Summer 2021 Update
I hope this letter finds you well, and enjoying the summer weather, along with the benefits of the recent easing of Covid restrictions.
Closure of the Church Building
After the last Kirk Session meeting in June, the elders asked me to write to all the members and adherents of St Columba Gaelic Church, to update you on recent developments, especially in regard to the church building at 300 St. Vincent Street.
I did so in a letter which was published on the church website, although it was not sent out in paper form as intended. This was because I received an email around the same time from the Presbytery Property Convener, which advised on how any sale of the building will be handled, if the Kirk Session and congregation should agree to it. That email changed the position to such an extent that I felt it best to remove my letter from the website, as it was already out of date in one important respect.
Initially we had identified a real possibility, that we might be able to come to a legally binding agreement with a potential buyer that would permit shared use with ourselves. This seemed a good option which might be worthy of the congregation’s support.
The email from the Property Convener advised, however, that a committee called the Glasgow Strategic Network Group (GSNG) had met and had not supported this option. The GSNG comprises reps from the General Trustees and the Presbytery. I was advised that “Presbytery and the GTs will endeavour, as with all property disposals, to secure the best capital receipts possible for the church...Any interested parties will be asked to submit their bid in the normal way...once the building is advertised in the open market. This way there is complete transparency and consistency in the disposal process.”
No decision has yet been taken by the Session and congregation to agree to a sale. Therefore the Session must now reconsider the matter in the light of the GSNG advice.
Clearly any decision to dispose of the building is not one to be taken lightly. With this in mind, Eoghainn Maclean our legal counsel has kindly offered to attend the next Kirk Session meeting, in order to advise the elders, who are the local trustees, in terms of his legal expertise. I know he will answer any questions in a clear and impartial way. I hope this will give the Session the information they need to make an informed decision. After it does, a congregational meeting must be called to ascertain the congregation’s views, in a private ballot.
For various reasons, including Eoghainn’s busy schedule, we see this meeting taking place in w/b 13th September. It is intended to be in-person. A call notice will be issued in due course.
The Session is not obliged to come to a decision at that meeting, however for several reasons it is desirable that a decision be reached fairly soon. Currently we are paying insurance for a church we cannot use. Additionally, the congregation has been under pressure for a long time, both from the Presbytery of Glasgow and the General Trustees, to dispose of the building. This was the case well before the pandemic and the GTs’ report earlier this year that persuaded the Presbytery to close it on safety grounds. The most recent designation for the building in its Presbytery Plan was "3", equivalent to the General Trustees' “c” designation: “Buildings which will be sold during the lifetime of the Presbytery Plan.” Going farther back, in the 1980s, the Presbytery sought to relocate the congregation to the Queen’s Cross (Mackintosh) Church in Maryhill, as an alternative to the continued use of the St Vincent Street Church. Getting back to the present day, the church nationally faces unprecedented cuts in personnel and building numbers. So now many other congregations, in common with ourselves, are facing similar pressures. Present staff numbers of 140 in Glasgow must be reduced to 84. In terms of buildings, all Presbytery Plans have been suspended, however this in no way reduces the pressure we and many others are under. The Presbytery Clerk writes, "Presbytery will need to decide the future of every building in Presbytery in a pretty stark way and review such decisions regularly."
I know that many of you had set hope on the idea of us restoring the church. But we always knew we would not be able to do that alone and without external funding. Sadly, but understandably, potential funders simply will not commit to a building the Church of Scotland as a whole is not committed to. You would not wish me to be anything other than honest with you. Even though we continue to explore whether even part of the church can be used again, all in all, it is hard for me to see how the whole building can be secured for the future.
Arrangements to restart in-person services
The future of the church building is not the only matter of importance for the congregation. In my last letter I mentioned that the closure of the church, confirmed in April, leads to the question of making alternative arrangements for the congregation to meet for worship. A number of options for alternative venues have been explored. The Session believes it is best to secure a temporary place of worship, and continue to be on the lookout for a property that will suit our needs in the longer term. The Session has resolved to accept an invitation from the Kirk Session of Blawarthill to use their premises initially.
I can now advise that services will restart on Sunday 29th August at 6.30 p.m. in Blawarthill. The time and venue may well change to meet the needs of members, but I will keep you informed of all developments. St Columba is a congregation and fellowship with its own proud history and culture. Even with the double blow of the Covid pandemic and the loss of our historic church as a meeting place I feel it is crucial we should make every effort to pick ourselves up, maintain our distinctive integrity, organise our own services, and start prayerfully to plan our mission strategies for the future.
Our online Gaelic services continue. When in-person services were not possible due to the lockdown, we immediately began a joint project with the Gaelic congregation in Edinburgh to webcast services on our new YouTube Channel, “Eaglais Air-loidhne / Gaelic Church Online”. These services in Gaelic have been webcast with a regularity that was not possible with in-person worship. I am grateful to all the contributors from both Scotland and Nova Scotia who have helped make this venture a success. In the midst of our anxieties, we should cherish our successes. I invite all Gaelic speakers and learners who have not already done so to have a look and to take part in these services. From the YouTube website or mobile App, type “Gaelic Church Online” into the YouTube search box.
Development of new outreach
Finally, although the Presbytery may have made its views clear about the future of the church building, it is very much in favour of developing ministry to the Gaelic and Highland community. To this end a Gaelic Group has been formed and is exploring options for fresh expressions of Church, predominantly in the Gaelic medium. This is being done in collaboration with the national Gaelic committee and along with the Edinburgh Highland congregation. Taking advantage of this commitment is one reason why it is important to keep the congregation going in any way we can, and at the same time attract new members who are able to recognise the potential of a Christian outreach that puts Gaelic worship and culture at the centre, developing ideas in ways that are appropriate for the 21st century. New forms of Church may well have a better chance to thrive when those committed to it are free from the constraints of maintaining a legacy building. The Kirk Session values your continuing support and interest in these difficult times, yet times that present exciting opportunity as we allow God to lead us into new areas of outreach and service.
Warmly, in Christ’s name,
Rev. G. Melvyn Wood