Whitsome Kirk to host its final service after centuries of worship

Rev. Alan Cartwright inside Whitsome Kirk which is set to close after a farewell service February 3rd.
Rev. Alan Cartwright inside Whitsome Kirk which is set to close after a farewell service February 3rd.

IT will be the end of an era next week when Whitsome Kirk welcomes parishioners for the final time after hosting worship since 1296, if not longer.

The hard decision to close the kirk was made at at meeting of the kirk session a few months ago who then put their views to parishioners and the Presbytery in turn.

The kirk could have shut its doors for the final time as early as Christmas Day but it was decided not to tarnish what is a joyous time of year with the sad occasion.

Reverend Alan Cartwright, minister for Fogo and Swinton with Ladykirk and Whitsome with Leitholm, who has led services at the kirk for the past three decades said it was with a very heavy heart that the decision was made for worship to cease.

“Nobody involved in the church ever wants to find themselves in this situation. It’s a sad day for any church to have to close its doors but particularly for Whitsome kirk with it having been a part of the village for so long.

“The major issue with the kirk in its current state are the repairs it needs. There are issues with dampness particularly and then you’ve also got to consider the costs of heating and insurance.

“Then there’s the fact that the congregation here only amounts to around 10-12 people. For a long time there were as much as 30 people who would come here to worship which is good considering there are only 40 houses in the village itself.

“I remember once when I led a funeral service here at Whitsome and there were 250 people packed into the church on a very hot day; people were fainting.”

Unfortunately for Rev. Cartwright this isn’t the first time he’s seen a church fold, since being a minister in Berwickshire he has seen a number close their doors to parishioners.

“Houndwood and Abbey St Bathans have both closed since I’ve been here and over the border in Northumberland Berwick St Andrews and Lowick have folded as well.

“I think a lot of it its down to depopulation, particularly in rural areas like Berwickshire. The voting numbers for Whitsome have consistently gone down since I’ve been minister here and the school closing was a big blow to the kirk and everyone in the village.

“Like a lot of villages, Whitsome has seen people who’ve grown up here move away to a town or larger cities like Edinburgh and Newcastle; it’s a lot quiter than it used to be.”

There are no remains of the old Whitsome Kirk which stood about 200 yards to the south-east of the present building.

The present kirk was built in 1803, and had a gallery all around the kirk with the pulpit being on the south wall. It was altered both before and after the First World War, with the pulpit being moved and a small chancel being built to hold a new Communion Table.

And although congregation numbers have dipped as years have passed, Rev. Cartwright said there are plenty of people who will always hold a special place in their heart for the kirk.

“There are a lot of people who are sentimentally attached to the kirk,” he continued.

“When we held a meeting to discuss its future a few years ago there were people who hadn’t been to worship for a long time who turned up because they wanted to say their piece.

“The kirk has never locked its doors and there was once a lorry driver who would always stop off and sit in a pew here before carrying on with his journey. He died a few years later and I got a call asking if I’d lead his funeral here in Whitsome even though he wasn’t from the parish.

“I’ve seen many different generations come and go here; there are a few families for whom I’ve led baptisms, weddings and funerals.”

To reflect the many people who have celebrated an important occasion in the kirk anyone who has been married or baptised there is being invited to join regular worshippers on Sunday, February 3 at 2pm.

And Rev. Cartwright already knows it’s going to be an emotional afternoon.

“The parishioners are very sad to see it close and so am I. I’m terrified about having to lead the service; there are some people I’ve invited along who told me they can’t come because it will be too upsetting for them.

“But I’m going to try and make it a service of celebration; Whitsome has been one of my favourite kirks to preach in.”