A REVEREND is gearing up for a new role to tackle challenges faced by the church in the 21st century.

The Right Reverend Judie Horrocks, lecturer and associate vicar at Bolton Parish Church in Silverwell Street, will say an emotional farewell to colleagues and the congregation on Sunday, January 5.

She is set to become the Church in School Development Worker for the Diocese of Manchester — a new role to support and encourage congregations already worshipping in school buildings and those considering it as a possibility for the future.

There are already a number of schools being used as places of worship, including St Thomas CE Primary School in Westhoughton.

Rev Horrocks, who moved to Bolton in 1997, said: “The job that I’m going to is quite unique. I’m going to be working for the Diocese of Manchester, in a new role that’s just been established.

“They’ve got some funding for a three-year post to work with congregations who have moved from worshipping in church buildings to worshipping entirely in schools.

“My work will be alongside those that already exist within the diocese to help them develop their relationship with schools and communities and to grow, but then also to look at developing what makes it work best so that the model can be extended to other parishes across the diocese.”

Although initially based within the parish of Seven Saints, Bolton, where Rev Horrocks’ husband is team rector, the post will cover Bolton, Bury, Leigh, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford and parts of Rossendale, Stockport, Tameside and Trafford.

Rev Horrocks said: “It’s born out of a desire to encourage growth in congregations and to enable, particularly small congregations, to find a way to be sustainable.

“The other part to it is that often those congregations are finding it difficult to maintain older buildings.

“I think one of the difficulties, certainly the church across Greater Manchester faces, is the huge number of buildings that were built in the Victorian era.

“We’re so fortunate with the Parish Church in Bolton that it hass been well maintained.”

But does she think it might be strange for some people, the idea of worshipping in a school?

Rev Horrocks said: “It may well be but it also might be much easier for people who are not used to going into church buildings but are very used to walking through a set of school doors because they have children in school or have had in the past.

“For them, it might be much less intimating. I see it as a very positive thing, rather than a negative.”

In her early 20s, Rev Horrocks was working as a microbiologist when she decided to change the path of her life and career more towards her faith.

She was ordained Deaconess in 1982 and, in 1987 was one of the first women in the Church of England to be ordained as deacon.

In 1994, she was one of the first to be ordained as a priest and later went on to work at The Christie hospital, as senior chaplain for more than eight years, multi-faith co-ordinator at Sheffield Hallam University, at churches in Denton and Whalley Range before joining The Parish Church of St Peter in Bolton town centre in October 2009.

She said: “I work alongside the vicar to complement what he does and to share some of the responsibility, particularly for the care of the congregation, but not exclusively as my ministry has been wider than that.

“One of the highlights is the pleasure it has been to meet and get to know families bringing their children for baptism and couples coming to be married.

“It has also been a privilege to meet those at a very different point in their lives, when they have come to arrange a funeral for a family member or friend.

“At this point, I don’t believe I’m going. I get occasional moments when I get choked up at the thought of it.”