A CHURCH which was set on fire and looted by heartless vandals just before Christmas is to have its grand reopening this weekend.

Heaton Park Methodist Church was targeted by offenders who smashed their way in by breaking windows and fled the scene with valuables, shortly before a "devastating" fire tore through the building.

Extensive repairs have since been carried out and the church is now making final preparations for a weekend of celebrations to mark its reopening.

The church's minister, Reverend Jez Hackett, said: "It's a wonderful feeling to have the church back, everyone is so happy to have it.

"The response has been amazing from so many people and the congregation and people in the community around us have been fantastic."

He added that he believed it is apt that the church should reopen at the start of Holy Week and the Christian festival of renewal.

Fire crews and police were called to the church in Bury Old Road at around 8pm on December 22, to reports of a fire and break-in.

It is believed that the burglars had been searching for valuable items to take when the fire started by unconfirmed means. They then fled the scene, stealing a laptop and projector.

The blaze principally affected a prayer room, adjoined to the church’s altar, although there was also smoke damage, including to the chancel.

It is suspected that the fire was a deliberate act of arson.

Following the incident, the congregation was forced to move and relocate its homeless shelter while costly repairs were carried out.

All services were cancelled at the church during the Christmas period and first few months of this year, and worshippers temporarily merged with nearby Prestwich Methodist Church.

At the time, the church's minister, Reverend Jez Hackett, said: “It’s not something that you would ever want to happen to your church at any time of year, but especially not at Christmas.”

However in the wake of attack the community rallied around the church and helped to carry out repairs.

Costs were thankfully covered by the church's insurance and extensive renovation work has since been completed, including cleaning and redecorating smoke damaged spaces, and new carpets.

Some activities have been held in the downstairs of the church since January but this weekend will be the first time the building has been fully open.

Two days of celebration will be held, starting with an open day on April 13 from 3pm to 6pm, when residents are invited to come and see what the congregation does.

During the afternoon there will be a prayer station in the upstairs of the church building, as well as activities and games for all ages, exhibitions from church groups and refreshments downstairs.

Then on April 14 a Palm Sunday service will be held from 10.30 am.

Rev Hackett said: "We wanted to hold these events to thank the people who have helped us get back to where we are now."

For more information call 0161 621 0450, or follow Heaton Park Methodist Church on Facebook.