PARISHIONERS whose church roof was left leaking like a colander after being stripped of its lead have rallied together to ensure the theft does not dampen their festive cheer.

Since thieves struck at St Bartholomew’s Church in the hamlet of Sunderland Bridge, near Durham City, at the weekend, villagers have pulled all the stops to ensure their Christmas services go ahead as scheduled.

Vicar Reverend Gary Norman said: “It was a shock to discover the theft.

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“It happened with another part of the roof about two years ago and they have taken what remained of the lead.

“The roof was leaking like a colander. We thought that the organ had been damaged again, as it had been before, but we are hopeful to protect that.

“This kind of thing takes the wind out of your sail a bit. But everyone has really rallied around and we are determined to go ahead with our Christmas services as normal.

“So, out of a pretty awful situation, a real sense of community spirit has come out of it. It has brought out the best in people.”

Parishioner Anne Heywood said: “The theft happened between 4pm on Sunday and 9am Monday.

“It was by good fortune that one of our parishioners Jill Billingham went into the church and discovered the leak.

“If it had been a normal week it may have gone to Friday and caused major damage.

“It got us all very cross, but we were determined not to let this spoil the season.

Parishioners armed with mops and buckets volunteered to clear the water, while workers from DVC Roofing and Building moved swiftly to begin repairs – expected to be complete by Saturday.

To replace the lead would have cost the church £12,500, but it has decided to use an aluminium-based alternative costing about £8,500.

Church warden Robin Stevenson said: “Rev Norman was poorly but he was on the phone all time to the problem resolved. And the support from people has been incredible."

While the church does have insurance, it will still be left with a “fairly substantial bill”.

A Christingle service will be held at 6pm tomorrow (Friday, December 21)  and a Mass at 11.15pm on Christmas Eve.