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Church of Scotland - Wick
End of an Era for two
Last Saturday (22 March 2009) hundreds visited Wick's beautifully decorated Bridge Street Church on the final Open Day to browse amongst the photographs and other memorabilia and to watch Alan Sinclair's presentation of the history of the Church. One hundred and sixty six years after the Disruption, and proposed by Church of Scotland Headquarters as far back as 1941, Wick Old Parish and Wick Bridge Street churches will finally be re-united. The service of Union, which is open to all, will take place in the renamed Wick St Fergus Church on Friday 3rd April at 7.30pm.
In his booklet published in 1999 the Reverend A. A. Roy - who retired in 2007 as the last and, having spent 52 years in Wick, the longest serving of the church's eleven Ministers – provides an interesting history of what is currently known as Wick Bridge Street Church of Scotland, its first Minister having been the Reverend Charles Thomson.
The Disruption of 1843 led to the formation of the Free Church of Scotland whose Ministers were elected by their congregations (rather than chosen for them by patrons such as local landowners) and financed through the voluntary contributions of the church members and adherents. In Wick the Reverend Thompson, whose portrait hangs in Bridge Street Church, left the Established Church (currently known as Wick Old Parish) taking the majority of his congregation with him and they worshipped in the open air at the Glebe Park until their new building, known as Wick Free Church, was built on the site now occupied by the Somerfield supermarket. In 1862 plans for the present building in Bridge Street were drawn up and it took three years to build the impressive neo-Gothic style building which has seating for over a thousand and which cost well over £1,000. Records show that the money was raised by the congregation, many giving substantial donations to pay for the new Wick Free Church. Later renamed Wick United Free Church following the union between the Free Church of Scotland and the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland in 1900, it finally became known as Wick Bridge Street Church of Scotland in 1929 after the unification of the Established Church and the United Free Church.
Bridge Street congregation has always displayed such generosity and, over the years, many have given of their time and money. A great debt of gratitude is owed in particular to the Elders, Deacons and Board Members, the choirs and organists who enhanced the weekly services, those who ran the church organisations such as the Sunday Schools in both Bridge Street and the Barrogil Hall and the Youth Groups, Fellowships and Guilds, and also to those who arranged flowers, distributed envelopes, baked, cleaned and effected repairs to the building.
Due to the success of the Church, and the large attendances, its ministry expanded into Pulteneytown when the congregation acquired the Barrogil Hall in the early eighteen nineties, and later, in 1903, the Zion Hall in Victoria Place, which was used until 1918 when it was sold to the Salvation Army. Previously, in 1862 the first Free Church building which was then only 22 years old, was purchased by the Gaelic Committee for worship by the large numbers who arrived annually from the west of Scotland for the herring fishing season.
During its history - in addition to Sunday Schools, Bible Class, Women's Guild, the Church Choir and Sunday School choirs, Young Mothers' Group, Young Men's Christian Association, Ladies Work Party, the Christian Endeavour and the Youth Fellowship - Wick Bridge St Church has also been home to a Literary Society, the Girls Guildry, a Girl Guide Company, Wick Youth Club and one organization which drew crowds too large even for a church of this size. This was the “Brotherhood” whose monthly open meetings were sometimes so well attended that people sat in the aisles and even on the the pulpit steps. The banner of The Brotherhood, designed by the wife of the Reverend Alfred Coutts who ministered between 1909 and 1912, has recently been gifted to Wick Heritage Centre.
Nearly a hundred years on from those days, while the congregations of both Bridge Street and the Parish churches have over the years managed through the generosity and hard work of their congregations to remain self-supporting, the dwindling numbers attending church and the dearth of Ministers has led to the situation whereby the Church of Scotland will not allow Wick Bridge Street and Wick Old Parish to remain independent of each other. In 2002 Caithness Presbytery Working Group decided that in order to cope with this shortage of Ministers, a linkage and ultimate Union of the Wick Old Parish and Wick Bridge Street churches would be necessary. The linkage took place on the retirement of Reverend A. Roy in July 2007 and the Union was then to follow within two years.
An active Steering Group and a shadow Congregational Board, both comprised of members from each congregation, have been working hard to complete the necessary arrangements for the Union and it is hoped that the majority of Bridge Street's three hundred members and adherents will join with those of the Old Parish to create in the new Wick St Fergus Church, a strong congregation incorporating the traditions and history of both churches within a building where people will worship for many years to come. Meantime it is hoped that a community use for Bridge Street Church which will pay tribute to the past while creating a commercial future for the premises can be found.
Final services were held for both congregations on 29th March 2009, with the Reverend Ronnie Johnston preaching in Wick Bridge Street Church. During the following week important items will be transferred from Bridge Street.These include the Pulpit Bible presented to the congregation on its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary by the Reverend Samuel Ballantyne who served the people of Bridge Street between 1942 and 1949, the Communion table dedicated as a War Memorial to the forty-four men killed in the 1st World War, the Baptismal font on which is inscribed the names of the seven men killed in the 2nd World War, the Hymnal Boards donated in memory of Mr William Gillespie, the pulpit light donated in memory of Miss Edie, the lectern donated in memory of Miss Jessie Sutherland and the matching chair gifted by Miss Nancy Anderson. Also to hang in St Fergus will be the late Dr Wagil Antonios's oil painting of Jesus 'Calming the Storm', the tapestry of the 'Last Supper' donated by Miss Avril Levitt (née Banks), a Fine Art Print of Heinrich Hofman's painting of Jesus preaching from a fishing boat donated in memory of Miss Christina Falconer and, of course, the portrait of the Reverend Charles Thompson, the first minister of both churches.
WICK ST FERGUS CHURCH OF SCOTLAND
The first service of the new Wick St Fergus congregation will be held on Sunday 5th April at 11.30am. and will be conducted by the Reverend Ronnie Johnston and the Reverend John Nugent, currently the locum Minister appointed by Caithness Presbytery to cover Wick St Fergus and Pulteneytown Parish Churches.