Re-opened church should have a bright future

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The church at Abbey St Bathans, closed for regular worship two years ago, was reopened last Sunday as a fully furbished community facility and function venue.

The building, which stands on an idyllic spot by the banks of the Whiteadder Water, will now serve as a space for community groups and be available for occasions such as weddings, concerts, dances, exhibitions and meetings.

The 18-month refurbishment programme is the dream child of local residents Joy and James Dobie, who live across the road at Abbey St Bathans’ Old Manse. The couple bought the picturesque church soon after it was decommissioned in 2011, and masterminded and financed the project, helped by generous donations in kind from family, friends and the community.

The work involved carefully removing the pulpit and pews (17 pews and the pulpit were up for sale at last Sunday’s opening), laying a new oak floor (donated by Willy and Charlotte Dobie) and adding a kitchen area, plus disabled toilet. This has left a valuable central space while retaining many of the church’s defining features such as its beautiful stained-glass windows, fine wooden raftered ceiling and – its piece de resistance – an alcove in the east wall containing a recumbent stone effigy of Ada, Countess of Dunbar, who founded the priory of 12 nuns in 1172 and was its first prioress.

Ada’s effigy remained concealed inside the wall of the church for hundreds of years after English troops attacked the priory in 1543 during King Henry VIII’s ‘rough wooing’ of Scotland. It was rediscovered in the 1860s when the Turnbull family, who owned nearby Abbey St Bathans House, expanded the church, adding the present tower.

After the Reformation, the building resumed its religious function and, since 1567 has employed 27 ministers.

“A church has survived here for 400 years,” said James Dobie at last Sunday’s reopening, “and we hope that it will survive for another 400. It has always played such a large part in the life of Abbey St Bathans and we hope it will continue to do so.”

Wishing Joy and James well with the project, the Reverend Ann Inglis, the last minister at the church, said, “The building has not just a history, but also a future on which more history can be written.”

Joy and James Dobie would like to thank Celia and Paul Lorimer, Andrea and Charley Walker, Ricky Amos, Sandy McLean, Malcolm Smith, Ronnie Patterson, Scott Purves and many more. To make a booking ring 01361 840247.