Plans to axe eight Caithness churches have been shelved following a backlash from the affected parishes.
The Church of Scotland is looking at its whole portfolio as part of a cost-cutting review, with dozens of churches expected to shut and congregations merged.
The Kirk has pointed to the rising costs of maintaining the churches, fewer people going to church and a declining number of ministers for the shake-up – which it says will create a “lean and fit mission for the 21st century”.
Caithness Presbytery has initially agreed to close eight churches over the next six years.
This would have led to Watten closing this summer; Reay, Dunnet and Dunbeath in June 2024; Keiss in June 2025; Olrig in June 2026; and Thurso West and Pulteneytown in Wick by December 2028.
That would leave six churches – St Peter’s and St Andrew’s in Thurso; St Fergus in Wick; Strathy; Halkirk; Lybster and Canisbay.
However, presbytery clerk Rev Heather Stewart has confirmed that it has since voted against proceeding with the programme, as it stands.
Further negotiations to be had
She said: “We have agreed to look again at what should happen and we’ll now be back negotiating with Edinburgh.
“It’s not the end of it by any manner of means and some churches will have to close – that is the reality.”
Rev Stewart, a locum minister at Latheron, stressed Caithness is not alone in being faced with mounting costs to maintain church buildings against a backdrop of falling attendances and fewer ministers.
The complement of ministers in Caithness was cut in 2021 from 9.1 to 5.5.
Rev Stewart said: “It’s not primarily about money but we do have to be responsible stewards of the money we have been given.
“We have agreed to reflect on the issue and work with the people in Edinburgh to find a solution.”