WORSHIPPERS are distraught after lead thieves forced their church to close forever.
The congregation at St John The Evangelist, in Crawshawbooth, have been left 'heartbroken' after rain water poured in through a hole in the roof.
It caused £500,000 damage to the altar and seats.
Rev Jenny Montgomery said: "It would be impossible to worship there again.
"This has not been a victimless crime. The whole congregation are heartbroken the church will close like this."
Thieves stripped more than £20,000-worth of lead from the church roof causing a huge hole to appear above the altar.
During heavy downpours, the interior of the 400-seat church, has been completely wrecked.
Ms Montgomery said: "The vandals have not thought about the consequences of their actions.
"The roof is thought to cost around £20,000 to replace and that is before we look at restoring the interior.
“An architect has estimated the cost of the interior damage stands about half-a-million pounds, which is money we simply don’t have.
“We will be able to forgive the thieves but I also want them to realise their actions have led to the closure of the church.”
The Bishop of Burnley, Bishop John Goddard, said: “A lot of churches have been plagued with lead thefts which give little money to the thieves, but cost the church thousands in repairs.
“These people distract the clergy from doing what they want to do which is helping and support the community.”
Church warden Ann Mumford, who got married at the church, added: “This is a really sad end for a church previously known as the Cathedral of the Valley.”
The church, owned by The Church of England Diocese of Manchester, could be sold off when its future is decided.
It is the latest in a series of lead thefts from churches in East Lancashire.
Back in June, St John the Divine, in Cliviger, had to fit alarms to the ladders being used in extensive repairs of the church roof after four lead thefts in 18 months.
Thieves also stole £3,000 worth of lead from the roof of St Mary’s Church, in Kelbrook, in August.
A spokesman for Ecclesiastical Insurance said there had been more than 70 incidents across the Manchester diocese up to September costing £100,000 in claims.
There has been 460 claims in the last five years, worth a total of £950,000.
John Coates, Direct Insurance Services Director at Ecclesiastical, said: "Theft of metal is a serious crime affecting churches across the country and destroying our nation's heritage.
"We have seen another increase in this crime in 2011 and there is now unfortunately no area in the country that hasn't been affected by this crime over the last five years.
"We are working in partnership with a number of organisations and industries across the country to continue to raise awareness of this issue and put more measures in place to protect our churches.
"We need to do this urgently to ensure these centres of our community life will be there for future generations as well."
A spokesperson for Manchester Diocese said: “The theft of metal from church buildings is a continuing problem.
“We are deeply saddened that in the case of St John’s the Evangelist, Crawshawbooth, the theft of lead from the roof has forced the closure of the church for worship.
“We are working with parishes to ensure that they do everything possible to protect their buildings, and we ask people living near churches to remain vigilant, especially as the nights pull in, and to report any suspicious activity to the police.”
The congregation have been forced to worship at Rawtenstall’s St Mary's and All Saints' Church, nearby.
A police spokesman said: “The stealing of lead is a national issue and not just restricted to Lancashire.
"A number of investigations are ongoing and high profile action days take place regularly across the county to tackle the issue.
"Should anyone have any information then we would ask them to call the police or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111."