Aberlady | Belief

The Aberlady Parish Church continued to loom large both in village life and in public awareness though, in line with national trends, communicant membership fell from 500 in 1953 to 349 in 1999. A notable feature of the past century had been the remarkably long and devoted service rendered to Aberlady kirk by some of its servants. The ministry of the Rev Dr Thomas Caldwell, who was exceptionally supportive of village activities, lasted from 1918-58. Cornelius Smith was session clerk and kirk treasurer from 1912-54, and for almost 70 years two men served successively as beadle, Andrew Thomson (1918-53), then John Fortune (1953-86).

Dr Caldwell’s ability and vigour did not pass unnoticed. He was appointed depute-clerk to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1946, and principal clerk from 1949 to 1953. Dr Caldwell died in 1966, and the following year a Celtic cross dedicated to his memory was hung in the church. His successor, the Rev David MacFarlane (1959-70), prepared a guide to Aberlady church. It was during his tenure that a pipe organ was installed, the vestry relocated in the 15th century church tower, and the manse stables converted into a hall. The former UP church, which had served as the church hall, was sold for housing in 1969.

Aberlady Parish Church

Aberlady Parish Church

The Rev Robert Lennie was inducted in 1970, and remained at Aberlady until 1986. In 1980 the first ordination and admission of women elders to Aberlady Kirk Session took place – a proposal rejected in 1945 by both the Kirk Session and the congregation. In the 1980s Aberlady church became the venue for concerts and other fund-raising events, including the Garleton Singers, of which Mr Lennie was a member, the Kevock Choir, two weekend flower festivals, and an annual plant sale. This tradition continued in the following decade with another flower festival and concerts by brass bands and Welsh male voice choirs.

As early as 1972 there had been a Presbytery ‘Readjustment Plan’ for reorganising the parishes, in which a union or linking of Aberlady with Longniddry was suggested. Though this proposal found no support in either Kirk Session and was abandoned, it was clear that a union might be necessary in the future. The impending retirals in 1985 of both Mr Lennie and Dr David Whiteford of Gullane parish church revived the issue. After lengthy discussions and negotiations, in which the Rev Kenneth Hughes, minister of Prestonkirk, representing the presbytery of Lothian, played a pivotal role, the final arrangements for linking Aberlady and Gullane parishes were approved by both congregations, and the Aberlady manse of 1864 was put up for sale.

The Rev Norman Faulds was inducted as the first minister of the linked charge in 1986, and several notable events preceded his retiral in 2000.The following year marked the centenary of Aberlady parish church. Two former ministers, the Rev D. MacFarlane and the Rev R. Lennie, participated in the communion service in May, and the Moderator of the General Assembly, the Rt Rev Dr Duncan Shaw, preached at the centenary service in June. A centenary stained glass window, The Crucifixion of Christ, was commissioned from artist Christopher Sachs and unveiled by Lord Wemyss.

In March 1989, an event of exceptional significance in the history of Aberlady church took place when a Requiem Mass was celebrated at the funeral service of Mrs Elizabeth Hope of Luffness, with permission granted by the principal clerk to the General Assembly. The participating clergy included Cardinal Gordon Gray, six Roman Catholic priests, and four Church of Scotland ministers, including Mr Faulds. (Until the mid-1980s some villagers attended Sunday Mass at a chapel in Luffness House).

The manse stables were demolished and replaced in 1990 with a purpose-built hall officially opened by the Earl of Wemyss. Renamed Aberlady Kirk Stables, the hall was to prove a major asset both to the church and the wider community.

Ways of marking the Millennium, under consideration since 1995, included a memorial rose garden, and presentation of a bible to each child in the Sunday school, and a new stained glass window depicting Jesus as a boy in the Temple, commissioned from artist Garion Jack and unveiled at a special service in January 2000. (See also separate document – Church Minutes, 1945-2000 by Laurence Goudie).