Historic Churches 2019

BCD SPECIAL REPORT ON HISTORIC CHURCHES 26 TH ANNUAL EDITION 39 CHURCH REDUNDANCY Lessons from Scotland Victoria Collison-Owen C HURCH REDUNDANCY in Scotland is nothing new. In a nation once reputed to have had more pews than people, there is a long history of closing church buildings. The 1977 V&A exhibition ‘Change and Decay – a future for our churches’ observed that ‘in Scotland, since 1900, more churches have been abandoned, closed or demolished than are now in use’. Scotland also has a history of pragmatic repurposing of churches. In the 1950s, St George’s Church in Edinburgh’s New Town, a landmark church based on a 1791 design by Robert Adam, was a high-profile casualty of a marked post- war decline in church attendance. Poor condition and a diminishing congregation led to its closure, and in 1960 the imposing domed Greek-plan church was acquired by the Crown. Gutted and converted to a national archive facility by the Ministry of Public Building and Works, the former church became West Register House, now part of the National Records of Scotland. REASONS FOR REDUNDANCY The dissociation of society from organised religion and the continued decline in church attendance are among the major causes of redundancy in Scotland today. In the 2011 census, 36.7 per cent of Scots described themselves as ‘not religious’, increasing to 52 per cent in the 2016 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey. Among all faiths and denominations, the decline in the Church of Scotland has been most marked, losing around 80 per cent of its membership since the 1950s. It is now half the size it was in 2000, with membership declining at around four per cent per annum. However, a reduction in religious adherence and church-going is only part of the picture. The fragmentation of the Presbyterian Church during the 18th and 19th centuries resulted in an unprecedented church-building programme by seceding denominations. A series of reunifications during the 20th century left countless united congregations throughout Scotland with more than one church. Many of these were repurposed as church halls and others demolished, however a significant proportion were retained and continued to be used for worship. For example, when the United Free Church rejoined the Church of Scotland in 1929, the small Black Isle town of Cromarty found itself with one combined congregation and two churches: the historic parish church (East Church) and the former Free Church (West Church). Worship continued with services held alternately in both churches until the late 1990s, when the East Church was closed. In this instance it was acquired by Historic Churches Scotland for £1. It was extensively repaired and conserved in a £1.2 million project between 2008 and 2012 and now holds around six services a year, plus weddings and funerals. Supported by an active group of local Friends (aged 9 to 90), the church also hosts concerts, an annual art and flower festival, music workshops and exhibitions. It has been used to record albums by award-winning traditional musicians, and also welcomes around 20,000 visitors every year. Such congregational unions and linkages within the Church of Scotland in more recent years have significantly increased the trend of one congregation with many churches, with some taking on the increased responsibility and expense for up to four church buildings. The Church of Scotland currently has 1,250 congregations and estimates it owns around 3,000 churches. Many of these are historic buildings, and research in 2008–9 identified that the Church of Scotland is responsible for the single largest portfolio of listed buildings in Scotland. This is greater than that of the National Trust for Scotland and Historic Environment Scotland combined. An ageing building stock, the impact of climate change, and increasing repair costs also contribute to a growing crisis for the nation’s church buildings, and demographic change, shifting centres of population, and a particular decline The historic parish church of Cromarty (East Church) was closed in the late 1990s and extensively repaired and conserved by Historic Churches Scotland. It is now open to visitors daily throughout the year, holds around six services a year, and an annual programme of community events. (Photo: Historic Churches Scotland)