WORSHIP at the world’s oldest methodist church in continuous use could cease this year, prompting fears for its future and the impact on an adjoining museum.

Dry rot and other significant problems were discovered during a survey of High House Chapel in Ireshopeburn, Upper Weardale. With insufficient funds available to repair the damage, the church council has decided “in principle” to stop services in the 18th century building from October 31.

However, they have stressed that the church, as in the people who worship there, will continue to meet in another venue and remain highly valued by the West Durham Methodist Circuit.

Dorothy Emerson, circuit support manager, said there were no immediate plans to sell the building, adding: “The fact we may be moving out does not mean that the building has no future within the Weardale church community. We are exploring options and clarifying where we stand and what funding may be available. One option is to move out of the building in principle in October.”

Weardale county councillor John Shuttleworth said the Methodist Church of Britain had a duty to keep the historic chapel in use.

“They have had the receipts of sales of other Weardale Chapels, at St John’s Chapel, Eastgate, Frosterley, Wearhead and Rookhope, of approaching £500,000,” he said. “Those monies alone would fund the necessary repairs to High House.”

Uncertainty surrounding High House Chapel has also concerned the trustees of Weardale Museum, a tenant of the adjoining old manse.

David Heatherington, secretary, said: “While the museum building appears sound, it is part of the same building complex and if the chapel closes the museum cannot continue in the manse.

“The decision has come as a great shock to our trustees but we are determined not to accept closure as a ‘Fait Accompli’, and to explore all options for keeping a museum in Weardale. If we are to succeed we will need the support of our friends in the community and partners in the tourism world. We would welcome your ideas and active involvement at the beginning of our new challenge.”

Contact Mr Heatherington at 7 Windyside, Westgate, DL13 1NR or dtheatherington@ormail.co.uk or 01388-517433.

The Weardale Museum is open to the public as usual during 2018 starting with the Mouse Hunt at Easter and continuing from May 1 to October 31, from 1.30pm to 4.30pm.

The organisation which owns methodist churches in England was unavailable for comment.