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With One Voice

The Catholic Parishes of St Agnes’ Crawcrook, St Joseph’s Highfield and Our Lady of Lourdes Chopwell

Part of the Ovingham Parish Partnership in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle

Parish News and Events

Father James celebrates 50 years of priesthood

On 6th October, our parish priest, Fr John James, celebrated the Golden Anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. 

 The actual day of his ordination (6th October 1973) was celebrated in St. Barnabas’ with St. Joseph's parishioners at 10am weekday Mass and St. Joseph's Primary School children and staff in wonderful attention and roof-raising, joyful voice.

Fr James celebrated Saturday Vigil Mass at St Barnabas' in Rowlands Gill, concelebrated by Fr Adrian Tuckwell, Mass being followed by refreshments and a celebration cake and gifts from parishioners in the church hall. 

 On Sunday morning, the parishes' celebration took place at St Agnes' where a large number of father's family joined parishioners from all three parish communities for a wonderful Mass at 11am. We were also joined by Deacon Martin Bell and the roof was raised with hymns especially chosen by Father. It was a prayerful and joyous occasion.

 After Mass, the church and adjoining rooms were quickly transformed and delicious food and drinks were enjoyed by all present. Father James cut a special cake, appropriately decorated in the red and white stripes of Sunderland (along with a rendition of "Happy Feast Day to you").   There was a lovely atmosphere as family and friends caught up and shared in the joy of the occasion with Father James. 

Ryton Choral Society Consert

On Saturday 1st April, St Agnes Church played host to the Ryton Choral Society who performed the St John Passion by J.S. Bach. The choir, directed by Alastair Lord, were accompanied by a chamber orchestra and continuo organ, with visiting guest soloists singing the character parts of the passion.  It was an excellent performance with the resonant acoustic of the church doing the musicians real justice. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and a real treat to welcome the choir to St Agnes’.

Children welcome the word

On the second Sunday of Lent, the children who are preparing to celebrate their First Holy Communion came to Sunday Mass.


They celebrated a special Liturgy Of The Word with their parents in front of the congregation where they received a copy of St Mathew's Gospel.

Buildings Update from Bernard

St Agnes:   Once again we have had to repair the brick work in the church.  I personally think this is due to a poor class of bricks chosen for the internal structure.  

This church is only 64 years(ish) old and since it’s building we have had numerous problems with the heating, which had to be replaced, and brick work has had to be replaced over the altar. Some walls have split bricks which have had to be replaced. Our latest problem was the bricks up high and movement towards the main roof structure from the windows. There were no signs on the bricks on the outside but we had to investigate to see what was happening. Once again, if the bricks had been of a better quality I don’t think we would have had this problem: please see the photos attached. 

You may have seen the main doors of the church have had a repaint. We were in a situation where the last repairs were not in good condition and this drew attention to the actual construction of the door.  I was very disappointed with this and wondered how to try to solve this problem and make them fit for purpose. The doors are hollow with plywood as a skin which produced gaps and rotting wood. It was all repaired to a good standard but the colour was not what was required nor did it fit in with the ambience of our church so  it was reworked and is now acceptable. When the weather is better the painters are coming back to finish of a few places  that I have not been happy with.

Our Lady of Lourdes:  If you haven’t been there since we finished replacing the lights in the church, I personally think that they are a great improvement. They are in all ways BRIGHTER, CLEANER, CHEEPER TO RUN and no transformers in the roof. I could not belief the heat they were giving off and mixed in with the insulation -  DANGEROUS. It gives the whole church an uplift. 

Regards,  Bernard Mannion

Bishop Robert's Visits

On the weekend of 23rd October, Bishop Robert Byrne celebrated all three weekend Masses as part of his official episcopal visitation of the parishes. 


He celebrated the Vigil Mass at St Barnabas' in Rowlands Gill for St Joseph's Parish, which was concelebrated by Fr James and Fr Tuckwell; he also met Rev Diane Ryan, who is Vicar of Rowlands Gill and HIgh Spen. Sunday Masses were celebrated as usual at Crawcrook and Chopwell. Bishop Robert enjoyed his visit and was delighted to share a cup of coffee and meet as many parishioners as possible in our parishes, given the opportunities after Mass.

Confirmation Mass celebrated

On Friday 8th July, the Sacrament of Confirmation was conferred on several young people and adults from the deanery, including our three parish communities,  concluding several months of preparation. Some of the candidates and the catechists gathered for the Emmaus Retreat at the Youth Village for a weekend later in the month, sharing their faith and celebrating their gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Here are two Flickr photo albums to share:

Confirmation Mass photos

Emmaus Retreat photos

It has been a joy and privilege to accompany an amazing group of young people over the last few months, and we offer each of them our prayers and blessings on behalf of the Confirmation Catechists involved in this year’s programme. 

In the Autumn term, we plan to follow on with the Emmaus Accompaniment programme and our annual Emmaus Walk.   

Lesley Gregory and Mark Hindmarsh


Celebrating the Platinum Jubilee

Parishes across the country marked the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen with a special prayer of thanks and blessing at the Sunday Mass of the Bank Holiday weekend.

At the end of Sunday morning Mass at St Agnes, the parishioners sang the National Anthem before gathering in the Millennium Room for refreshments, featuring a beautifully decorated table with specially decorated cakes. 

Thanks to the Friends of St Agnes for organising such a lovely celebration. 

Grotto restored to former glory

Our Lady has been missing from the grotto in the grounds at Our Lady of Lourdes in Chopwell for a while.  

Thankfully,  a new statue has now replaced the one that was vandalised, the has been garden tidied up and new flowers have been planted lovingly by our parishioners. 

The results are very pleasing!

Friends feeling happy to be re-united

The Friends of St Agnes had a great afternoon at their February meeting. The group enjoyed an afternoon of fellowship together, which included bingo (with some great prizes) in the Millennium Room at St Agnes' Church. 

Norah commented: "It was a great, fun afternoon after so many months of isolation." 

The next meeting is Tuesday 1st March, which is Shrove Tuesday, so pancakes are likely to feature!

Christmas Joy

Christmas 2021 was not quite back to 'normal', but our parish celebrations certainly felt much more normal.

On Sunday 12 December at 4:00pm, a good number of parishioners gathered at St Agnes' for a welcome return of the annual, traditional service of readings and carols, followed by refreshments. 

Although attendance had to be limited, joyful Christmas Masses were celebrated in all three parishes with the return of the singing of carols and a genuine feeling of faith communities gathered, in joyful hope and optimism, to celebrate the birth of Jesus. 

Advent comes again

Sunday 28th November 2021 saw the beginning of a new year in the life of the church. The first candle of the advent wreath was lit; the children who are preparing for the sacraments of reconciliation and first holy communion were also at Mass.

They led the congregation in the Penetential Rite at the beginning of Mass.

The Feast of Christ the King

On the final Sunday of the liturgical year, the candidates for sacramental preparation returned to Mass. . After the homily, the candidates renewed their baptismal promises with a firm 'I do' and dipped their hands into the font to be blessed with baptismal water.  

Enrolment of Sacramental Preparation Candidates 2021/22
It was with great joy that candidates for sacramental preparation are officially enrolled on the programme on the weekend of Sunday 7th November. Children from all three parishes came forward with members of their family to formally submit their applications at the special Rite of Enrolment liturgy during the Sunday Mass in our parishes. The children look forward to celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation soon, before preparation for Holy Communion in the Spring.

Easter Triduum 2021

Although still in the midst of a global pandemic and with reduced congregations, this year's Easter Triduum liturgies were at least celebrated in all three of our parishes.  There was no congregational singing and the liturgies were slightly shortened, in accordance with the guidance from the bishops' conference, but all were very prayerful and uplifting celebrations.   

Many parishioners, who were unable to be present in person, also joined via Zoom.  Holy Thursday Mass was celebrated in Crawcrook, the traditional Good Friday liturgy in all three parishes at 3pm, the Easter Vigil in Rowlands Gill and Easter Sunday morning Mass in Crawcrook and Chopwell.  Grateful thanks to all who contributed in any way.

Christmas 2020

At the end of what has been a year like no other, the celebration of Christmas was also very different to usual.   There were no carol services, school celebrations or congregational singing, and our churches were much quieter than usual due to the restriction son capacity,  but members from each of our three churches gathered for quiet, yet prayerful Christmas Masses.  Many others joined our 4pm Christmas Eve Mass at St Agnes' via Zoom. 

Celebration of First Holy Communion

Children from our parishes finally celebrated their First Holy Communion during September and October.

The celebrations were originally due to take place in late April, but were postponed due to the lockdown. Because of the current restrictions, the children could only be joined by members of their household, but members of their wider family and friends were able to join the celebration Mass via Zoom. The masses were lovely, prayerful occasions and the children  thoroughly enjoyed themselves. 

The children and families are so grateful to Fr James and the team of catechists for their time, dedication  and support throughout the preparation programme.  Photos at St Agnes' courtesy of Gavin Forster and OLL, Maire Millican.

A Very Different Holy Week

In this unprecedented time of pandemic, it was very strange for the community not to be able to come together to celebrate the Holy Week and Easter Triduum liturgies in the usual way.

Many made use of live streamed services, including Fr Tuckwell's streamed services at Blaydon and Winlaton and Bishop Robert and the clergy at St Mary's Cathedral. Fr James celebrated the liturgies privately on our behalf, although the parishes were very much with him in spirit. He had provided photographic images of the different liturgies, showing us how the churches would be set up: these were shared here on the website for people to access and help them to keep in touch. 

There were over 400 visits to our website on Good Friday, with many more during the Triduum. Likewise, the website has been very busy in recent weeks as people have been accessing material, particularly the Adoration @ Home pages for each church. We are most grateful to Fr James for his caring ministry to us during this time of physical distancing. 

Celebrating the Word of God

Our candidates for sacramental preparation attended Mass on Second Sunday of Ordinary Time for their special liturgy celebrating the Word of God. The  liturgy took place after the Opening Prayer. 

The Celebrant signs each child’s ears with the Sign of the Cross and says: " Hear the Word of God."  The parent signs the child’s lips and says: "Speak the Word of God."  The catechist presents the open lectionary to the child who places his/her hand upon it saying: "We will live the Word of God."  The children were then presented with a copy of St Matthew's Gospel.

Rare wedding -  with a difference -  celebrated at St Agnes'

Saturday 4th May saw the first wedding at St Agnes' for several  years as  Joseph White and Marcia Winstanley celebrated their Nuptial Mass in a packed church. In a unique compilation of Quaker and Catholic Rites of matrimony, they pledged their love to one another in the power of the Spirit of God and Our Lord, Jesus Christ. [The twenty minute Quaker silence within the liturgy  almost killed the Catholics!] May the Lord of Love sustain and be with them all their lives in the years ahead.


Christmas 2023

As well as various carol services and special Masses celebrated by our parish schools, Christmas itself was celebrated at Masses in Chopwell (on Christmas Eve) and Crawcrook on Christmas morning.  

This year, parishioners at St Agnes' raised £305 through sale of Christmas tree stars for our Diocesan Advent charity, St Cuthbert's Care. A huge thank you to everyone who bought stars, dedicated to their loved ones, in support for this worthy cause.

St Agnes' School said a big "thank you" to Fr James on the occasion of his Golden Jubilee

 "We invited Father James and our Deputy Mayor into school to celebrate Father James 50th anniversary.  We listened to some fantastic poems, prayers, hymns, songs and artwork.

 Father James was overwhelmed by the kind words and thoughts from our children.

We presented Father James with a beautiful icon of all three parish saints and also a booklet with photographs and words to show what an amazing support he continues to be in St Agnes' Primary School."

Miss Woods, Headteacher

Holy Week 

Holy Week 2023 began with Palm Sunday. The sun was shining as the congregation began the Sunday Mass' by gathering outside for the blessing of palms.Holy Thursday was celebrated at St Agnes', followed by Good Friday liturgies in all three parishes. The Easter Vigil was celebrated in St Barnabas' with Easter Day Masses in Crawcrook and Chopwell. 

First Reconciliation Celebrated

The first part of this year's sacramental preparation programme completed in December, with the candidates' celebration  of Reconciliation. The children came to church with members of the family to meet with  Fr James. The programme resumes in the new year, as they prepare to meet the Lord in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

Sacramental Preparation begins

Our parishes have begun the process of preparing the next group of young people for sacramental preparation. The first steps to reconciliation took place in early November, with the children attending the weekend Mass with members of their families.   

Friends of St Agnes' expanding

At October’s meeting, it was great to see all our members. We now have 14 members and a special welcome back to Jean. To help with church cleaning, it was decided that once a month after Wednesday morning mass and coffee we would clean and keep the church tidy two weeks after the Tuesday cleaning.  Hopefully this will help the Tuesday cleaners.  Our Christmas dinner has been booked and organising the Christmas Raffle is done. It was decided to have a Mass said in November for our deceased friends and their families. Instead of bingo, we had a quiz followed by tea and cake.

Please look on our website for photos. Our next meeting is Tuesday 1 November at 2pm (meetings are always on the first Tuesday of the month at 2pm). New members welcome.


Friends of St Agnes' Summer Lunch


The Friends of St Agnes' enjoyed a recent outing for lunch at The White Swan in Ovingham. It's great to see the group, who meet monthly,  out and about again after the restrictions of the last two years.   Long may it continue!


St Agnes Presbytery refit

 Our tale began  in February 2022 with the identification of very low asbestos content, by our Diocesan  Employee, in the kitchen, back passageway, downstairs toilet and  under carpet flooring in 'Fr. J's "Snug" [small living room].

Although uncracked / unbroken , it was thought best to uplift and remove said tiles now, as it would be required by the Diocese sooner or later.

As the kitchen units had originally been installed on top of the floor tiles, this necessitated temporal removal , intending for re-installation on new flooring and replacement of "Snug" carpet [in fact rotten.]

Then, Fr. J made a fatal mistake! I chose to CONSULT. [Ask 45 people their views on matters of colour/taste/ design, you get 45 different replies.]

Upon viewing the intended floor repairs, parishioners unanimously recommended replacement of the "Snug'" carpet AND re-design /renewal  of the kitchen [including replacement of the cooker. donated by my sister 10 yrs ago, after her previous 15 yr use.]

This, I confess, I resisted as:

                - Superglue comes in handy for the old units.

                - Everything would have seen me out anyway.

BUT: having thought of the future and:

                - possible  non replacement b y a resident priest in St. Agnes.......

                -  or alternative use  of the Presbytery [e.g.: a family...]

After weeks of deliberation I agreed to  re-design and renewal of kitchen in order to maximise options for future use of the presbytery.

I hope the final outcome will meet with your approval. All matters of bad taste are mine.

Please see photos and progress of works as indicated.

My immense thanks must go to our Property Manager, Bernard and his better half, Linda, for all their organisation, supervision and support in all of this time, and all who have looked after me these last few months.
I am most grateful.


The Snug

Downstairs Toilet

Sacristy steps and Confessional

The Kitchen

...and a glimpse at the upheaval during the work!

We will Remember Them

Sunday 14th November 2021 was Remembrance Sunday. In each of our churches was as a small, but evocative, display for the Dead of the two World Wars. There were Acts of Remembrance in our villages - at the war memorial beside Our Lady of Lourdes church and at the Cenotaph opposite St Barnabas' in Rowlands Gill, where people gathered for a service organised by Churches Together.

We also commemorated all our parishioners who have died in these two years of the pandemic, and those who have died throughout our country from the coronavirus. Our parish Memorial Booklets will be presented to the Mass, celebrated by Bishop Robert and our Diocesan Clergy, in St. Mary's Cathedral on Saturday, 27th November at 11.00am. These memorial booklets have been lovingly prepared by Denny Hallam from OLL parish and we thank him for all his calligraphy skills, time and care of this event, which means so much to our bereaved families.

Before the Cathedral Mass, our Vicariate parishes will celebrate a Requiem Mass with Bishop Robert in St. Aloysius, Hebburn on Wednesday, 24th November at 7.00pm for all who have died in these days.

Our Lady of Lourdes' Organist Retires

In 1982 [39 years ago], one Fr. Paddy Magner (Parish Priest) asked Bernice McNestry to play the organ in the old church in succession to tone Mary Ritchley "for a while", and "just do the best you can" because she was then completely self taught on the piano, never having played the organ, much less in public. It is therefore with utter poignancy that we now announce Bernice's reluctant, but unavoidable retirement as OLL organist, because of recent ill health.

Poignant? Because, as with many other parish significant events, we are not able to celebrate with thanksgiving in the way that we would otherwise dearly love to do.Bernice has been presented with an admittedly token gift of thanks and appreciation for all her years of service, typically delivered to her at home as her intended presence at last Tuesday's mass proved not to be possible.It betokens all her quiet, unassuming, anonymous, never failing reliability in enabling and accompanying the Song of Heart in OLL these last 39 years. We simply cannot thank Bernice enough. I am sure many people will let her know this.  We offer our thanks with all the grace with which she has served us all so well, so richly deserved as it is.       FJ

Diocesan Caritas Appeal

In response to an appeal from Fr Adrian Tuckwell, our Episcopal Vicar and EV with responsibility for Caritas, our Parish Committee Members asked to meet with him in person to discuss further his request that all Diocesan parishes donate 5-10% from their deposit bank accounts to a new fund for the alleviation of poverty in our Diocesan area. This meeting took place at 8.00pm in St, Agnes' on Wednesday, 10th  November, to which all parishioners from all three parishes were invited. 

The meeting took place with Fr Tuckwell, Fr James and seven parishioners present. Please read the minutes HERE.

Oh Yes, we did!

All things being equal, it might have been panto time in Rowlands Gill in early 2021.  The Josephites started in 1999 and was made up mostly with parishioners from St Joseph’s and over the years parishioners from St Agnes and Our Lady of Lourdes have joined with people out of our area (Burnopfield and Dipton) and also people from other local churches.

Our first pantomime, Cinderella, was performed at Strathmore Road Methodist  Hall. We rehearsed in St Joseph’s school or in the church (without the Blessed Sacrament being present!) Bernie Legg was the director, Joan Laidler wrote the script and Christina Reed Richards taught dancing.

After the second pantomime, Bernie moved out of the parish so Joan Laidler took over as director. We performed our pantomimes every other year, held them at Strathmore Road and over the years we successfully encouraged the schoolchildren and some parishioners to take part. We almost persuaded Fr Hall to be The Genie of the Lamp when we did Aladdin the first time but after a great deal of thought, he decided against it! A large number of people came to watch our performances and for years we had a minibus of people from St Anne’s, Harlow Green who came to support us. Bishop Ambrose attended one of our performances and was delighted that a parish of our size could take on such a project and said he was very proud of us all. We built up a great wardrobe over the years and the scenery was very professionally done headed by Ruth Brennan and Carol Deveaux. We also had live music and special effects from Geoff Laidler, Pat Dobson and Patrick Brennan. There were teams of parishioners who made refreshments at half time and we also had raffles. All profits were given for parish funds.

After the new St Joseph’s School was built, Mrs Parkin, the Headteacher asked us if we wanted to hold our performances in the school. She was very helpful and accommodating, the venture was a great success and got the school, the parish and the local community involved - excellent community cohesion. After the performances, some cast members were often stopped and congratulated by customers, whilst shopping in Tesco, Rowlands Gill – who always donated prizes for our raffles. Our priest thought it was a good idea to donate all profits for school funds which were gratefully accepted.

Colin Dobson took over the role of directing the children and did an excellent job. Some children from St Agnes’ parish joined our cast and formed friendships and Mr Mark Jones from St Agnes came to take videos. We also took photographs and sent a couple with an article to the Northern Cross, which they published. It was a lot of hard work and dedication, but well worth it. After the last performance the cast had a private “cast party” which was always great fun and a sense of relief that all had gone well.

Has it come to a natural end? A few cast members want to keep the Josephites going and have another pantomime next year but some members have other commitments e.g. work, studies, children, grandchildren. Time will tell. What a good job we didn’t plan to have one this year which would have been impossible!!!  The Josephites are grateful to our parishes and the local community for their continued support over the years which enabled us to succeed and have many happy memories.

Joan Laidler

Aladdin 2020
Aladdin 2020

A Prison during Pandemic

Following last year's extensive repairs to the fabric of the church at Crawcrook, it became apparent that some urgent pointing was required on the rear of the presbytery at St Agnes.'  In order to allow this to happen safely,  the back of the house was covered with scaffolding, followed by the process of grinding out the old mortar and, finally, repointing of the brickwork.

During the weeks when the scaffolding was in place, Father James shared his view of the outside during the Zoom Coffee Morning - it looked very much like he was in prison, which is somewhat ironic during this time of enforced lockdown. Thankfully, the bars were taken down as soon as the work was complete -  in an incredibly quick time of 40 minutes thanks to contractor Bill Mason -  followed by a sense of liberation from his three weeks "behind bars."

Rite of Election

Our children who are preparing for their First Holy Communion celebrated the Rite of Election at their parish liturgy celebrating in the Liturgy of the Eucharist on the third Sunday of Lent.