Three churches are set to close as Kirk acts on crisis

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Sweeping plans by the Church 0f Scotland could see the closure of three churches on Arran as the Kirk battles crippling costs in the upkeep of the buildings with ever-dwindling congregations.

Lamlash could be the biggest loser with plans to shut the 136-year-old Lamlash Parish Church and the church hall, with the churches in Corrie and Kilmory also earmarked to go.

Arran currently has no permanent full-time ministers following a series of retirals during the pandemic, with services presently being conducted by retired ministers, interim moderators and lay readers.

Church membership has also continued to drop at an alarming rate with just 421 Church of Scotland members left on the island, according to 2020 Kirk figures. The largest number, 115, are in Brodick, and the lowest, just 24, in Corrie.

Along with the church closures, the plan is to employ two full-time ministers, with different roles, to serve the remaining four island churches in Brodick, Whiting Bay, Shiskine and Lochranza. The seven existing Kirk Sessions would form into one island-wide congregation.

The Tin Church at Pirnmill is also expected to close but is not in the current proposals, as the former Free Church does not belong to the Kirk.

The Church of Scotland is reducing the number of buildings across Scotland and Ardrossan Presbytery, which looks after Arran, and has now finalised its latest proposals which were  announced to the seven congregations at their services on Sunday.

However, the congregation in Lamlash have already mobilised to fight the proposal, which they fear will leave the administrative capital of Arran without any Church of Scotland, or any church, presence at all.

And there is real concern there will be no place in the village to host coffee mornings, toddler’s group, dance classes, Messy Church, AA meetings, Skinnymalinks, Memory Café, fundraisers, and other events.

They have already held two fact-gathering meetings and are compiling a report into why the church should be retained.

A statement prepared by former Session Clerk Ian Watt for the Kirk Session states: ‘If both (the church and hall) are closed there is no community meeting place of any size. There is no public hall and the use of the community facilities in the high school are very limited since the school has first call on them, often at short notice, judging from previous experience. This is a dreadful retrograde step and does no credit to the Church of Scotland.

‘We all know of the church’s problems, but this whole situation in Lamlash involves more people than those involved in the local church; it affects the whole community regardless of any church connection. The consequences may therefore have to be referred to North Ayrshire Council, so that they may assess the effect of any closures on the council’s ability to fulfil its community-based responsibilities.’

Another Kirk Session member told the Banner: ‘It’s such a blow after our Covid enforced closures for two and a half years and just at the time when groups are beginning to feel it’s safe enough to gather in person again.

‘Lamlash Kirk Session has been told this plan is a proposal and is not final but we must put our points forward by May 31 and then attend a presbytery meeting on June 14 in Beith, so time is of the essence.

‘People in Lamlash are completely unaware. They may not worship on a Sunday but a great many of them are part of our outreach activities and frequent users of the church hall.

‘Can you imagine it?  No church bells ringing out during Covid lockdown was bad enough, but to think they may never be played again to call people to worship in Lamlash is just so sad.’

A spokesperson for the Church of Scotland said: ‘Ardrossan Presbytery has produced a draft presbytery mission plan that we believe will ensure the future of Church of Scotland ministry across Arran.

‘The proposals include providing two full-time ministry posts – a minister of word and sacrament and a ministry development staff worker – to work across the island. If the plan is agreed the seven existing congregations will consider uniting to form one large congregation. Four of the church buildings would remain open for worship while three would close.

‘Congregations across Arran are now considering the plan and Kirk Sessions have until May 31 to contribute to the consultation. No decisions will be taken until the presbytery meets on June 14.’

A new plan must be agreed by Ardrossan Presbytery, the faith nurture forum and the general trustees by December 31, 2022.