A VICAR who fought tirelessly to save her church from collapse has died following an illness, aged 63.
Reverend Canon Janet Brearley was a central figure in Warkworth, where she ministered the historic parish church of St Lawrence, as well as St John the Divine at neighbouring Acklington.
She studied theology at Cranmer Hall in Durham and was ordained a deacon in 1990, serving as curate in Prudhoe until 1991 when she became curate of St James and St Basil, Fenham, until 1995. She was among the first group of women to be ordained priest in the Diocese of Newcastle in 1994.
In addition to her ministry as a parish priest, she had served as chaplain to the Mothers’ Union, Area Dean of Alnwick, member of Bishop’s Council, chairman of the Diocesan Liturgy Committee and as a vocations adviser.
In 1995, she was appointed vicar of Warkworth and Acklington, and was made an honorary canon of St Nicholas’ Cathedral, Newcastle, in 2004.
In her family life, she was the wife of Richard and mother of Victoria and Michael, as well as a grandmother to Molly, Antonia, Joseph and Lottie.
Leading the tributes to her this week, the Bishop of Newcastle, the Right Reverend Martin Wharton, said: “Janet served all her ministry in the Diocese and she did so with great distinction. The people of the parishes of Prudhoe, St James and St Basil Fenham and Warkworth and Acklington will especially mourn her passing together with her family and her many colleagues and friends.
“She will be sorely missed and while we give thanks to God for her faithful and dedicated ministry among us, we mourn her loss and hold Richard and their children and grandchildren in our love and prayers at this saddest of times.”
But as well as fulfilling her ministerial duties, Janet also helped to safeguard the very fabric of St Lawrence’s for future generations.
When major structural problems were uncovered in 1997, it marked the start of a mission for Janet to save the Norman building’s north wall, which was in danger of slipping into the nearby River Coquet, and repair stonework on the rapidly-eroding tower.
By 2005, work on the first phase of a major restoration programme had been completed, including interior improvements, while a year later the stonework on the spire and belfry been re-pointed and broken ones replaced.
But the biggest challenge was finally addressed in 2009/10 when the buttresses holding up the north wall were underpinned with massive piles to prevent it from moving any further.
Through donations, grants and local fund-raising, led by Janet, more than £530,000 was accumulated to meet the cost.
Andy Webber, who was chairman of the church restoration committee at the time, said: “She completed five major restoration projects, including the massive appeal to shore up the north wall and repair the tower and spire. Her achievements in the first decade of the 21st century were absolutely phenomenal. Her loss will be met with great sadness. She was enormously popular.”
And that loss will be felt in the wider community.”
Coun Jeff Watson, county councillor for Amble West with Warkworth and also chairman and treasurer of the Warkworth and Amble District branch of the Royal British Legion, said: “She will be remembered as being very helpful and approachable. She was our chaplain for many years and could be relied upon to help us in any way she could, including attending the branch’s fund-raising efforts.
“I found her very easy to work with and full of life and vigour with a real passion to improve the lives of residents of Warkworth and Acklington. I will also remember her and her good humour. She was a wonderful person.
“My thoughts go to Richard and the family at this very difficult time.”
Janet’s funeral will be at St Lawrence’s Church, Warkworth at noon on February 14, and the Bishop of Newcastle will give the address. Mourners are asked to wear something pink.
Donations in lieu of flowers may be made to either the blood cancer charity Bright Red at Ward 33, Freeman Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne, St Lawrence’s Church or the Church of St John the Divine, Acklington.