Church of Scotland Clearances

Further to your series ‘The New Highland Clearances’ and ‘One careful owner: Kirk sells off properties but buyers beware’ (8 February), the Church of Scotland is creating an architectural, cultural and spiritual wasteland. The hard nose response to raising this issue has been that the Church of Scotland is a national Presbyterian hierarchical organisation. It is not a congregational association.

Most Church of Scotland congregations were built and paid for by members. Donations by landowners and business people have also been factors in the construction of churches throughout the land. Members maintained these buildings. When congregations required grant financial help for repairs and renovations, these were available from the Trustees but only on condition that they transfer the title deeds of their properties from local ownership to the Trustees. Thus the Trustees acquired ownership of many church buildings and properties for a fraction of their saleable values. Members continued to pay for the maintenance of buildings which they no longer owned and in which they were now only tenants.

It is true that many congregations have declined in numbers and are no longer sustainable. It is true that many church properties require maintenance and upgrading and that many local members no longer have sufficient faith, scale, generosity, commitment and expertise to maintain them. Some congregations however do have these qualities and yet their churches are being closed on algorithm criteria, against the wishes of still worshiping members.

Church of Scotland ministers facilitated some of the Highland Clearances in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today faithful lifelong members of local churches are being evicted from their churches. The Church of Scotland is conducting its own version of the Highland Clearances. Future generations and centuries will ponder the causes.

Robert Anderson 2017

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