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Ready to ’embrace change’: Hopes closure-threatened Aberdeen churches will be taken on by communities

St Mark's Church could close in the next five years. Picture by Scott Baxter.
St Mark's Church could close in the next five years. Picture by Scott Baxter.

Church officials are hopeful that 10 buildings in Aberdeen earmarked for closure will be given a new lease of life.

The Church of Scotland has announced proposals to shut 10 of their kirks in the Granite City, including the iconic St Mark’s, Holburn West, Kingswells and St George’s Tillydrone.

The body has instructed the Presbytery of Aberdeen and Shetland, which has 38 churches, to create seven parish groupings for numerous congregations to come together.

It is the latest in a round of swingeing cuts brought on by a shortage in ministers and the need to save on resources.

Earlier this year, similar proposals impacting 20 kirks in Aberdeenshire were announced.

Church members admitted it was sad news but said they were hopeful the church buildings would continue to play an important part in city communities.

‘It’s a loss of things as we know it’

Rev Duncan Eddie, from West Holburn Church, one of the 10 churches earmarked for closure, said the proposals were not completely new.

Due to ageing congregations, limited resources and a lack of ministers, he said Covid has only accentuated these areas.

Rev Eddie said: “On the one hand it is very sad. Congregations have gathered a lot of memories and emotional events have taken place in these buildings.

“It’s a loss of things as we know it but also it will be a creative reusing of things going forward.”

Holburn West Church on Ashley Drive. Picture by Kath Flannery.

The building will be closed as a place of worship but it is hoped, through planning and community meetings, that the building will continue to be a hub for the community.

Holburn West Church, which has around 50-80 members attending weekly, is looking at joining together with other churches in the west end.

Many other congregations will be looking at doing the same.

Rev Eddie added: “By and large, congregations are getting older and it makes sense to join up for the sake of responsibility.

“We’re all conscious of having to reshape and restructure how we do church and more ready now to embrace or adopt to change as required.”

Plans for the buildings and talks with members of the churches vary from place to place and are still in the early stages.

Church of Scotland is looking ahead

Bucksburn and Stoneywood Church. Picture by Chris Sumner.

Mike Hepburn, from Bucksburn Stoneywood Church, has been a member since 1982 and has been session clerk for 20 years.

He said: “There’s been a lot of memories. We are sad but that’s the way ahead for the Church of Scotland.

“So we’re disappointed at the moment but we’ve just got a new challenge ahead.”

While the church has around 300 members registered, Mr Hepburn said there have not been nearly that amount attending due to the older age group.

He said the church is due to be closed by the end of this year and most probably, the building will be sold.

The congregation is currently in talks with neighbouring church Newhills Church about unionising the congregations.

Kevin Stewart hopes the churches will be given a new lease of life.

Hard to see historic buildings possibly closing

Another of the buildings earmarked for closure is the historic building of St Mark’s Church on Rosemount Viaduct.

Sometimes described as a miniature of St Paul’s in London, the building is part of a trio with The City Library and His Majesty’s Theatre. Many Aberdonians refer to this as Education, Salvation and Damnation.

Kevin Stewart, MSP for Aberdeen Central, said: “It is sad to see some of our area’s historic and community churches earmarked for closure and I hope that the Church of Scotland will work with communities to see if these churches can be asset transferred for community use.

“As a former St Marks Boys Brigade member, I am particularly sorry to hear of its closure as I have a lot of happy memories.

“I do hope that the Kirk will ensure that the transfer of this building is done with sensitivity to ensure that the facade of the historic trio of buildings Education, Salvation and Damnation is maintained.”

Still hope to use empty buildings for communities

Reverend Dr John Ferguson, Aberdeen and Shetland Presbytery Clerk, stressed the proposals are out ensuring a future for Church of Scotland and that supporting communities will continue.

He said: “The work of mission and outreach to communities across the city will continue through our people as well as in our places of worship.

“We recognise that the buildings we propose to close have significance and meaning to those who have met and worshipped there.

“Looking to the future, the Church is committed to considering any proposal to buy a building and maintain it for community use.”

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