Scotland’s Closing Churches Recording Project – Training Session
POSTED ON May 26, 2023 BY James Garry
The vast majority of Scotland’s churches are incredible time-capsules of local social heritage
Just prior to the pandemic, the Church of Scotland initiated a process of reorganising its Presbyteries, the local regional units that govern and assist the operations of individual congregations, and a detailed investigation and rationalisation of its enormous portfolio of buildings (churches, halls, manses and other structures).
This process is not yet quite complete, but it is estimated that by its expected conclusion, later this summer, around four hundred of their churches across the country will be earmarked for closure before the end of 2025. The presbytery planning process will then start all over again and it is possible that a further four hundred or so churches may face a similar fate by the end of the current decade.
The vast majority of Scotland’s churches are incredible time-capsules of local social heritage. Across many generations, individuals, families and communities have invested in these buildings personal and collective expressions of faith, fellowship, memory and more in the form of furniture, textiles, books, paintings, documents and other cultural artefacts. These items express a multitude of meaning and significance and offer a wealth of stories about the history of each locality and the people who lived nearby and worshipped there.
Before these hundreds of buildings are closed and their contents scattered forever, with some support from Historic Environment Scotland (HES), Scotland’s Churches Trust and our volunteers have developed a quick and simple method and helpful handbook to assist volunteers in making a record of the moveable contents of churches. Each of these records will then be deposited in the HES Archives to be made publicly and freely accessible to future researchers looking at these special places.
Our volunteers have so far surveyed a number of small churches, producing a short report on each church, a collection of photographs of the items contained therein and a spreadsheet of short descriptions of each artefact. You can read more about the project and watch a recent Zoom Q&A, attended by over a hundred participants from all over Scotland, on our website here.
On Saturday 3rd June at 1pm we have organised an in-person training session at Cramond Kirk (one historic Edinburgh church not currently threatened with closure!) to share more about the project, to take attendees through our “emergency” church recording methodology and answer any questions they may have. The event is free and places can be booked here and we would love to see you there.
With a significant number of other churches in Edinburgh and the Lothians set to close by 2025, there will be many opportunities to get involved locally with an occasional few hours of church recording in the coming months. If you can’t make it along to Cramond on the 3rd but would like to be kept up to date with the activities of the project just drop me a line here and I shall add you to our project mailing list.
Guest blog: Dr DJ Johnston-Smith, Scotland’s Churches Trust