Christian Celtic Cross (18Kb)
St. Joseph's Presbytery, Birtley Lane, Birtley, Chester-le-Street DH3 1LJ.

Part of the St Benedict Partnership of Parishes
(Birtley, Chester-le-Street, Easington Lane, Houghton-le-Spring, Penshaw, Sacriston, Washington)

Father Mark Millward: 0191 416 3583, Father Paul Hopper: 0191 410 2923, Father Jim O'Keefe: 0191 416 3805.

Deacon: Peter Lavery
: (0191) 410 2530. Mobile: 07743 807 312. Email:


Parish Profile Prepared for Parish Visitation 2007

1. Background

The parish is one of the oldest in the diocese, established in 1696; the church was built in 1843. From 1723 until 1977 the parish was served by Benedictine priests from Douai Abbey.

The parish is situated in an unusual geographic position. It is made up of three residential communities that straddle two local authorities, Birtley and Kibblesworth in Gateshead and Ouston in County Durham. The parish has also seen a number of local government boundary changes over the last forty years. As a result the parish has three primary schools (St Joseph’s Infant and Junior Schools, in Birtley, and St Benet’s Primary School in Ouston). These primary schools feed in to three different Catholic Comprehensive schools, St Leonard’s Durham (for Ouston), St Edmund Campion Wrekenton (for Birtley and Kibblesworth) and St Robert’s, Washington (the feeder school for Birtley when in it was part of County Durham).

This unusual geography is replicated in church terms as the parish shares borders with seven other parishes, of which only one is in the same deanery and the other six are in four different deaneries and St Leonard’s School Durham is the only one of the three secondary schools in the same deanery.

Birtley was once heavily reliant on coal mining, heavy industry and brick making, the mining and brick making have now ceased and the heavy industry is much reduced but Komatsu and the Ordnance factory are still major employers. The majority of the working population now travel outside of the parish to work. The parish has recently become aware of a number of immigrant workers from Poland and other Eastern European countries working and living in the parish.

Ouston and Kibblesworth were both relatively small semi-rural villages that have seen considerable expansion of private housing over the past 40 years.

The parish continues to grow with new housing developments in Birtley, Kibblesworth and Ouston.

Within the parish there are a considerable number of care homes and nursing homes for the elderly and residential and respite homes for the disabled.

The parish has a catholic population of some 1200, a weekly Mass attendance of 420 and over the course of the past year 73 baptisms, 2 receptions in to the church, 36 confirmations, 13 marriages and 38 deaths. [Statistics taken from 2006 Northern Catholic Calendar – to be updated]

2. Parish Activities

2 (a) Liturgy

The parish provides a varied liturgy, both over the course of the different seasons of the church’s year and over the three main masses. The vigil mass on Saturday evening is regarded as a more “traditional” liturgy with the music provided by the male voice choir accompanied by the organ. The first mass on Sunday morning (8.15) is a quiet mass without music and the main mass on Sunday morning (10.00) is more family orientated, with the music provided by a more contemporary music group and a children’s liturgy. Although the three masses have their very different styles they also have a great deal in common with considerable lay participation in the liturgy: service of welcome, readers, offertory procession, Eucharistic ministers, choir and music group, children’s liturgy and altar servers.

2 (b) Witness

There is a strong sense of parish community with our Christian values at the heart of activities in our church, parish centre, schools and the wider community. The parish church is in a prominent position in Birtley and the always open door (8am until dusk) is treasured as an important part of our witness in the community. The prominent position of the church is put to good use with the illuminated outside crib at Christmas.

The parish priest and permanent deacon, from within the parish community, are seen as strong and important role models for the rest of the parish. As well as proclaiming the word in the readings and the homilies in church there are a number of ongoing formation activities in the parish. The parish sisters run the CAFE programme and other discussion and prayer meetings. There is a monthly parish discussion group that looks at key religious and / or social issues. There are preparation programmes for the sacraments of Holy Communion, Confirmation, Marriage and Reception in to the church. Our schools are a beacon of witness to our catholic faith promoting a Christian ethos that underpins the whole of the school’s activities.

The parish has many active groups in the parish, St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP), Catholic Women’s League (CWL), Young Mothers Group (YMG), the Catholic Men’s Society (CMS), the Guild of St Stephen and the Lourdes Group, and their actions as groups and as individuals provide witness in the parish and wider community.

The Parish Centre and the church together provides a hub for all parish activities, the meeting place, both formally, informally and socially for many of the parish groups and individual members of the parish community. The Parish Centre is regularly the focus for continuing celebration after we leave church and the place where many have been made to feel welcome and to take the first steps back towards the church or towards joining in full communion with the church.

2 (c) Service

There is a strong sense of service in the parish community. Service that is provided through the many activities of our parish groups and societies and service that is provided by individuals, often largely unseen, in caring for those in need.

Eucharistic Ministers assist with the distribution of Holy Communion both in church and in the homes of the sick and the housebound.

The SVP are strong and active in the parish in identifying and meeting the needs of others and organising a regular Mass for the sick and housebound.

The members of the CMS manage the Parish Centre, on behalf of the parish, organise the monthly discussion group, run groups to promote and raise funds for CAFOD and Let the Children Live and organise various social and fund-raising activities.

The CWL and YMG meet weekly providing a range of spiritual, social and fund-raising activities for their members, including running the weekly “PM Club” for senior citizens, saying the rosary in church each week and running a coffee morning.

There is a parish youth club, Brownies, Rainbows and the junior football club.

The Men’s choir sing at every funeral that takes place in our church and frequently offer this service for funeral services in the other churches in the area and at the crematorium, while the CWL provide catering at funeral receptions in the Parish Centre. These services are much appreciated by bereaved families, as is the Book of Remembrance, which is on permanent display in the church.

There is a strong tradition of Lourdes service in the parish with many parishioners actively involved in the Diocesan Pilgrimage and / or service with the Hospitalité Notre Dame de Lourdes and a Youth Sponsorship scheme to assist young people from the parish to travel on the Diocesan Pilgrimage.

3. Strengths of the parish

Liturgy is a strength within the parish a very tangible example of the parish family coming together in communion. In particular parishioners are very appreciative of the service of welcome that is provided at each of the weekend masses, the variety in the style of the liturgy and the level of participation in the liturgy. As well as the variety in the liturgy at the different masses there is a range of different liturgical and prayer opportunities made available during the different seasons of the church’s year (advent, lent, months of Our Lady, etc). The liturgy for Holy Week, Easter, Christmas and other major feasts displays the thought, preparation and training that have been involved.

The open church is an important part of the parish life that is appreciated by parishioners and the wider community, who see St Joseph’s church as a place of peace and prayer. Many people (Catholics and non-Catholics) make use of the church for quiet moments with the Lord. The obviously open door in such a prominent place in the town is an important witness for and by the parish community.

The presence of the church, the Parish Centre, the parish schools, the many organisations in the parish and the actions of individual parishioners all provide witness of the parish’s mission within our local community.

The preparation for the Sacraments is seen as an important part of meeting the vision of communion and mission. The marriage preparation courses offered in the parish are popular and well attended. The confirmation preparation programme, which is organised on the basis of young people (who have participated in earlier programmes) preparing young people, is well received by the participants and their families.

The many and various activities of service by the people of the parish are an important part of delivering the mission of the church. The many Eucharistic ministers who taken communion to the sick and the housebound and the fact that many of them take communion from mass in the church, with the prayers of the whole community provides a strong link between the parish as a whole and those receiving communion in their homes.

The provision of support to the bereaved, through the singing provided by the men’s choir at every funeral in St Joseph’s church and many other funerals in the area, the cup of tea and sandwiches provided after funerals by the CWL and the masses and prayers for the deceased and their families are very much appreciated by parishioners.

The existence of the Parish Centre is tangible evidence of our sense of communion and mission. A place, other than the church, where the parish comes together in the various activities of the parish’s many groups and in social and fund-raising activities. The Parish Centre provides a home for the youth club, brownies, rainbows, parish discussion meeting, the meetings of the CWL, YMG, CMS, preparation for confirmation, fundraising activities for the schools, CAFOD, Let the Children Live, Lourdes, and many other charities. The Parish Centre provides a “safe ground” where many members of the parish community take their first steps back towards the church and many non-Catholics make their first enquiries about becoming Catholics. The Parish Centre is also widely used by other community organisations (e.g. the Credit Union, Birtley Partnership, Junior Football Club, etc, etc).

4. Difficulties

The biggest difficulty we have is identifying and reaching out to those in our parish community, both Catholics and non-Catholics, who are not regular attendees at mass. While there is much contact with the wider community, especially through the schools and the Parish Centre, the biggest concern is that we “don’t know what we don’t know”, especially about vulnerable groups such as migrant workers and the socially excluded. How do we identify and meet the needs of the many who are not regular church goers?

A particular group of non-attendees at church where parishioners have expressed concerns is the young people (aged 16 – 30). While we have a number of young people who are very involved in the music group, the Lourdes Youth Group and the Confirmation group this is an age group that is largely conspicuous by their absence. What more should we be offering for our young people?

While there is much going on in the parish that is very positive and appreciated by parishioners there is a worry that only a minority of parishioners participate in these activities. How do we encourage greater participation and involvement?

While we offer support at the time of funerals we are unsure, nervous and hesitant about the ongoing support that as a parish community we could and should offer to the bereaved. What more should we offer the bereaved in our community?

5. Areas for development

The questionnaire and parish meetings used to develop this Parish Profile have identified many areas for development. There are some “quick wins” (reading out mass intentions, prayers for children’s liturgy and a new notice board) that we can respond to immediately. The others are mainly in response to the difficulties identified above and will need some thought and consideration by the Pastoral Council over the coming months to develop a full response.

To reach out to the non church goers it was suggested at one of the Parish Meetings that we seek external help in organising a parish mission.

In responding to the needs of young people it is suggested that we use our geographic position at the centre of five different deaneries to offer St Joseph’s church, which we will equip with up to date audio-visual equipment for regular (say monthly) masses and other liturgies aimed specifically at the 16-30 age group.

To promote and encourage greater attendance at the activities that already take place in the parish, we will produce and maintain a Parish Directory that we will make available in church, in the schools, in the local libraries and doctor’s surgeries and on the parish web-site.

We will look at what services are offered to the bereaved in other parishes and look to develop a programme of on-going support to the bereaved in our parish community.

6. Priorities

To respond to the “quick wins” immediately.

For the pastoral council to consider all of the areas for development identified by parishioners and incorporate these in their future work plan.

To put in place the Parish Directory before the visitation in February.

To install audio-visual equipment and to consult other parishes / deaneries on providing a regular youth service before the visitation in February.

To set up a sub- group of the Pastoral Council to develop proposals and put in place a bereavement service during 2007.

To plan for a parish mission in 2008.

Prepared by the Parish Pastoral Council of St Joseph’s Parish Birtley,
In consultation with the people of the Parish
December 2006

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