Edinburgh's Church of Scotland buildings all given scores as part of process to decide which are kept and which will close

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Every Church of Scotland building in Edinburgh has been given a score to help decide which ones should close in a massive shake-up of churches and ministers.

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The scores reflect each building’s state of repair, its location, usage, environment and how close it is to other churches. But Kirk leaders say the figures will not translate directly into recommendations about which buildings are kept and which ones disposed of.

A national shortage of ministers and a worsening financial position forced the 2021 Church of Scotland General Assembly to agree big reductions in posts across the country. And in December, Edinburgh presbytery published sweeping proposals to merge congregations and create team ministries.

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The question of which buildings should be kept and which closed was postponed to allow audits to be carried out. The presbytery has said despite the mergers it does not envisage a huge reduction in the number of buildings, but some will shut.

The scores, expressed as percentages, divide the buildings into four categories: "good" (over 80) for "well equipped spaces in the right places"; "minor issues" (75-79) for buildings where "some remediation may be required"; "significant issues" (70-74) for those where there is a question "whether remedying the issues is feasible and affordable, or whether better alternatives exist in the area"; and "major issues" (below 70) where a building may be retained "if there is no reasonable alternative in the locality and it is practical to remedy issues".

Among those with the highest scores were Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church (90), Inverleith St Serf’s (89), Marchmont St Giles, Corstorphine St Ninian’s, Greenbank and Portobello & Joppa (all 87).

And churches scoring below 70 included Craigmillar Park (68) and the Old Kirk & Muirhouse (66) as well as five which are Category A-listed: Corstorphine Old (64), St Margaret’s in Restalrig (67), Dalmeny (66), Abercorn (44) and Kirk of Calder (57).

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Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church got one of the highest scores.  Image: Google StreetviewMayfield Salisbury Parish Church got one of the highest scores.  Image: Google Streetview
Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church got one of the highest scores. Image: Google Streetview

There are a total of 150 churches and church halls in Edinburgh and West Lothian, which is now included in the same exercise after the Edinburgh and West Lothian presbyteries merged in January.

Trained auditors visited all 150 buildings to gather information, which was then entered into an algorithm that calculated the percentage scores. The presbytery’s mission plan, which will confirm which congregations unite, will also recommend which buildings should be retained beyond the next five years and which should be released at some point during that period. But a report to presbytery emphasises: "A high score does not guarantee retention, nor does a low score necessarily point to release."

Meanwhile the presbytery says its original proposals are being revised in the light of feedback from congregations and discussion within the presbytery.

The Scotland-wide shake-up has slashed the number of ministry posts Edinburgh is allocated by 40 per cent from 78 to 48.5 full-time equivalents and West Lothian’s from to 28.2 to 17. The proposals published in December set out how many posts there would be for each of the new merged congregations.

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Craigmillar Park Church had one of the lower scores.   Image: Google Streetview.Craigmillar Park Church had one of the lower scores.   Image: Google Streetview.
Craigmillar Park Church had one of the lower scores. Image: Google Streetview.

The reduction must take place by December 2025 and could mean some ministers in "reviewable" charges being given six months' notice that their contract is ending. But the presbytery has agreed that will not happen to anyone before January 2024 at the earliest.

An update on the plans is expected in August or September.

The Rev Dr Stewart Weaver, minister at Portobello and Joppa Parish Church and convener of the presbytery’s deployment group, said: "The task we are faced with is to produce a Mission Plan for the next five years, which ensures we are using limited resources as best we can and doing it as equitably as possible.

"This is a work in progress but change is necessary in order to deliver sustainable and realistic new expressions of ministry and church and ensure all buildings are suitable for the needs of mission in the 21st century.”

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