We recently gathered in the Isle of Man to mark the closure of St Joseph’s, Willaston. Sad as it is when a church closes, it is important to remind ourselves that the Church is its people rather than the bricks and mortar of any building. The occasion was a joyful celebration of milestones and memories in the life of the community.
At a Sunday afternoon service, the parish registers were placed on the altar. Names of those who had been baptised, confirmed, married and whose funerals had been celebrated over the last 60 years were read out. They included the very first baptism and the last wedding. It brought these past events alive. Their names live on.
People who had not gathered together in a long time had the opportunity to reunite and talk about the old days and share photos. These raised peals of laughter as people recognised their younger selves over tea and cake. As one longstanding parishioner movingly wrote to me: ‘Thank you and to all your team who made the sad closure of St Joseph’s Church into a happy and memorable day.’
Each of the church’s 14 stations of the cross had been donated in memory of loved ones. Parishioners were invited to give them an honoured place in their homes. A carved statue of Saint Joseph the Worker, donated by Father James English to the first and only parish priest, Fr Leslie Daley, now has pride of place in St Mary of the Isle Church in Douglas. One family claimed the pew where their dad sat for many years as he attended Mass. This prompted other parishioners to take the remaining pews. As well as serving as a memento of St Joseph’s, they make excellent garden furniture.
Over the years St Joseph’s has developed as a hub for social welfare agencies. Their work will continue in partnership with Living Hope, an evangelical church in the Baptist tradition.