Six parish churches on list for closure

Paxton Church in danger of closure.
Paxton Church in danger of closure.

SIX Berwickshire churches are being considered for closure as the Church of Scotland looks to reduce costs as they come under financial pressure from increased insurance and repair bills for the presbytery’s church buildings in Berwickshire and north Northumberland.

Over the past six months congregations across the county have been asked for their thoughts on the presbytery’s proposals - to dispose of six church buildings (Paxton, Westruther, Leitholm, Burnmouth, Whitsome and Longformacus), and retain a further two, because of their historical importance, for weddings, funerals and occasional services (Ladykirk and Fogo).

Whitsome Church in danger of closure.

Whitsome Church in danger of closure.

Duns Presbytery congregations were told: “All presbyteries have been instructed by the General Assembly to draw up a new presbytery plan taking into account the reduced allocation of stipendiary ministers, which in the case of the Presbytery of Duns will be seven full time equivalent - two fewer than at present.”

All congregations have had a chance to discuss the proposals to reduce the number of churches and ministers, and Duns Presbytery will discuss all the views expressed when they meet on October 4. There are 10 charges within Duns Presbytery (including Berwick) but this would be reduced to seven and the plan is that the seven ministers would be assisted by unpaid ordained local ministers and auxiliaries.

Currently there are three vacancies within the Duns Presbytery and another two ministers are due to retire within the next three years, all of which is adding to a sense of urgency about deciding what future Church of Scotland provision should look like in Berwickshire. None of the vacancies can be filled until a decision has been made about which churches should be linked together under one charge, because once a minister has been offered a charge no other congregations can be added to that charge or removed.

Under the presbytery’s existing plan, when Rev David Turner was appointed to Coldstream and Eccles Parish, Leitholm was added as a deferred charge which will come under his wing when Rev Cartwright, who currently has Swinton, Leitholm, Fogo, Ladykirk and Whitsome in his charge, retires. But other link-ups will have to be agreed by the congregations before the existing vacancies can be advertised.

A presbytery spokesperson said: “We had to produce a plan for seven charges, some are quite big, and at the same time we couldn’t sustain the number of buildings we have.

“It was agreed that no minister would have any more than two buildings which means that some churches are being recommended to close and obviously those people are very disappointed.

“There is room for discussion but the bottom line is there will only be seven ministers.”

Fogo and Ladykirk churches have so far been spared from the list of churches to be disposed of because of their historical importance but with no regular services being taken in either of them, there is growing concern that their condition will deteriorate.

Speaking about the importance of Ladykirk Church and its connections with the Battle of Flodden in 1513, James Joicey, who is spearheading the 500th anniversary events in 2013, said: “Ladykirk Church, one of the 12 sites of the new Flodden 1513 eco-museum, could be restricted to being opened for weddings and funerals only, thereby effectively meaning that it would be closed to visitors. Founded by King James IV of Scotland, Ladykirk contains the only bust of the king still extant in Scotland. It is an important historical monument in its own right, and of course integral to the Flodden 1513 eco-museum.

“Closure would accelerate deterioration. By contrast, its inclusion in the eco-museum should enhance the number of visits and the overall profile and well-being of the church.”

The seven charges proposed within the Duns Presbytery plan are: Berwick, St Andrew’s Wallace Green and Lowick, with Foulden and Mordington with Hutton and Fishwick and Paxton; Gordon, St Michael’s with Greenlaw, with Legerwood with Westruther; Ayton and Burnmouth with Gransthouse, Houndwood and Reston; Coldingham and St Abbs with Eyemouth; Coldstream with Eccles with Leitholm with Ladykirk; Chirnside with Edrom, Allanton with Whitsome; Bonkly and Preston with Duns with Fogo and Swinton with Langton and Lammermuir (Cranshaws, Gavinton, Longformacus).