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Future of kirks in Tingwall parish under threat

A cloud hangs over the three kirks in the Tingwall parish due to a hefty maintenance bill. Photo: Shetnews/Hans MarterTingwall Kirk. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

THREE KIRKS in the Tingwall parish are facing an uncertain future due to a hefty bill to repair and maintain the buildings, which are more than 150 years old.

Churches in Tingwall, Weisdale and Scalloway, each forming part of the Church of Scotland’s Tingwall parish, are facing a combined bill in excess of £150,000.

On Tuesday night more than 20 people attended a meeting in the Tingwall kirk. It was arranged in order to discuss the future of the buildings that “although they are much loved, are expensive to maintain and repair”.

The parish’s minister, Rev Debbie Dobby, said the Church of Scotland would do everything it can to avoid closing any kirks, but said they had to be “realistic” as to whether the necessary funding can be found in today’s climate.

Rev Dobby said afterwards: “Last night’s meeting was part of an ongoing conversation that we’re having about the future, about what it means to be the church, and what that might look like.

“There’s no secret that we need to spend a lot of money on the buildings to keep them maintained, for the upkeep, so it’s asking questions about what people feel we should do.

“I don’t think anybody wants to see any churches closed, but the reality is we need to spend a lot of money, and where is that going to come from?”

While Shetland Charitable Trust funding through the Shetland Churches Council Trust is being reduced, Rev Dobby stressed that for previous maintenance work the kirk had raised funds and secured grants from other organisations too.

In the wake of public spending cuts across the board, those grants are getting more difficult to come by.

She also acknowledged that a sustained pattern of declining congregations – a problem throughout the country – played its part. Tuesday night’s meeting heard how, in some instances, attendances were struggling to get past the 20 mark.

“We have a group of people who do an amazing job at fundraising and work very hard,” Rev Dobby said. “But, as in many churches, we are an older congregation and fewer in number than we used to be, so of course that’s going to have an impact.

“We haven’t made any decision about what will happen – it’s part of a conversation that we’re having within the churches and the kirk session, how we look to fulfil our mission in the world and the communities in which we serve.”

General Election - 12 December 2019