When Primitive and Wesleyan finally united in 1932, Britain had 14,000 Methodist churches. Today, there are 6,000 and they're closing at the rate of 100 a year. Last Sunday, 100 years and two days after the opening service, the chapel at Dipton became the latest to switch off the light.

It may be little comfort that the pub a few doors along had been shuttered several years earlier, or that pubs seem to put up the towels even more frequently than churches do.

Dipton's in north-west Durham, between Consett and Stanley, with views over the Derwent Valley and a street called Delight Row, with views over the allotments.

The first "Ranters" chapel in the area, at Flint Hill, opened in 1834 and cost £60. When the congregation outgrew the chapel's welcome, a second was opened in 1873, costing £920 and seating 300 - and when that in turn could barely contain its enthusiasm the present building was constructed for £2,400.

The pews were numbered from one to 70-odd, the flock counted in the hundreds. In the years before its last rites, the average attendance was eight and the likely refurbishment bill around £50,000.

"It wasn't the money that was the problem," said Len Allaker, stalwart, property steward and for 42 years a local preacher. "We just had to consider the viability, £50,000 for eight people. It was a very tricky question."

The opening service was on a Saturday, the following Monday's Northern Echo surprisingly offering not so much as a verse of it. We did, however, report that the Primitive Methodist Sunday School circuit around nearby Shotley Bridge had 1,405 scholars and 213 teachers.

A poor chap from Newcastle had been fined ten shillings for trying to commit suicide on the railway, there'd been a fearful fracas in the West Hetton Inn at Coxhoe and Darlington's pressmen had held their annual dinner, in the King's Head, on the Saturday evening.

Perhaps the problems of subsequent Sunday news gathering explained the less-than-sensational revelation that Mr JH Hodgkin of Elm Ridge, Darlington, had ventured downstairs for the first time in several days. "He has been suffering," we exclusively added, "from a cold."

Exactly a century later, Dipton remained dry eyed and stiff lipped, the magnificent Muriel Inglis - of whom more shortly - even publicly essaying the joke that they'd almost joined with the Spiritualists.

"Then we'd have been methylated spirits," she said.

They will instead hold their weekly 6pm service in St John's church, a quarter of a mile along the road, though separately from the Anglicans.

Last Sunday's service, said the Rev Keith Jump, was a celebration and a thanksgiving, the mood one of the old order changing, of one more step along the road - or 500 yards in Dipton's case.

There could be, said Mr Jump - familiarly - no resurrection without death.

Perhaps it was all the hugging - "Eeeh, it's so good to see you again" - that made it seem a bit like a funeral, nonetheless.

Maybe 60 attended the final service, hymns like To God Be the Glory, What a Friend We Have in Jesus and, at the last, This is the God We Adore.

Arsenal v Chelsea was simultaneously on television, Dipton altogether more edifying, though they nearly showed a red card to the malfunctioning microphone. "I don't like all this new-fangled equipment," said Len.

Muriel, at 85 the oldest member, had been baptised and married in the church, has now undergone five courses of chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and had been unable to attend for several months.

"It's just so good to be here," she said. "I prayed and prayed that I might get here today and my prayers have been answered."

What they should do, said Muriel, was gather all the love and all the memories from the closing chapel and walk with them through the village to St John's.

Though in a wheelchair, she, too, was determined to be at the new venue. "My mum is faith in action," said Christine, her daughter. "The most remarkable person I've ever met."

Mr Jump, a Stanley area minister for two and a half years, revealed that the decision to close had been taken just days after last year's centenary of the stone laying.

"It was difficult, it was painful, but we had to be realistic. There were tears shed at that meeting, but because we cannot sustain the building doesn't mean that we cannot maintain our witness.

"Out of the pain, I believe there is new life to come, new hope, new possibilities if we allow ourselves to take off the grave clothes and live."

Some tarried, reluctant to leave. Others were out of the door and ready for a fresh start. At St John's they were welcomed by Fr David Heron, the vicar - "It is you who are doing us a favour," he said - and sang the hymn about one faith, one hope, one Lord.

At the back of the church was the parish magazine for St John's and the sister church of St Ives in Leadgate. The big headline simply said SOS, the message may also have been familiar - and not just the Dipton factor, either.

"Please," said the Anglicans, "don't let the church close through lack of support."