Abbey Milestones

           

ABBEY MILESTONES

THE STORY OF ABBEY CHURCH OF SCOTLAND, NORTH BERWICK

First published in 1963 by Rev E.S.P. Heavenor

Revised and updated by Rev P H Cashman in 1993

and Rev Dr D J Graham in 2018

ORIGINS IN PRAYER

The story of the Abbey Church in North Berwick is a story of unity, of faith matched with works, of prayer and progress. Although little is known about the origin of the church – the Kirk Session Minutes only go back to 1784 and financial records to 1817 - it is well known and vouched for that the Abbey pioneers started a ‘Praying Society’ as far back as 1769. They were few in number, but intensely earnest, the kind of people whose faithful intercession was the seedbed of the famous Cambuslang revival in 1742. Their strong belief in prayer found many echoes in the years that were to come. Quite frequently in the early Session Minutes, one reads that, as there was no business before the Session the evening was devoted to prayer. These people who prayed together wanted to stay together in a permanent fellowship, and so in 1778 they built a meeting house on the present site of the Westgate Gallery.

 

ASSOCIATE CONGREGATION

On 27th February 1782 they established themselves as an ‘Associate Congregation.’ The first minister was the Rev. James Scrimgeour (1784-1799). The Term ‘Associate Congregation’ plunges us immediately into the stormy waters of Scottish denominational controversy. The ‘Association’ was with the United Session Church, which stemmed from the religious convictions of Ebenezer and Ralph Erskine. It is impossible to go in detail into the complications of these days; they cannot be understood without some understanding of the patronage issue. Under the system of patronage, the right to nominate a Minister in a vacancy was vested in the landowners and the elders. Only when a man had been nominated had the congregation any say in the matter. The Erskines were adamantly opposed to the system because of its glaring deficiencies, for example the landowner might be an Episcopalian. Much more serious, he might be as rich in material things as the farmer in Jesus’ parable, but as spiritually poor as Jesus’ farmer. Also, if the Elders came from humble stock they had a way of being overawed by their ‘betters’. In 1733 the Erskines, and others, came out from the Established Church of Scotland to form the Associate Presbytery of Seceders. They believed in the right of the people to choose their own Minister. They sought to carry on the covenanting traditions which were so precious to them. The first Abbey members desired to identify themselves with such principles. They, too, loved the stories of the Covenanters and longed to be their spiritual successors standing for the right of the people, and supremely for Christ as King of the conscience. This was the reason Abbey Church used to be called ‘The Church of the Martyrs.’

 

WHY ‘ABBEY’ CHURCH?

The term ‘Abbey Church’ only goes back to 1900, the year of the union between the Free and the United Presbyterian Churches. Unfortunately, the Session Minute which refers to the unanimous decision to use the name ‘Abbey United Free Church’ gives no guidance about the reason for the choice. There are two possibilities. One is that it was because the original Church stood on the ‘Abbey lands’ which stretched from the foot of Law Road and took in the ruins of the Cistercian Priory in Old Abbey Road. The other possibility connects the Church more directly with ‘the Abbey’, the local name for the ruins of the Priory. Perhaps the former theory is the more likely. It is improbable that loyal Presbyterians would name their Church after a Roman monastic order. For simplicity of reference ‘Abbey Church’ will be used throughout this booklet.

 

CHURCH DISCIPLINE

One would like to know more about the first Abbey Seceders. The opportunities to know them intimately are slight. Session Minutes are sometimes only 8 or 9 lines in length, and even this scanty record has long gaps in it. There was no meeting of the Kirk Session from May 1794 to November 1796 ‘owing to the indisposition’ of Mr Scrimgeour. After his death in 1799 the congregation was without a Minister for two years. The next Minister, Rev. John McQueen served for only two years (1801-1803). From 1803-1807 there is no record whatsoever of a Kirk Session Meeting. Mr McQueen’s successor, Rev. George Brown, was privileged to carry through the longest ministry in the history of the congregation (1807-1843).

Any attempt to reconstruct the personality and outlook of the Abbey people in the early period must fall back on a great deal of reading between the lines. They would, however, conform to Burleigh’s portrayal of the Seceders as ‘persons of sturdy, independent minds . .  Ministers were humble men of great seriousness with strong evangelical, Presbyterian, even covenanting principles.’ There were members in Dirleton, Gullane, Kingston, Fenton Barns and Haddington. Did they walk to Church? Did they ride? Whatever they did, it cannot have been as easy for them to attend Church as it is today. No doubt they thought nothing of the effort required. This is well illustrated in a story about one of the elders whose boat was blown in a storm to the other side of the Firth. When the storm subsided he sailed to South Queensferry, and walked to North Berwick to make sure that he was able to attend communion. Another Abbey stalwart walked every Sunday from Fenton Barns. After the Morning Service he enjoyed his meal on the beach, waited for the evening service, and then returned to Fenton Barns, to finish the day with family worship.

 

PREACHING AND PRACTICE

Perhaps the main impression that would be left on the mind of anyone who studies our Church would be that the Seceders took very seriously the Reformation stress that discipline must be one of the characteristics of a true Church, side by side with the preaching of the word and the practice of the sacraments. All members were expected to walk worthily of their Christian profession. If they did not, the Kirk Session took swift and severe steps. The overwhelming bulk of Kirk Session Minutes deals with discipline cases. Moral offenders were brought before the Kirk Session for rebuke and counsel. One man was rebuked by the Minister because he did not return home until 1.00 a.m. on Sunday, after dancing all Saturday evening. Drunkenness also occasioned frequent reprimand. Matrimonial problems were handled. A man who refused to live with his wife was debarred from Church ordinances. But the Elders were not only the judges; they were also the judged. It was clearly realised that there must be no suggestion of a blot on an elder’s name. We read of a man refusing the eldership because his brother and he were at law with each other. The Kirk Session considered the case and concluded that ‘the brother only was culpable’. The innocent brother, accordingly, was examined along with the other candidates for the Eldership. He had passed the test of character and now he had to pass the doctrinal test. It is clear from such a case that the early Kirk Session was not merely an ecclesiastical court. On occasion it almost assumed the role of a civil court. The Minister also had to ‘walk softly’ as the Scripture puts it. He could not afford to ignore the opinions or traditions of the believing fellowship. In 1826 Mr Brown felt it necessary to have a congregational meeting called under the chairmanship of another Minister. He had a communication read to the effect that he now found it quite impossible to commit his sermons to memory. He, therefore, sought permission to use notes in the pulpit. Quite obviously this practice was frowned upon. Fortunately for Mr Brown the meeting unanimously agreed to his request. He was held in high esteem by his people, as the memorial in the Church eloquently testifies.

 

HARD TIMES

But the memorising of sermons was not Mr Brown’s only headache. His Church had acute financial problems. Abbey treasurers in these days must have been very worried men. There are several references to the ‘depression of the times’. The small congregation obviously found it very difficult to keep its financial head above water. By 1818 a debt of £118 shows itself in the records - a serious figure when the annual income was sometimes not as much as that! Income mainly came from donations and seat rents, which sometimes were higher than donations. There are frequent references to seat rents in the minutes of Managers and Collectors (who were responsible for the ingathering of the seat rents). Seat rents were paid for people who could not afford to do so, from a special collection. The possession of a seat was looked upon as a great privilege. This appears clearly from the fact that the annual salary of the Church Officer as late as 1858 was £4.10s. with free seats for his wife and himself. In these days self-support was difficult or even impossible. When the first meetinghouse was built in 1778 we know that £20 was borrowed from Rev. John Brown of Haddington. The loan was a donation from his widow in 1819. The congregation needed such generous friends. In 1808 Abbey sent a petition to the Synod for aid to assist the congregation in finishing the Manse. When the cause had been established in 1782, a small cottage was bought to serve as a Manse on the site of the later Manse. One can only surmise that the 1808 reference is to some reconstruction which was considered necessary. Mr Brown’s salary felt the influence of the ‘depression of the times’. It was pruned from £118 to £100. A year later it was decided to ask Broughton Place Church, Edinburgh, to assist with £30 of Mr Brown’s salary, which Abbey could not meet at the time. In 1838 a Kirk Session minute appears with a most serious ring: ‘...in future Mr Brown be allowed no fixed stipend.’ The whole of the Church income was to be paid over to him after the deduction of necessary expenses. ‘They feel much to come to this resolution but they see no other way in which the congregation can exist otherwise,’ says the Minute. Three years after this Mr. Brown’s salary sank to a record low level of £78.

 

NEW MEETING HOUSE

The financial position had been aggravated by the decision of the Congregation to build a new meetinghouse. This remarkable decision was proof positive that Mr Brown and his band of workers were in no danger of defeatism. On 1829 a request for aid towards erecting a new meetinghouse was transmitted to the Synod and to various congregations, including Broughton Place. 1831 saw the start of the work. On 21st February 1832 a Committee was appointed to receive the key of the new Church from the contractors. Strangely enough there is no record of the date of the opening of the Church, although on 6th February 1832 there was request to the Minister to secure a Minister for the opening of the new Church ‘on an early date.’ The new Church cost £569 and that left the formidable debt of £347, which bore heavily on congregational finance. Rev. George Brown died in 1843 and was succeeded by Rev. John Dyer (1844-1857). Mr Brown’s Memorial in the Church reads as follows: ‘The Memorial of the Reverend George Brown, Minister of the United Associate Congregation, North Berwick, is placed here by his people and friends, to record his personal worth and pastoral fidelity, and to express their esteem, gratitude and sorrow. He was an Israelite indeed - a good Minister of Jesus Christ’.

 

UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

In 1820 an internal dispute in the ranks of the Seceders was happily resolved in the formation of the United Secession Synod, with some 280 congregations.

The Anti-Burghers maintained that no-one could take the oath required of burgesses in certain cities, whereby they acknowledged the true religion preached in the land and supported by the law. The Burghers saw no inconsistency about this, and Abbey was in the Burgher stream of the Secession. There is a reference to this in the Kirk Session minutes for 1819: the union must ‘engage in this excellent work with the Book of God, that test of truth in the right hand,’ with their standard books (the Westminster Confession, the Scots Confession, etc.) in the left hand, ‘with an earnest and warm and persevering uplifting of head and soul to the Father of Lights and God of Love.’

In 1847 the United Secession Church united with the Relief Church to form the United Presbyterian Church. The Relief Presbytery had been constituted in 1761 ‘for Christians oppressed in Church privileges.’ Patronage was again responsible for this fragmentation of the Church. The Relief leaders were thoroughly evangelical but they tended to be more tolerant than the Secession leaders, especially in their attitude to the Established Church. Discipline was not so severe in their Church, and they had a doctrine of free and open Communion.

 

FORWARD AGAIN

Under the ministry of the Rev. William Calvert, B.A., (1858-1886) crucial forward steps were taken. A fine Manse was built at a cost of £657. It was obvious, however, that the major task demanded by a developing Church was the building of a new Church. As far back as 1850 it was clear that this could not be indefinitely delayed. Overcrowding and bad ventilation, especially in the summer season, could not be ignored. But financial facts were anything but promising. When Mr Calvert came to Abbey he inherited a debt of about £300. The annual income was only about £200 and the expenditure very little short of that.

 

A DARING LEAP OF FAITH

The building of the present Church is a wonderful story of faith. A full account is given in the Minutes of the Congregational Soiree, held to celebrate the extinction of the debt on 17th December 1872 and it includes many of Mr Calvert’s own words. For years there was a growing longing for a new Church but ‘it was always dismissed with a hopeless shake of the head as though it would be utter folly to entertain it.’ Mr Benjamin Hall Blyth, a noted Edinburgh civil engineer was God’s messenger to guide this longing into profitable channels. In 1865 he offered financial help from his brother and he, provided Abbey members would ‘move in the matter.’ But like canny Scots they would not make a decision before they had ‘fully counted the cost.’ Mr Calvert had his own personal misgivings. He had recently recovered from an illness which had brought him to the ‘mouth of the grave’ and had left him ‘enfeebled for life.’ And so he and his leaders felt ‘compelled to remain inactive...with the most painful reluctance’ not knowing if the generous offer would ever be repeated. But the following year it was repeated. Mr Blyth requested a special meeting of Abbey Managers. He spoke with the urgency of a man who knew the hand of death was upon him, and who was still more conscious that the hand of God rested upon him in the challenge he was presenting to the Managers. He offered £450, stating that it was likely that it would be the ‘last time he would have it in his power to make it.’ The words were barely out of his mouth when ‘he fell from his chair and was carried home only to die.’ The Blyth Memorial in the vestibule is a moving reminder of Abbey’s debt to a strong and consecrated Christian personality. The words are fitting: ‘Erected in gratitude to the memory of Benjamin Hall Blyth Esq., C.E., Edinburgh, in many ways a true friend of this congregation, and who generous aid in the closing act of his life, decided the movement which led to the building of this Church. ‘His works yet praise him in the gates.’ It is hardly surprising that the Abbey leaders felt constrained to answer a challenge which spoke to something very deep within their hearts. The wheels of organisation began to turn. Mr Calvert prepared a circular along with subscription cards. In May 1847 a Congregational Meeting considered two plans of the new Church, one with a tower and a spire, the second without a spire. The latter was accepted.

 

STONE LAYING

October 1867 saw a beginning of the work. The foundation stone was laid on 13th January 1868 by Mr Peter Whitecross, assisted by three of the oldest male members of the congregation. We have a full and interesting account of the proceedings in the Managers’ Minute Book. A small platform had been erected for Mr Calvert, Mr McMorland of the Established Church and Mr Shewan of Blackadder. After a few verses of Psalm 118, Mr Calvert offered a brief prayer and spoke a few words. Mr Peter Whitecross, the oldest member of the congregation, then spread the mortar over the under portion of the stone. A cavity had been prepared in the stone for the reception of a hermetically sealed jar, containing the following documents - the appeal for aid towards the erection of the new Church; a copy of the 1868 Communion Roll; a list of the Building Committee; a list of contractors; a circular on behalf of the proposed Bazaar with the names of the ladies who had agreed to assist; the Caledonian Mercury of 22nd August 1866, containing an account of Mr Blyth’s death; a map of Scotland showing the Caledonian Railway and its branches, by Benjamin and Edward Blyth; Register of the County of Haddington, 1868; copies of the Edinburgh Evening Courant, Scotsman, Daily Review and Haddington Courier; current Laws of the Realm, presented by Mr J R Whitecross; drawing of the North Berwick United Presbyterian Church; and designs for Churches, manses and schools (as approved by the Free Church Committee) by an Edinburgh architect. This is evidently not an exhaustive list, for there is a reference to ‘other interesting documents.’ One is a shade mystified at the range of documents. It must have been a very large jar. The upper stone was then lowered into its place, and a libation of oil and wine was poured over the stone. Mr Whitecross expressed the hope that the building, like Solomon’s temple, would be filled with the glory of the Lord. Three hearty cheers followed. Mr Calvert then delivered an address. The benediction by Mr McMorland rounded off a historic occasion. The church was opened on 24th August 1868. The contractors must have worked with a will to be able to achieve such an opening date.

 

STOUT HEARTS

It is always easier to order a Church to be built than to raise the necessary funds to meet the cost. What a magnificent story of determination and sacrifice lies behind this success story! The Church cost £3,100, a massive sum for a relatively small congregation to raise. One searches in vain for a precise statement of the membership. In 1886 it is recorded that there were 210 on the roll. That probably gives us a fair idea of the number who had to toil up the steep financial hill. The old Church was sold for £560. The bazaar of August 1868 realised the fine figure of £560 net. Clearly the women were not interested in the prestige value of having their names in a jar within the foundation stone, but they were vitally interested in making a significant contribution to the living Church reared upon that foundation stone. Four years later after the building of the Church the debt stood at something between £700-£800. By this stage some people were feeling that they had earned a breather. In Mr Calvert’s own graphic words: ‘Many counselled leisure; some even spoke of leaving it to another generation to pay.’ How very human! But that was not Mr Calvert’s logic. ‘I willingly put away all thought of immediate personal advantage in order that this debt might be wiped away as speedily as possible.’ His enthusiasm inspired others to sweep it away. £50 was obtained from the Ferguson Bequest on the condition that Abbey would raise a further £100, a condition which was gladly accepted and swiftly achieved.

 

LOOK ABOUT YOU

Four visitors then came forward with the generous proposition that they would pay two-thirds of the debt, if the congregation would raise the other third. On the crest of this wave of enthusiasm the congregation subscribed £400 in less than a fortnight. What an advance in the name of Christ! In fourteen years (1858-1872) the congregation had raised £8,300, an average of £600 a year.  Fourteen years before Abbey Church property had been worth £800. Now it was worth more than £4,000. Of the £3,300 required to cover the cost of the Church and to wipe out a pressing debt of £200 on the Manse, £2,000 had been received from outsiders and £1,300 had been raised locally. One can almost hear the pride in Mr Calvert’s voice in his words: ‘I do not know any congregation of the same numbers and the same means that has done more than you in the fourteen years I have been among you.’ But even in the elation of the moment Mr Calvert did not forget there was a danger of wanting to squat down beside the milestone at the top of the steep hill. Therefore he threw down the warning: I think I hear some of you saying ‘We will surely get a breather now’.... The thought of resting is not to be entertained for a moment.... there are far greater things to do than those we have yet accomplished. Not find anything else for you to do? Do you see nothing else that you need to do? Not more in the cause of missions? Not more in every path of Christian activity and benevolence? Not more in bringing forth the fruit which is unto holiness.... While we are deeply grateful for the tokens of material prosperity bestowed upon us, let us prize the spiritual more.... and so to bear ourselves to our Father in Heaven, so to bear ourselves to one another and so to bear ourselves to the world, that our deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God.’ Mr Calvert’s memorial stands in our vestibule. It bears the fine words: Si monumentum quaeris circumspice. ‘If you seek his monument, look about you.’

 

FURTHER UNIONS

The United Presbyterian Church as early as 1896 had declared its readiness to join with the Free Church and our Church was involved in the denominational union which followed in 1900. This strengthened the cordial relationship which the Church, now the Abbey United Free Church, had already enjoyed with the Free Church in North Berwick, which from 1900 was known as Blackadder Church. In 1929 there was a fourth denominational union in which Abbey has been involved - between the United Free and the Established Church to form the present Church of Scotland. From 1929 there were thus three parish churches in North Berwick: Abbey, Blackadder and St. Andrew’s.

 

MEMORIAL WINDOWS

Visitors often ask questions about the memorial windows in the Church. The Church Managers’ Minutes for 13th January 1868, supply the necessary details for the three windows behind the pulpit. The central window is in memory of Mr James Dall who was connected with the congregation for 60 years. The Preses, Mr John Fraser agreed to fill in one of the circular windows with stained glass and Mr John Whitecross to fill in the other, in memory of his father. The initials ‘I.F.’ refer to the Miss Fraser who was responsible for the building of the Fisherman’s Hall. Mr Small’s notable ministry was commemorated by the dedication of Memorial Windows, on 11th June 1954. The sermon on the words which appear on the windows. ‘A servant ... and an apostle of Jesus Christ.’ (Titus 1.1), was preached by Mr Small’s son, Rev. Dr. R Leonard Small. Dr Small referred helpfully to the beautiful symbolism of the windows;  ‘we have the ears of wheat and the bunch of grapes ...  What they stand for is in a deep sense central. Here  is the greatest privilege of all the service a minister  is called on the perform, to break for his people the bread  of life, and pour for them the wine of Communion. Next we have the Ship of the Church set in an Anchor of Hope. Let that illustrate the minister’s task of bringing  men and women and little children to true safety and security.  How appropriate that in this seaside town ... we should have  a ship and an anchor! Then there is the Lamb of God, holding the pennant, the symbol of victory.  In the centre are set the Cross-and the Crown of the  Covenant. The Cross is central, everything starts from  it and comes back to it.’ The small window over the main door, with its symbol of the Burning Bush, was installed at the same time as the Memorial Windows to Rev. R Small. In 1973 the Memorial Window in the west wall of the Church to the Rev. Dr. John Robertson and his niece, Ada Jean Bremner Jackson, was installed. Dr Robertson was, of course, Minister in Abbey from 1886-1903.

 

CHURCH PRAISE

In the early days praise, as was the custom of the time, was led by a Precentor. In 1889, an organ which was of American design and cost £81 was installed. However, it was agreed ‘not to begin the use of the organ in the services of the Church until a sufficient number of Ladies or Gentlemen is secured to play it continuously.’ The search for a team of players does not appear to have been successful because in March 1890 it was decided to appoint an organist and choirmaster. In 1912 a Scovell pipe organ was installed in accordance with a decision to secure an organ at a probably cost of £500. This necessitated considerable alterations including a new pulpit, wall panelling and a choir balustrade, the work being supervised by Dr James S Richardson. At this time the organ console was directly in front of the pulpit. It was at this organ that Miss Ella P Cowley played for more than 50 years. The pipe organ served the Church well but inevitably it required to be replaced or rebuilt largely because wooden components were warping due to the improved heating standards required by congregations in modern times. After much discussion and some opposition, it was decided that the most economical course would be to install an electronic organ in place of the pipe organ. A Livingston electronic organ was installed on the east side of the Church on 27th February 1977 as a gift from Lt. Col. Aitchison, in memory of his father who had been an elder of the Church and of his mother. At this time the Communion Table which had been located at the pipe organ casing, was moved to the west side of the Church and, bearing as it does the names of those who died in the second world war, it is styled the Memorial Table. The present free standing Communion Table was acquired from Lothian Road Church in Edinburgh on its closure. In due time the Livingston organ needed to be replaced and this task was undertaken as part of the celebration to commemorate the one hundred and twenty fifth anniversary of the opening of the first Church building. The chosen instrument was an Allen Organ. The cost, approximately, £16,000 was met in equal share from reserves and from a Special Gift Day appeal to the congregation.

 

CHURCH PREMISES

It was during Dr Robertson’s ministry that the provision of a hall was seen as a necessary addition in the furtherance of the Church’s work. The hall was opened on 29th September 1890. The precise figure of the cost is not known but estimates and some small accounts add up to something under £600 albeit the Hall was insured for £800. Mrs R Whitecross put in part of the stained glass window in memory of her husband, the rest of the window being put in by a number of donors. Funds for the hall, for better heating, for lighting apparatus in the Church and for extinction of debt were sought through a Grand Bazaar on 9th - 11th August 1888. The amount realised was £1028 gross and £840 net, a colossal effort. Over the years since then, various improvements were carried out, one of the more notable being the addition of kitchen premises during Mr Gunn's ministry at a cost of approximately £1,100 largely raised as a result of efforts of the Woman’s Guild and others. Most recently having celebrated the 100th anniversary of the opening of the hall, there was general recognition of the need to improve facilities within the hall. The improved facilities were there when the hall was re-opened in September, 1991.

The sanctuary had major improvements made in 2002. This included new lighting, removing the choir balustrade, enlarging the chancel platform, and complete redecoration. The old communion table (which was badly warped) was removed, and its war memorial plaque moved to the north wall.

In March 2003, two oak cabinets were sited in the vestibule, in memory of Miss G Jermyn, a long-serving member and Sunday School teacher.

The New Hall & toilets and enlarged kitchen were built in 2005 (officially dedicated on 24th March 2006). The vestry was rebuilt, with an access corridor into the church. This work was made possible by the generous giving of members and friends of the congregation, and allowed greater use of the buildings by church and community groups.

In 2008, an audio-visual and projection system was installed in the church, improvements to the sound system were made, and new office premises were built within the previous vestry area (the Church office had previously been located in the manse).

In January 2009, the manse in Westgate was sold and a new house bought in Old Abbey Road. The surplus capital from the sale, and a generous gift from Abbey’s sister Church in Dirleton, enabled further improvements to be made: the church and hall roofs were completely re-slated, and the halls redecorated. New boilers and heating controls were installed, and other alterations and improvements made. In the same year, Dirleton church, halls and kitchen were given a complete makeover, including new toilets, heating, rewiring, lighting, carpeting wooden hall floor, and roof repairs.

2010 saw major work on the complete refurbishment of the Abbey sanctuary. This included individual seating (the pews were removed), carpeting, and feature glass entrance doors. After a three month closure (during which worshipped took place in the hall), it was rededicated on Sunday 27th February 2011.

In 2018, thanks to a generous legacy, the large hall was upgraded and a small creche/meeting room with toilet was built to the east side.

Ongoing improvements have included upgrading the audio-visual systems in the hall and sanctuary. This has facilitated contemporary worship and better communication, and also been useful for the increasing number of groups using the premises on a weekly basis.

 

MINISTRY CONTINUES

At the turn of the century the Minister was the Rev. John Robertson M.A. D.Sc. who demitted this charge in 1903 when he became Professor of Apologetics in Toronto, Canada. He was succeeded in 1903 by the Rev. Robert Small M.A. who, according to his son, the Rev. Dr. Leonard Small - later to become Moderator of the Church of Scotland, came to Abbey from a church in Edinburgh after a serious illness and was not expected to last long. His ministry from (1903-1937) was in fact the second longest in Abbey’s history. The ministry of Rev. Taylor Mackenzie M.A., B.D. from 1937-1949 covered the war years. While Mr Mackenzie was translated to Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) he returned to North Berwick on his retirement and resumed his membership of Abbey. From 1950 until 1956 the charge was held by Rev. Arthur G Gunn B.A., who at the end of his ministry at Abbey moved to Knightswood, Glasgow, following which he returned to New Zealand the land of his birth. The Rev. E Stanley Heavenor M.A, B.D., Ph.D., came to Abbey from Jamaica from 1956 until his move to St. Michael’s, Crieff in 1964. When Dr. Heavenor came to Abbey there had been talk of the need for readjustment in North Berwick, a union of Abbey and Blackadder seemingly being the most likely outcome. When Dr. Heavenor left, a possible union was very much a live issue but the Session presented to the Presbytery their case for maintaining the status quo and eventually Abbey was allowed to call a Minister but with a minimum age restriction of 55 years. A call was extended in 1964 to Rev. Nichol Bell M.A., B.D., then Minister of Barclay Church in Edinburgh who served until his retirement from the ministry in 1974. When the Rev. Bell retired, Abbey was again allowed to call a Minister but on this occasion the minimum age restriction was 60 years. The choice of Minister was the Rev. James G Lees, M.A., who came to Abbey in 1975 from Lothian Road, Edinburgh until he retired in 1984 after nine years of service. It was obvious to all that on this occasion the pastoral needs of North Berwick and the area surrounding it would receive very close scrutiny by the Presbytery. Following extensive discussion, between the Presbytery’s Union and Readjustment Committee and all the churches in the locality, it was ultimately decided that Dirleton and Abbey should form a linked charge, the linkage to be deferred until Dirleton fell vacant. A joint vacancy committee was appointed and in due course Rev. Milton Cashman was inducted to Abbey in 1985. When in 1989 Dirleton fell vacant the linkage became fully effective and Mr Cashman automatically became Minister of Dirleton as well as Abbey. As for the other Churches in North Berwick, the Presbytery’s Union and Readjustment Committee later recommended that Blackadder and St Andrew’s should unite and when the ministers of these charges decided to retire, the union took place with Blackadder Church closing and the united congregation of St Andrew Blackadder worshipping in what had been the Parish Church of St. Andrew.

On Mr Cashman’s retirement in 1998, the linked charge called Rev. Dr. David Graham as their Minister. Ordained in 1982, he had previously served as a lecturer in Biblical studies at International Christian College (Glasgow Bible College), and Honorary Lecturer at the University of Glasgow, and had been Locum/Associate Minister is several congregations in the Glasgow area.

 

FROM THE PAST TO THE FUTURE

As the Rev. George Brown preached his sermon on 19th March 1818, he called Abbey members to do four things - to believe Reformation principles; to instil them into the minds of their children; to pray for others that they might be brought to a knowledge of the truth; and to give to the Bible Society that the Word might be sent everywhere to hasten the coming of the Kingdom.  ‘Believe ... Witness ... Pray ... Give.’ Could there be a better summary of the challenge of the Abbey past? Let Mr Calvert have the last word: ‘The thought of resting is not to be entertained for a moment... there are far greater things to do than those we have yet accomplished.’

After almost 250 years as a congregation, and more than 150 in the same building, the people of Abbey are in good heart and have faith in the future of Christ’s Church.

 

Outline History of Abbey Church

HISTORY – congregation and buildings

1769 A ‘Praying Society’ was formed.

1778 A ‘Meeting House’ was built in Westgate (on the present site of the Westgate Gallery).

1782 (27th February) An ‘Associate Congregation’ of the United Session Church was established, known (until 1900) as The Church of the Martyrs .

1782 A small cottage was bought as a manse (at 20 Westgate, where the next manse was built).

1784 The records of the Kirk Session begin.

1831 The start of the work to build a new ‘Meeting House’.

1832 (21st February) the keys of the new ‘Meeting House’ were handed over by the contractors.

1847 the United Secession denomination united with the Relief Church to form the United Presbyterian Church. Abbey then automatically became North Berwick United Presbyterian Church .

1865 A new Manse was built at 20 Westgate, and was used as the manse until 2009. It cost £657.

1868 (13th January) The foundation stone of a new Church was laid on a site in the High Street. The previous building was sold for £560, and the new one cost £3100. The congregation had 210 members, with annual givings of only £200.

1868 (24th August) The new North Berwick United Presbyterian Church was opened.

1900 The United Presbyterians joined with the Free Church in a denominational union. The Church then became known as Abbey United Free Church, possibly because it had been built on former Abbey lands.

1929 The United Free denomination and the Established Church of Scotland joined to form the present Church of Scotland. Abbey Church of Scotland was then one of three parish churches of Scotland in North Berwick: Abbey, Blackadder and St. Andrew’s.

1989 Abbey was linked with the parish Church of Dirleton.

2009 The manse was sold, and new manse purchased in Old Abbey Road.

 

WINDOWS
There are three original windows on the north wall behind the pulpit, dating from 1868. The central one is in memory of Mr James Dall who was connected with the congregation for 60 years. The Preses, Mr John Fraser, had one of the circular windows filled with stained glass, and Mr John Whitecross had the other glazed in memory of his father. The initials ‘I.F.’ refer to the Miss Fraser who was responsible for building the Fisherman’s Hall at the harbour.

Rev Robert Small’s ministry was commemorated by the dedication of memorial windows behind the balcony (overlooking the High Street), on 11th June 1954. The small window over the main door, with its symbol of the Burning Bush, was installed at the same time.

In 1973 the memorial window in the west wall of the Church was installed commemorating the Rev. Dr. John Robertson and his niece, Ada Jean Bremner Jackson.

ORGAN
In 1889, an organ of American design was installed, costing £81.

In 1912 a Scovell pipe organ was installed, probably costing £500. This required considerable alterations including a new pulpit, wall panelling and a choir balustrade. The organ console was directly in front of the pulpit.

On 27th February 1977 a Livingston electronic organ was installed on the east side of the Church (a gift from Lt. Col. Aitchison in memory of his mother and his father, who had been an elder of the Church). At this time the Communion Table (with brass war memorial plaque), which had been located at the pipe organ casing, was moved to the west side of the Church. The present Communion Table was acquired from Lothian Road Church in Edinburgh by Rev J Lees, its last minister.

In 1993, on the 125th anniversary of the Church, an Allen Digital Organ was installed for £16,000.

HALLS
The original hall was opened on 29th September 1890. Mrs R Whitecross put in part of the stained glass window in memory of her husband, the rest was raised  by a number of donors.

Kitchen premises were added during Mr Gunn's ministry (in the early 1950s).

Major improvements costing £44,000 were made to the hall and kitchen in 1991.

The sanctuary had major improvements made in 2002. This included new lighting, removing the choir balustrade, enlarging the chancel platform, and complete redecoration. The old communion table (which was badly damaged) was removed, and the war memorial plaque on it moved to the north wall.

In March 2003, two oak cabinets were sited in the vestibule, in memory of Miss G Jermyn, a long-serving member and Sunday School teacher.

The New Hall & toilets and enlarged kitchen were built in 2005 (officially dedicated on 24th March 2006). The vestry was rebuilt, with an access corridor into the church.

In 2008, an audio-visual and projection system was installed in the church. This also included improvements to the sound system.

In 2008, prior to the manse sale, new office premises were built within the previous vestry area.

In January 2009, the old manse in Westgate was sold and a new house bought in Old Abbey Road.

The church and hall roofs were completely re-slated, and the halls redecorated, in 2009. New boilers and heating controls were also installed, and other minor alterations and improvements made. In the same year, Dirleton church and halls were given a complete makeover, including new kitchen & toilets, heating, rewiring, lighting, carpeting and wooden hall floor, and roof repairs.

2010 saw the complete refurbishment of the sanctuary, with new glass entrance doors, seating and carpet.

In 2018 the large hall was modernised, and a small meeting room built to the side.

MINISTERS

1784-1799 Rev. James Scrimgeour

1799-1801. The congregation was without a Minister for two years

1801-1803 Rev. John McQueen (Abbey’s shortest ministry).

From 1803-1807 there is no record of a Session Meeting or Minister.

1807-1843 Rev. George Brown, until he died (the longest ministry in the congregation)

1844-1857 Rev. John Dyer.

1858-1886 Rev. William Calvert, BA. 

1886-1903 Rev Dr John Robertson MA, DSc. He left to become Professor of Apologetics in Toronto, Canada.

1903-1937 Rev. Robert Small M.A. who came to Abbey from a church in Edinburgh after a serious illness, and he was not expected to last long. His ministry was in fact the second longest in Abbey’s history! His son Leonard later became Moderator.

1937-1949 Rev. A Taylor Mackenzie MA, BD. He then moved to be Minister of St Andrew’s Church, Colombo, Ceylon. He returned to North Berwick on his retirement and resumed his membership of Abbey.

1950-1956 Rev. A G Gunn BA, who moved to Knightswood, Glasgow, following which he returned to New Zealand where he had been born.

1956-1964 The Rev. E Stanley P Heavenor MA, BD, PhD, who came to Abbey from Jamaica, and then moved on to St. Michael’s, Crieff.

1964-1974 Rev. R Nichol Bell MA, BD from Barclay Church, Edinburgh, until he retired.

1975-1984 Rev. James G Lees, MA, from Lothian Road, Edinburgh until he retired.

1985-1998 Rev. P H (Milton) Cashman, in deferred linkage with Dirleton Kirk. When Dirleton became vacant in 1989 on the retirement of Rev Ian Fraser, Mr Cashman became Minister of the linked charge, until he retired.

1998- Rev Dr David J Graham BSc, BD, PhD.  Ordained in 1982, he had previously served as a lecturer in Biblical studies at International Christian College (Glasgow Bible College), and Honorary Lecturer at the University of Glasgow, and had been Locum/Associate Minister is several congregations in the Glasgow area.

 

Abbey Church Entrance Doors
‘Pilgrimage and Settlement:  a Scattering of Doves’
by Douglas Hogg DA(Edin) FMGP FSAScot FRSA
The artwork shows the history of Abbey Church
and community, past and present.

Front entrance doors
The fading footprints in the sand, obliterated by every movement of the tide, remind us of the transitory nature of our earthly journey, and are symbolic of a spiritual journey.
The footprints were taken from children and adults in the congregation.

Inner doors & screen
Looking through the entrance doors to the inner screen, the presence of doves crossing water can be seen: this is a metaphor for time, and our own modest involvement which contributes infinitesimally, but in a valued measure, to the larger picture.

The coasts of Fife and East Lothian featured on the internal screen depict the shortest sea crossing of the Forth between North Berwick and Earlsferry in Fife. This was the route of the medieval pilgrims from North Berwick Abbey, the Border Abbeys and further afield to St Andrews.

The doves represent the timeless and spiritual nature of the pilgrimage taking place within ourselves, as well as the more literal earthly sense of moving from one place to another.

Vestibule Wall
The wording on the wall serves to reflect the theme.

Inside the Sanctuary
The rising doves set against the far left-hand window were designed by Sax Shaw, who was head of stained glass at Edinburgh College of Art. Douglas Hogg was a former pupil of his, and stepped respectfully into his shoes at ECA 1979.

The new artwork broadens the scope of this, extending the range of the metaphor to the front of the sanctuary. Thus the full building space becomes part of the whole concept.

Douglas Hogg studied at George Heriot’s School & Edinburgh College of Art, where he was Head of stained glass for 21 years. A member of Council of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, he was also admitted as Freeman to the Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass in London. Winner of the Saltire Society Award for Art in Architecture, he has exhibited widely in the UK, Ireland and Europe.

His Commissions include Dean Parish Church, Edinburgh City Chambers, Bishop's Chapel, St Stephen's Comely Bank Church, Baillie Gifford Offices, Greyfriars Tolbooth & Highland Kirk, Craigmillar Park Church, St Philip's Church Joppa, Haddington West Church, Glasgow Botanic Gardens, Auchterarder Parish Church, Scottish Churches House, and Oriel College Oxford.

Books in which he is featured are "Contemporary Stained Glass Artists"; "Broken Glass - Glas in Kunst und Architektur"; "Glass: an Inspirational Portfolio"; and "The Beauty of Stained Glass". His articles have appeared in a number of national & international publications
For more information, please see www.douglashogg.com