built on the site of the last thatched church in Scotland, Yetholm kirk occupies a location that has been a place of worship for more than eight centuries, writes Mark Entwistle.
And tomorrow will see another milestone reached in its long history when a celebration is held to give thanks to all those who have worked during the last decade and more on renovations to the fabric of the building. The event will also see the public launch of the Yetholm Project which is aimed at transforming the interior of the church so that it can be used as a cultural centre to serve visitors and tourists, and to promote local heritage and culture.
Minister at Kirk Yetholm for 20 years, the Reverend Robin McHaffie said the project will take the building from being a traditional village church centred on Sunday worship to becoming a multi-purpose centre open all week as a place of faith, gathering, visiting, culture, history and discovery.
“The kirk session wanted to look at what the building is for and who it is for. We felt we need to take the building away from being purely a facility focused on a congregational-only/Sunday-worship thing,” Mr McHaffie told TheSouthern this week.
“We were aware a lot of tourists were coming through this area, including walkers on the Southern Upland Way. We wanted to address that and needed somewhere that could be open all the time. Many visitors and walkers come through this area for faith reasons. Many are doing St Cuthbert’s Way because of the spiritual link.
“The Scottish Parliament has woken up to this now and has instructed VisitScotland to be more amenable to this kind of tourism. Pilgrim walks like St Cuthbert’s Way are becoming quite a big thing. People on their way to Lindisfarne come through Yetholm.”
The project was discussed at church, kirk session, presbytery and appropriate national church committee levels, and all expressed encouragement Locally, it was also reviewed by the community council and at a special public meeting.
Discussions took place with the local school, history society and at relevant clubs/meetings. Study trips and seminars have also taken place and gave those involved the chance to look at similar projects elsewhere.
However, as Mr McHaffie stressed, the church will still serve its original primary function of being a local place of worship.
“Absolutely – yes. But worship and celebration nowadays take many different forms other than just an hour on a Sunday. The project takes account of this, as well as the need to create a space for the display and promotion of local art and culture.”
The first three phases saw work to the walls, roof and stained-glass windows over almost 14 years, and costing £400,000. This is now complete, thanks to funding from trusts and public granting bodies.
It included taking down walls and rebuilding them, incorporating a special steel structure to let hundreds of years worth of damp and moisture drain from the walls – a process that could take as much as a century before the walls are completely dry. The fourth and final phase, estimated at costing between £130,000-140,000, is due to start soon and will include the installation of a new kitchen and toilets.
One controversial aspect of the planned interior work is the removal of the traditional wooden pews with these replaced by loose seating.
“Yes, there have been a few expressions of anxiety about this. Someone once said, ‘you have to change or die’. Well, the church has to adapt or die too,” added Mr McHaffie.
z Ben Gittus, from Kirk Yetholm, is to run the LA marathon to help raise funds for this project. Anyone wishing to donate can contact him through the MyDonate website.