advent candle.

St. Ninians on Baxtergate is facing possible closure. 1st advent candle.

Yet, due to spiralling costs to run and falling congregation numbers, Father Philip French says the church is becoming unsustainable unless the people of Whitby step in to help.

An emotional Father Philip told the Gazette: “I would say we have got until the end of 2015. We have to take legal advice at the beginning of the year with regards the situation because we just won’t be able to sustain it.

“It is extremely sad if it was to happen because it has been a major part of my life. But it is not how I feel that is important - it is keeping it open as a place of worship.”

That is why in a last ditch attempt to save St Ninian’s from the same fate that has befallen a long line of other Whitby churches over the years, the Friends of St Ninian’s group has been set up.

St. Ninians on Baxtergate is facing possible closure. Interiordetail.

St. Ninians on Baxtergate is facing possible closure. Interiordetail.

He hopes people will support the group - even if they do not worship at the church.

Father Philip added: “It is very much in the early stages and apart from within the building we need to make that known, but everything has to start somewhere.

“I have been here 15 years and people are constantly saying things like they have family connections but do not worship here anymore. St Ninian’s has played an important part in the lives of the people of Whitby whether it has been baptisms, funerals of whatever.

“I know there are people that don’t want to see it close and there are lots of people that still use the building.

St. Ninians on Baxtergate is facing possible closure. Interior.

St. Ninians on Baxtergate is facing possible closure. Interior.

“They are keeping it alive but once it is gone, it’s gone.”

The main cost to the church is the insurance which is £2,500 per year and then heating and lighting.

The only funding the church gets is from donations and the sale of religious items such as candles, rosary beads and cards.

In the winter months the typical congregation is little more than six people.

The church fares slightly better in the summer as visitors and holidaymakers use the church.

And, Father Philip also believes that the town centre location of St Ninian’s, at the heart of Baxtergate, is the only thing that’s saved the church from closing before now.

He added: “It is true to say St Ninian’s would have closed 20 years ago, if not 30 if it had not been on Baxtergate.”

Local businessmen and merchants financed the building of the church and the shipwrights that worked in Whitby building the ships in the harbour carried out the construction.

Up until the early 1990s the church was licensed by the Church of England and was very much part of the Anglo Catholic (High Church) tradition.

Since the changes in the parish, St Ninian’s continues a traditional form of worship, though as a Catholic church and no longer Anglican.

The church is served by the Order of St Benedict (Benedictines).

To be a Friend of St Ninian sign up for as little as £15 (£10 concessions). Contact Friends of St Ninian’s, 5 Langdale Terrace, Whitby Y021 3EE or ring 603013 or 07944 791676.