A CHURCH that lost its priest and more than 50 of its congregation in protest over the ordaining of women bishops has finally welcomed a new reverend.

The appointment of Revd Kenneth Crawford marks a new chapter for The Church of St James the Great, in Darlington, which lost its previous priest and dozens of worshippers when they left to join the Ordinariate 30-months-ago.

The Ordinariate is a structure within the Roman Catholic Church which allows Anglicans to come under the Pope’s authority but retain their Anglican beliefs.

Many Anglicans chose to defect in protest at the Church of England's intention announced in 2011 to ordain women as bishops - agreed by the General Synod last month - and because of a general disillusionment with the church.

Mr Crawford, who was licensed last month by the Bishops of Jarrow and Beverley, has been appointed to St James having previously served in the Army and the RAF and lived in Australia and America.

He came to the UK with his family in 1997 from Australia, where he was Canon Precentor at Melbourne Cathedral, and served in the Diocese of Worcester before being offered the Darlington post .

He will work half the week for St James, with rest being taken up by running his own international business making robes for academics, the clergy, the legal profession and civic dignitaries.

Mr Crawford said: “Darlington is a wonderful place and I am very impressed with a lot of what I have seen.

“I am also a train buff and Darlington is the place where the railways began, which is thrilling.”

Mr Crawford said he was drawn to the 130-year-old Darlington church because it had managed to “keep itself together” despite the loss of its priest and so many of its congregation.

He said: “People said when many of the congregation left that it would fail but it has not failed due to the devotion of the community of faith who worship here.

“When I heard the story, my heart went out to them.

“It is a church that is crying out for spiritual guidance and it is my privilege to provide that leadership.”

In his sermon at Mr Crawford’s licensing, The Right Revd Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow said: “This appointment marks a new chapter in the life of St James – yes there have been difficult times, uncertain times – but here we are with a new parish priest and there is a sense perhaps of a new chapter.”