CONTROVERSIAL plans to merge three churches will leave Portobello without a Church of Scotland presence for the first time in two centuries.
Dwindling congregations have forced Kirk leaders to consider combining Old Parish Church, St James’ Church and St Philips’ Church – all in east Edinburgh – but are facing opposition from within their own pews.
No decision over the future of the three parishes has yet been made but it is understood St Philip’s Church in Joppa is the preferred premises to be retained.
But church-goers in Portobello voted against the plans during a straw poll last Sunday, claiming Kirk leaders were “managing decline rather than trying to do something” to reverse the downturn.
Both Old Parish Church and St James are used extensively as venues for parties, children’s clubs and workshops, raising question marks over where these events could be held in future.
Parishioner Tommy Taylor, 73, said it would be “drastic” if Portobello was bereft of its connection to the Church of Scotland.
He said: “The ordinary folk in the pews don’t really know what’s happening at the moment as this news has only just come out. At the vote in Old Parish Church on Sunday people stood up and said we don’t want this and voted against it.
“Congregations are falling but the churches are used so much by the local community – perhaps the halls than the actual church – but it’s a huge asset to lose, and people won’t know what they have lost until it’s gone.”
Mr Taylor, a worshipper at Old Parish Church for the last decade, said while it was known no plans were “set in stone” it was clear Kirk leaders would have the final say and the “likelihood was that Portobello’s two churches will close”.
He said: “There is a lot of unhappiness and a lot of people feel, like me, that it’s far too soon to take this drastic step.”
Portobello and Craigmillar councillor Maureen Child said too few young people were joining the churches to ensure all three venues remained viable.
She said: “It’s a problem for the churches and I think the Church of Scotland has put on some pressure suggesting that the three buildings can’t be retained.
“If it were to happen, the loss of community use of the buildings would be great.”
George J Whyte, presbytery Clerk of Edinburgh, confirmed plans to reduce the number of churches in the area to one.
“The Presbytery of Edinburgh and the Kirk Sessions of the three congregations in Portobello and Joppa are working towards a future where there will be one parish serving the whole community,” he said.