THE CHURCH of Scotland says it is “very, very keen” to see a viable, long-term community-based future for the historic Lunna Kirk.
Last week, the church announced the final phase of kirk closures in Shetland which will affect Lunna, Tingwall, Whalsay, Gulberwick, Dunrossness and Out Skerries.
The Rev Fran Henderson said the kirk would work with communities to fully explore all the options available before putting the buildings on the open market.
She said Lunna Kirk, the oldest church still in use in Shetland, was a “special case” due its history and location, and described it as a “tragedy” should the B-listed church on the Lunna peninsula be lost to Shetland.
Rev Henderson added that she believed there would be support from well beyond Shetland, not least because of its association with the Shetland Bus wartime operation, for bringing the building into community ownership.
She said would attend a public meeting in the Vidlin Hall on 22 February which has been organised to find out if the community would want to take on the challenge.
“We are really anxious that a good solution could be found for Lunna, we could not keep it on for longer but given its history it would be a tragedy if it would be lost to Shetland,” she said.
“We would love to be able to work with the community and hand over the church in some form, we just need someone to work with.
“Is there anybody out there who would be interested in forming some kind of community group or charitable trust? With Lunna particularly I am hopeful that it will get support beyond the Lunna and Vidlin community.
“We cannot set up a group to buy our own property, we are the sellers, but we are very, very keen to find a way of preserving Lunna and we will work constructively with any group and will be as generous as we possibly can be.”
She added that community groups need to understand what they are about to take on.
“We can’t simply hand over a church to a community. The body we hand it over to must be an official community group be it a charity or a community business, it must have done a community survey, drawn up a business plan, have a constitution and maybe a charity number,” she said.
Rev Henderson added that she is already in discussion with community groups in Dunrossness and Skerries keen to take on their church buildings.
Back in 2018 Church of Scotland announced that it was to embark on a programme that would see the closure of 20 of its 31 buildings in Shetland to make its operation more sustainable.
She said the Church of Scotland was not in a position to gift Lunna Kirk to the community, but as it was a special case any hand over would be on “extremely favourable terms”.
“I absolutely love Lunna Kirk; it is so beautiful, it has a wonderful situation, the history and interior are so original, and there is nowhere like it in Shetland,” Rev Henderson said.
“And even though the church is to close, we can all see that Lunna is a special case. If the church could be saved in way or another that would be wonderful.”
The meeting in the Vidlin Hall will be held on Tuesday 22 February from 6pm to 7.30pm.
The family of Shetland Bus author David Howarth has now started a petition to ‘Save Lunna Kirk’. It can be found here.
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