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Landmark Old High Church in Inverness to be sold?

By Louise Glen

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Jean Slater and Christina Cameron. Picture: Callum Mackay
Jean Slater and Christina Cameron. Picture: Callum Mackay

A congregation has been asked to consider the sale of one of Inverness’s most historic buildings.

The Old High Church – the oldest church in Inverness, dating back to 1770 – is likely to be put up for sale.

The surprising news comes as the congregation of Old High and St Stephen’s (OHSS) are being asked to confirm a decision by the kirk session on moving into one building – that being St Stephen’s in the Crown.

A newsletter to parishioners from the OHSS session clerk Christine MacKenzie said: “Some months ago we advised that the kirk session were proceeding with the consultation on moving to one building.

“When Rev Peter Nimmo moved to Cambuslang in June 2020 we were advised by the Presbytery of Inverness that we would not be able to call a minister to the charge of Old High St Stephen’s until we had moved to one building.

“The kirk session are mindful of the pain that this will cause to many within our congregation.

“When the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met in May 2021, kirk sessions were advised that the church had to reduce their ministers by around one third within the next five years.

“The first step in this was the sisting of all vacancies until the end of 2022. No major building projects would be approved during that time. This was a considerable blow to many congregations, not least OHSS.”

Old High Church.
Old High Church.

She continued: “The kirk session agreed, at their meeting on July 6, 2021, that the primary place of worship should be St Stephen’s and that we should move to a congregational vote on the closure and the sale of the Old High. The voting was 17 for and five against.

“It was accepted by the kirk session that this was a difficult decision for everyone and there is a need to prayerfully support each other.”

It is anticipated the congregational vote should happen later this month.

“This decision will be relayed to the general trustees in Edinburgh who will market the property,” Ms MacKenzie said.

It is suggested that in spite of a huge insurance bill while the church lies empty that services could continue in the Old High on alternate months as at present, until such time as the future of the building is agreed with the general trustees.

She added: “A Presbytery Service would be held to close the building as a place of worship.

“I know this is not the news you would hope for but please be assured we have done everything possible to ensure the future of our buildings.

“This is a difficult time for everyone, please show love and compassion at this time and pray for the future of our congregation.”

Jean Slater, who is the secretary of the Friends of the Old High Church, said: “It is appalling that the church would consider selling such an important building.

“I was gobsmacked with this news, it is a blow to the whole of Inverness. It is a shock that such an important building is to be sold, and I urge anyone of faith or none to join our group.”

Christina Cameron, the chairwoman of the Friends of the Old High Church, said: “We want the Old High Church to stand. There is the history of it. It stood at the time of the Battle of Culloden, its tower was used for the prisoners, it has historical artefacts inside and in the church graveyard.

“It is the town church, and many people will be upset by this decision.”

A Church of Scotland spokesman said: “A union was formed between Old High Church and St Stephen’s Church in 2003 and the congregation had to decide which building they wanted to keep because it was not financially viable to maintain two.

“The final decision on the future of the Old High Church building lies with the Presbytery of Inverness, which has yet to formally address the issue and make an official decision.”

Parishioners are invited to make comments to Ms MacKenzie by emailing christinemac73@hotmail.com before September 15.

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