Edinburgh churches: Shake-up by Church of Scotland earmarks church buildings to close
Six church buildings in the Capital have been named for closure as a result of a major review of the Church of Scotland's work across the city. And several more will also close once further choices have been made about which properties are still needed for the Kirk's mission in different communities.
A massive shake-up affecting every Church of Scotland congregation in Edinburgh was launched in 2021 after a national shortage of ministers led the General Assembly to cap the number of ministers in each part of Scotland. Edinburgh was told its complement would have to be cut by 40 per cent by December 2025, from 78 to 48.5 full-time posts – that’s ministers, deacons and Ministries Development Staff, which includes youth workers, parish assistants, community workers and others.
A year ago, the Kirk's Edinburgh presbytery produced sweeping reorganisation proposals for parish mergers and team ministries to achieve the reduction. The initial plan warned consideration would even have to be given to transferring ownership of St Giles Cathedral to Historic Environment Scotland, although it was expected worship there would continue. The future of individual buildings was left open pending detailed audits on each property.
Now, after months of discussions, numerous changes in which congregations are grouped together and completion of the building audits, the presbytery has voted to approve a set of proposals which will see many congregations brought together under a group of ministers and some of their buildings closed.
The buildings named for closure include:
– North Leith Parish Church in Madeira Street, together with its hall and session house. The congregations of North Leith, South Leith Kirk and Newhaven Parish Church are to unite and be served by two full-time ministers plus local staff. South Leith and its halls and Newhaven will be retained, but the North Leith buildings are to be released by December 31, 2024.
– Leith St Andrews in Easter Road. A merger involving Leith St Andrews, Pilrig St Paul's and St Margaret's in Restalrig will create a united congregation served by two full-time ministers and a half-time youth worker. Pilrig St Paul's and St Margaret's buildings will be retained, but since St Andrew's is near South Leith Kirk, having two churches so close together is said not to be the best use of resources and it will be released by December 31, 2024.
– Greenside Parish Church in Royal Terrace. The proposal is for a union involving Greenside with St Andrew's & St George's West in George Street and Broughton St Mary's in Bellevue Crescent. But the first step is a merger of Greenside and Broughton St Mary's, to be served by one-full-time minister. The Broughton St Mary's building will be retained but Greenside’s congregation is said to have "accepted its building may not play a long-term part of the future of this union" and it is to be released "as soon as practicable". St Andrew's and St George's West building will be retained and the congregation will have a full-time minister.
– St David's Broomhouse in Broomhouse Crescent. Five current congregations are being brought together in a parish grouping. St David's is to unite with Carrick Knowe Parish Church, served by one full-time minister and a half-time youth worker. Meanwhile, St Nicholas Sighthill and Slateford Longstone will unite. And the two new united congregations will work with Holy Trinity Wester Hailes. The St David's building is to be released by December 31, 2026. And Carrick Knowe's Jubilee Hall, said to have significant fabric concerns, is to be disposed of by the same date. All other buildings are to be retained.
– The Old Kirk Muirhouse in Pennywell Road. The Old Kirk is to unite with Cramond Kirk, served by one full-time minister. The Cramond building would be retained, but the Old Kirk is said to have "fabric issues" and is earmarked for release by December 31, 2025 "unless it is concluded that upgrading on the present site offers the best solution to providing a physical mission presence in the area". The new united congregation would be in a parish grouping with Drylaw Parish Church and St Columba’s Blackhall, which would also unite, and Davidson's Mains.
– St Catherine's Argyle in Grange Road are being asked to work in a three-way union with Morningside United Church and Marchmont St Giles. Due to fabric concerns and its proximity to Marchmont St Giles, St Catherine's building is earmarked to close with a suggested date of December 31, 2024. A bid to unite St Catherine’s with Barclay Viewforth instead was defeated in a vote at the presbytery meeting.
Other churches whose future is uncertain include Craigmillar Park in Newington and Priestfield Parish Church on Dalkeith Road, which are both to unite with Mayfield Salisbury on Mayfield Road. Mayfield Salisbury is said to have “an excellent complex” which should be retained, while the other two are “relatively close” and a choice between them should be made by June 30, 2024 with one of them released by June 30, 2025.
Meadowbank and and Willowbrae parish churches are to unite, but the review does not say which building should be retained, just that a decision between them should be made by the first annual review and one of them should be released within a year. The united congregation will work in a parish grouping with Portobello and Joppa Parish Church, leading eventually to a union.
No decision has yet been made on the future of the buildings at Barclay Viewforth, Craiglockhart, Polwarth and St Michael’s in Slateford Road, whose congregations are all due to unite. The review says a decision on rationalisation should be reached by December 3, 2024, leading to the release of buildings by December 31, 2025.
Similarly, “in-depth discussions” are urged to decide which buildings will be needed when Granton, Inverleith St. Serf’s and Stockbridge unite and work with Wardie in a parish grouping. Proposals should be agreed by December 31, 2024 and any buildings to go should be released by December 31, 2025. A proposal to move Stockbridge to a different grouping was rejected by presbytery.
And in south Edinburgh, the choice of buildings to be retained still has to be made in the five-way union between Gracemount, Liberton Kirk, Liberton Northfield, Tron Kirk in Gilmeron/Moredun and Reid Memorial in West Savile Terrace. A decision should be made by December 31, 2024 and any buildings released within a year.
The proposals agreed by presbytery are still to receive formal approval from Kirk headquarters, but no significant changes are expected. Details of how each new grouping of churches is working will be reviewed each year.
A Church of Scotland spokesman said: “Difficult decisions around buildings no longer sustainable to maintain, both in terms of finance and human resources, must be taken to ensure that the Church is fit for purpose to carry out its primary work – sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and serving people in our communities. Ensuring that the Church in Edinburgh has ‘well-equipped spaces in the right places’ has been a monumental task and it is hoped that the proposals will provide the right tools to ensure that mission work flourishes in new and exciting ways.
“Under the proposals, congregations have been asked to work more closely together and draw on their strengths to build meaningful and impactful relationships with the communities they serve. The Church is committed to using the talents of all of God’s people and the presbytery strongly encourages congregations to nurture local lay leadership, ministry and work more closely with other Christian denominations. Although patterns of church life have changed over the years, it is hoped that the proposals will ensure a continuing, vibrant church presence in Edinburgh and inspire people with God’s love.”