A Highland community’s plan to bring a disused church back to life has received support from South Korea in memory of a pioneering missionary.
Community organisation the Seaboard Memorial Hall (SMH) aims to buy and refurbish the former Free Presbyterian Church, situated between Hilton and Balintore in Easter Ross. The new facility will offer social and learning opportunities for around 3,200 local residents as well as visitors to the area.
The group has been given £54,000 towards the purchase from the Pyungkang Cheil Presbyterian Church (PCPC) in South Korea.
The area has strong Korean connections due to its links with John Ross, a missionary born in Rariche, Easter Ross, who was the first person to translate The Bible’s New Testament into Korean in 1887.
Following a visit by the PCPC last year, it was decided the building would be called the John Ross Memorial Centre and refurbishment would be funded mainly by the Korean church.
John Ross served a number of Gaelic-speaking churches before becoming a missionary for the United Presbyterian Church in 1872. He worked in Manchuria and Korea and by 1873 had preached his first sermon in Chinese.
His work on the Korean translation of the New Testament led to him to be known to Koreans as the “father of the Bible”.
He returned to Scotland in 1910 and died five years later.
It is planned to relocate the lower half of the Pictish Hilton of Cadboll Stone, which dates from about 800 AD, from the Seaboard Memorial Hall to the new facility which will provide more space for visitors to view the artefact. The top half of the stone is located at the National Museum of Scotland.
Other local historic items will be moved to the memorial hall and will be on display for visitors.
The project has also received £48,500 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) towards the purchase and legal fees, while SMH will contribute some of its own funds.
SMH director Maureen Ross said: “The John Ross Memorial Centre will be an important resource at the heart of the villages that will bring people together and attract more visitors. We thank everyone who has worked hard to bring us to this stage.”
Paul Harrington, development manager at HIE, said: “We are delighted to be in a position to help The Seaboard Memorial Hall finalise their funding package to enable them to purchase and refurbish the old Free Presbyterian Church.
“The facility will help the community increase tourism levels and provide improved facilities to the Seaboard Villages. Relocating the stone there and with the history and connection of John Ross with South Korea, more visitors will be enticed to come and see and hear about the history of the area and the people.”
SMH, which supports eight part-time jobs, plays an important role in the area. During lockdown it supported a number of communities, helping families who lost income and providing access to essentials, well as keeping them informed of the latest Covid-19 announcements through a newsletter.