A news release emailed today:
Christmas worshippers leaving Sacred Heart Church, Jasper Street, Hanley on Christmas Eve discovered an unexpected present - not from Fr Christmas, but from traffic wardens who had visited the area around the Victorian Church and issued up to 50 tickets to worshippers at the Christmas Mass.
Parish Priest, Fr Peter Weatherby, is livid.
"We are calling on those issued with tickets not to pay the fines but to appeal, " he said. "What is especially annoying is that Mass began at 5.45pm, just 15 minutes before surface parking becomes free in the City Centre, so most tickets must have been issued just minutes before traffic charges for surface parking in Hanley are lifted at 6pm. All the shops were shut - clearly the wardens must have known that the cars belonged to families worshipping in the Church."
Church wardens reported that a vehicle carrying several traffic wardens arrived after a complaint had been made about a vehicle which was causing an obstruction. "The church wardens tell me that the scene appeared like a raid - fines were being issued to worshippers, just as we were singing 'in the bleak midwinter'! " said Fr Weatherby.
"It is such a shame that Christmas began for so many people like this," said the priest. "We had our largest Christmas congregation for many years - nearly 400 people - and it was wonderful for us to welcome the Bishop for this celebration. We are the only mainstream Christian Church left in the City Centre, yet action like this will drive good people away. This is so sad."
Fr Peter has written a letter of protest to the City Council. He is also calling upon all those who receiving a ticket to appeal the fine and to contact the parish so that a full list can be drawn up of those affected. Worshippers can use the website www.sacredhearthanley.org.uk or write to Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 1 Eastwood Place, Stoke-on-Trent ST1 3DB.