Sunday 7 April 2024

Dumfries and Galloway minister criticises decision to close church

The Church of Scotland is at the centre of a disagreement over the proposed closure of Southwick Church.

In a controversial move, its appeal committee ruled the well-used building will shut in 2027.

Local minister Reverend John Murdoch and the congregation had asked for a rethink but their case was rejected.

The move followed a decision by the General Assembly to cut the number of churches across the country.

Reverend Murdoch said Southwick Church has a growing congregation, healthy attendances, is well-funded and in a sound state of repair.

And he criticised a lack of consultation on draft plans for a shake-up in the Presbytery of the South West.

He told the News: “I find it extraordinary, in an age when we are encouraged to talk to each other, that the team didn’t think it important to come and talk to us, or even lift the phone.

“They took into account only whatever they had on paper which had been written beforehand, which is quite frankly perplexing.

“The church is not just a religious building – it’s a base for the community, for baptisms, funerals and events.

“We have school children in there often.

“We are immensely sad and disappointed, but we accept the decision of the national church.

“It follows on from the General Assembly decision to reduce the number of churches.

“The decision has been reviewed by the presbytery and we have been told no.

“However, we do hope that the annual evaluations leading up to 2027 may allow this decision to be turned up the other way.”

Reverend Murdoch was installed in June 2022 with unrestricted tenure – meaning he can stay as long as he

He said: “I came here on the firm understanding that I was minister of one congregation which meets in two places.

“The real fear for people in this area is that there are a good number of folk who are brought to church by friends, and an extra six or seven miles may be too far for many.

“You could understand that in a city where there may be four or five churches within a radius of three or files square miles.

“But in a rural setting with six or seven miles between churches it will have a very negative impact.”

He added: “There are growing numbers of people who come to Southwick every Sunday – 30 to 40 people in a country church is a lovely congregation.

“For baptisms and funerals it’s much higher and we had 150 people for Easter services at Southwick and Colvend.

A Colvend and Southwick Community Council consultation on the local place plan found more than 80 per cent of respondents backed Southwick Church “remaining as a place of worship”.

It said: “Southwick Church is the home of a dedicated and loyal, congregation who love this holy place and value its tranquillity.

“But now, with no consultation with the congregation, the Presbytery of the South West has decided that this delightful place of worship is to be abandoned.

“It seems as though a random high-level decision has not taken any account of the local situation.”

Christine Murray, presbytery clerk of the Presbytery of the South West, said Southwick had been invited to present the case for their building being

She said: “Following the decision being taken to approve the new mission plan and close this church there was then an opportunity for the matter to be

“Southwick applied for such a review, and submitted their arguments to the committee, which is independent of the Presbytery of the South West.

“The review application was unsuccessful, and the decision of the presbytery to close this building in 2027 was upheld.

“It is open to any congregation to bring evidence of new, sustainable missional growth to the committee at time of review and to present an argument as to how their position has so changed in the intervening period that the decision to close should be reconsidered.”