Nostalgia: A time for healing in Kirkcaldy after rift caused by kirk closure call

The Old Kirk in Kirkcaldy
The Old Kirk in Kirkcaldy

Change was in the air across Kirkcaldy as the year 2003 got under way.

In Smeaton, Councillor George Leslie battled for funding to try and save the area’s Post Office, the Fife Free Press announced that its campaign to build a new Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre at Victoria Hospital had raised £200,000 in just 12 months, whilst, in the centre of town, an unholy row was under way over the future of two of the town’s churches.

Rosemary Potter at top of the Old Kirk's tower (pic by Walter Neilson)

Rosemary Potter at top of the Old Kirk's tower (pic by Walter Neilson)

The General Assembly of Scotland announced that it was to make a ruling over the future of St Brycedale Church and the Old Kirk, which could see one of them closed for good.

It was to decide whether or not to uphold an appeal against a judgement made by the Kirkcaldy Presbytery’s that the St Bryce Kirk, which had unified the two buildings in November 2000, could ask for closure of one or other of the buildings.

The appeal had been lodged by kirk session member Rosemary Potter who argued that a potential closure was against the basis of union, drawn up to settle rows over where the congregation should worship.

A commission was set to announce at the beginning of February whether to allow closure to be considered or to decide that both buildings should remain in use – the decision bringing an end to the saga.

Outside arbiters had previously ruled in October 2001 that the Old Kirk be the principle place of worship but St Brycedale be used for occasional worship. But in June 2002, the unified kirk session had decided, due to money troubles, it would seek the Presbytery’s go-ahead to close one building.

Rosemary then lodged a dissent and complaint against that decision, but it was rejected by Kirkcaldy Presbytery, and she then appealed against that rejection.

In her case to the General Assembly she said: “Besides its importance to the congregation concerned, this appeal has significance for the whole Church of Scotland.

“If the decisions of the kirk session and the Presbytery, which are appealed against, are allowed to stand, then, in future, no congregation planning to enter a union will be able to rely on faithful adherence to independent arbitration of sensitive issues.”

Happily, Rosemary’s appeal did the trick – the General Assembly ordered St Bryce Kirk to keep both its buildings, but added that there was a “lot of healing to do” over the issue which it conceded had left a rift between members.

The Rev. Marjory Maclean, the spokesman for the Church of Scotland, said: “Whatever decision we made it wasn’t going to solve the fact we have some very broken relationships and strong feelings.

“There’s going to be a lot of healing needed and a lot of work needed to get this congregation up and running again.

“The leadership of that church is going to have to give a lot of care, attention and help.”

Rosemary called the decision “heartening”, adding: “It means people are encouraged to feel the Church is standing by its word and keeping faith with what it is said.

”It does leave us with a lot of hurt and pain but the commission hoped we would be able to move forward, and it just remains to be seen if we can do that.

“It depends on how people pull together and whether the kirk session can manage to get itself more together than it has been.

Commission members had voted 61 to four to uphold Rosemary’s appeal at the hearing and ruled that the kirk session’s request to close a building was “incompetent”.