Ruby anniversary for ‘new' church building which brought a community together

First published on: 21st December 2023

A church has been celebrating the Ruby anniversary of a building which has served the community for 40 years.

When St Columba’s Church in Wideopen first welcomed worshippers in 1983, it replaced two other churches in nearby Seaton Burn and Woodland Park. It was also shared for many years with local Methodists – some of whom continue to worship there today.

To mark the milestone, a series of special events has taken place in recent months.

One was at the Feast of Christ the King, 40 years on from the laying of the foundation stone, at which the Archdeacon of Northumberland, the Venerable Rachel Wood preached. Another was on St Columba’s Day – 40 years on from the dedication of the new church, at which Bishop Mark Wroe presided.

Both services were followed by buffet meals.

Other highlights have included an exhibition of photos, a successful Christmas tree festival, two challenging quiz nights (with pies and peas), Hymns and Pimms with a focus on weddings, an exhibition with Greenfields Community Primary School exploring the past 40 years, and a strawberry tea with a concert by the Ravenswood Singers of mainly 80s music.

St Columba’s has also enjoyed some Ruby musical evenings, and is set to end the year with the launch of a book combining favourite recipes with memories of the church and community, as well as a look forward towards the next 40 years.

Edgar Ridley and Donald Forster are founding members of the new church, having joined from the original St Columba’s in Seaton Burn, and St Chad’s at Woodland Park, respectively. Both were church wardens in the early 1980s and were involved in the planning process for the new building. 

Edgar has fond memories of the old church of St Columba’s, which dated back to 1859.

“I was christened there,” he said. “My parents were married there and so was I. It was an old Victorian building and it had survived two world wars, including the dropping of a bomb very near to it during the Second World War.

“But it needed a lot of work to keep it going. There was a vision for a centralised church rather than two at the extreme ends of the parish, and that is what we ended up with.

“The Methodists wanted to use our building and they contributed towards the cost of the new building project. For many years their services followed ours on a Sunday morning.”

The opening of the new church saw the congregation grow, peaking at about 100 communicants about a decade ago. Over the years, the building has accommodated a Sunday school, drama groups, youth groups and also provided community space. It has also hosted the Women’s Institute (WI) and toddler groups, while local schools also visit.

“In many ways the new church was like a paradise,” said Edgar. “The old one didn’t have a toilet or kitchen. Now we have all of these wonderful facilities which are used by people of all ages.”

Donald recalls moving to the area shortly after getting married and starting to worship at St Chad’s.

Despite happy times there, he said the new building breathed new life into both churches, with congregation numbers suffering prior to the new construction.

Donald added: “I think it’s always a challenge to uproot a church and make changes, but this new building was central and it very quickly became established. It brought people together and it was, and still is, a fantastic church and all-round facility for the whole community.

“Despite the change to a new building, the faith was always strong and that remains the case now. It was the right thing to do and the legacy, we hope, is a church here and a building for the next 40 years and beyond.”

Both Edgar and Donald have served as church wardens and in other roles. Edgar served on the District Church Council (DCC) as lay chairman while Donald served on Deanery Synod.

They both thanked current vicar, Revd Pauline Pearson and all involved at St Columba’s for all it offers and for the collective efforts which have made for a memorable anniversary year.


Images (from top to bottom)

1. Bishop Mark with the current church wardens, Marjorie Fairbairn and Bill Lomas; and wardens involved in the planning 40 years ago, Donald Forster (l) and Edgar Ridley (r).

2. Bishop Mark with the Ven. Peter Elliott (who was vicar in 1983) and his wife Evelyn cutting a celebration cake.

3. The new church under construction in 1983. 

4. The strawberry tea in preparation.






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