First Edinburgh Baptist church enjoys 250th birthday

Baille John McMichael is pictured with Percival Waugh, who is laying Memorial Stone to commemorate the start of building work in 1933.
Baille John McMichael is pictured with Percival Waugh, who is laying Memorial Stone to commemorate the start of building work in 1933.
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The second oldest Baptist Church in Scotland and the first in the Capital is celebrating its 250th anniversary.

The congregation at Bristo Baptist Church, founded in 1765, marked yesterday’s milestone with a day of prayer and fasting.

And this weekend, groups who use the place of worship on Queensferry Road, will join parishioners for a celebration.

The networking event on Saturday afternoon features exhibits telling the story of the church and notable figures in its history, including former pastor Archibald McLean. An anniversary concert, Carols by Candlelight, on Saturday, 12 December, will feature Bristo Community Concert Band and the Forth Valley Chorus.

Reverend Garry Ketchen, church pastor, described the anniversary week as a “huge milestone” for the congregation.

“You have a sense of being a part of a journey and that journey is not ending,” he added. “We are just entering a new phase.

“We are very grateful for everything that’s happened which has laid the foundation for us to continue. There has been an anticipation over this event and people are proud of the heritage.”

The church has had several meeting places during its history and has also been known by various names, including the First Baptist Church, Edinburgh, the Original Scotch Baptist Church, the Scotch Baptist Church at Bristo Place, and the Bristo Baptist Church.

But despite its many incarnations, Rev Ketchen stressed that the congregation has sought to remain true to its founding principles.

“We see ourselves as a community hub,” he said “and we want to be a community church.

“We come from a long tradition of ministering to poverty-stricken people. We are carrying that on in that we help Fresh Start, a charity which seeks to help the homeless by contributing to their Edinburgh missions like the Basic Bank [food bank] at Granton Baptist Church.”

The church started out in The Magdalene Chapel in the Cowgate, before moving to Richmond Court, built in 1787 as the first place of worship erected by Baptists in ­Scotland.

The congregation them moved to St Cecilia’s Hall, Niddry Wynd, bought in 1802 after Richmond Court had become too small.

Members then met in the Old High School, Infirmary Street, until Pleasance Chapel was completed in 1811.

The group returned to St Cecilia’s Hall pending the opening of the Chapel in Bristo Place in 1836, remaining there until 1935 when the congregation moved to its present site. The 45-strong congregation is made up of worshippers from nine months to those in their 80s and has a Sunday School made up of 16 children.