Edinburgh church closures: Battle to save Corstorphine churches as national and local leaders clash
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A national shortage of ministers has led to a massive shake-up involving plans for the merger of congregations and the closure of church buildings across the country. Local presbyteries were tasked with drawing up the plans, but they need to be approved by national Kirk committees. Now a row has broken out between national committees and the Edinburgh and West Lothian presbytery over the future of the five Church of Scotland churches in Corstorphine.
The presbytery wants to create two united congregations in the area, but says all five buildings are well-used and should therefore stay open. The proposal involves one merger of three existing congregations – St Anne’s and St Ninian’s in Corstorphine and St Andrew’s in Clermiston – and another merger of two – Corstorphine Old Parish Church and Craigsbank Church, which also includes East Craigs. The national committees, however, say at least one of the church buildings in the area must close.
The row over the Corstorphine churches means the presbytery’s plan for the whole of the city, which was ready to be signed off, is now on hold until the matter is resolved. Presbytery representatives recently met with key figures from the national committees involved in the process – the General Trustees and the Presbytery Mission Plan Implementation Group.
A report to presbytery on the talks said the national committees believed “rationalisation of buildings is required”. The report said: “There was a forthright and robust discussion regarding the designation of buildings in the Corstorphine area. Despite the arguments put forth for the designations as found in our draft plan, the national bodies were not swayed. They insist that rationalisation is necessary.”
Under the process for considering what to do with church buildings when congregations unite, each building was audited and scored on its state of repair, location, usage, environment and its closeness to other churches. Then, as the merger proposals were finalised, buildings were designated either “A” to be retained or “B” to be released.
The presbytery plan says of the three-way union between St Anne’s, St Ninian’s and St Andrew’s Clermiston: “All three of these churches are well used. The missional opportunities both as community centres and for the mission priorities suggest that all should be retained and thus designated ‘A’.”
And of the merger between Corstorphine Old and Craigsbank, it says: “Corstorphine Old serves as a focal point for the congregation and community in the old village centre. It has a substantial congregation, provides a base for workplace chaplaincy to local shops and to the Gyle Centre, and its halls are well used. Corstorphine Craigsbank serves the west of Corstorphine and hosts a variety of mission initiatives, and East Craigs is a mission presence in newer housing where there is a lack of other community facilities. Both could provide good bases from which to reach out to the westward expansion, a large area of new housing development to the west of Maybury road. The two congregations share a mission to the wider area including Craigmount High School and the local primary schools, and all the buildings have a part to play in this. It is therefore proposed that Corstorphine Old, Craigsbank and East Craigs be retained with ‘A’ designations.” But it adds that the congregations are “strongly encouraged to assess their fabric requirements”, including improvements to accessibility and facilities at Corstorphine Old and the possible need for a physical presence in the new residential area.
The Rev James Aitken, minister at St Ninian's, said a meeting was planned, involving the Corstorphine churches, to discuss the situation. He said: "All the congregations are part of the community, but everybody understands church rolls are not as high as they used to be and things are changing. They're going to get everybody round the table – representatives of local congregations, the presbytery and the national bodies – and talk through what we think is the best thing to do and take that forward."