VILLAGERS who fear they may be losing out in their fight for a new vicar have written to the Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Michael Turnbull, asking him to intervene.

A move to combine the nine churches in Weardale, following the departure of Canon Penny Jones and her family to Australia last year, has been met with growing opposition.

Parishioners at Stanhope, Frosterley, Eastgate and Rookhope have been told that because of severe financial difficulties in the Durham Diocese they may have to share the services of the existing two clergymen in Weardale - at Wolsingham and St John's Chapel.

This would mean Stanhope, known as the "cathedral of the dale", being without a vicar in its own right for the first time in more than 800 years.

The Archdeacon of Auckland, the Venerable Ian Jagger, has told members of parochial church councils that they want deaneries to work in bigger units because of the escalating costs of supporting stipends in rural areas like mid-Weardale.

A series of meetings will be taking place over the next few weeks about the proposed changes, which may include the training of a new curate.

But leading members of congregations, voicing their dismay at the proposed move, have written to the the Bishop asking for his guidance.