A HISTORIC Oldham church is set to close as a result of an arson attack on its former rectory.

Fire swept through the roof of the old church house next to St Mark with Christ Church in Glodwick Road two weeks ago following a spate of vandalism at the building.

Squatters had also moved in an had been removed only days before the fire was ignited, the police say deliberately.

Archdeacon of Rochdale Rev Cherry Vann, who runs the diocese covering St Mark's, said that the congregation of the grade II-listed church - undamaged by the fire - had taken in part in their final service just days before the blaze, intending to use the old rectory instead.

"There are less than 20 members of the congregation and the church holds up to 300 people," said Rev Vann. "The heating has broken down and unfortunately it is hardly worth the expense of repairing it and heating the church for just 20 people to attend services.

"Sadly, we've been talking about closing St Mark's for quite a while. It's got no vicar and we can't find one to take it on.

"The thought of going into another winter in the church with no heating was not something we wanted to contemplate."

She continued: "They had their last service in the church before the fire and then a couple of days later the house went up in flames. It was a very sad end for the church."

Rev Vann said that the hope was to find another Christian organisation to "take it on".

She said the church, dating back to 1876, had suffered numerous and repeated acts of vandalism and its boiler room had been broken into regularly.

Rev Vann added: "We have advised the remaining members of the congregation to go to other churches, like St Paul's at Royton and St John's."

On the future of the old rectory, she said: "We are looking at our options. Either we redevelop it to use it some way for the community, or sell it so it can be used."