North Berwick | Belief

In addition to the North Berwick Christian Fellowship (1991) and the more recently established Baptist church (1994), the traditional churches are well represented in the parish. There are two Churches of Scotland (three until 1989); one Roman Catholic church; and one Scottish Episcopalian church. All are located in North Berwick burgh.

The Abbey Church of Scotland

1950 saw the introduction of the weekly Freewill Offering scheme, and consequently the abolition of seat rents for pews. No longer could parishioners claim that ‘this is my pew’!

On 11 June 1954, the large window above the gallery (facing on to the High Street) was dedicated to Rev Robert Small (minister 1903-37) by his son Rev Dr Leonard Small. The stained glass depicts features associated with the church and community, and Mr Small’s ministry.

1937-49 A.T. Mackenzie
1950-56 Arthur G. Gunn
1956-64 E. Stanley P. Heavenor
1965-74 R. Nicol Bell
1975-84 James G. Lees
1985-98 P. Hamilton Cashman
1998-date Dr David J. Graham

The congregation’s constitution was changed in March 1986, from the United Presbyterian constitution (with a board of managers and preses to order the financial and property affairs) to the model constitution of the Church of Scotland, with a congregational board. The current board constitution states that the board should have twelve members who are elected from the congregation, and twelve elders.

In 1989 Abbey was linked, with the same minister, to the neighbouring parish of Dirleton to the west. This situation retained each separate Kirk Session and individual responsibility for worship and property, but the costs of the ministry were shared on the basis of Abbey ? and Dirleton ?. In 1990, the church hall was renovated. The previous large stage area, which had been used for concerts and drama, was removed. In its place was left a very small raised platform, thus giving more floor area. In 1993 an Allen digital organ was installed, to replace the ageing pipe organ. The original organ pipes were retained however, and at present are still a feature behind the pulpit.

The ecclesiastical parish boundaries were readjusted in 1991, after the union of the other two Church of Scotland congregations in the town, which formed the parish of St Andrew & Blackadder. The previous boundaries had applied since 1931. It was agreed by Lothian Presbytery that the boundary between the two parishes in North Berwick should run from the sea, along Balderstone’s Wynd, High Street, Westgate, Abbey Road, Nungate, Trainer’s Brae, Grange Road, and Haddington Road, then out into the country.

St Andrew’s Church of Scotland, 1945-89

In 1945, the incumbent of St Andrew’s was the Rev R. Doughty Lyon, BD.

The Vine Hall in Dunbar Road (now the British Legion Hall) was purchased by St Andrew’s Kirk Session in January 1946 to run a Sunday school and a Sunday evening service for the benefit of the families in the housing scheme – to be renamed St Margaret’s Hall. It was later discovered that the hall lay about a foot inside Blackadder parish area and, despite attempts to come to some agreement, the plan fell through and the hall was sold to the British Legion in 1949.

Mr Lyon died on 3 December 1951. In August 1952 the Rev Walter M. Ferrier, BD was appointed to the charge of St Andrew’s and inducted in October of that year.

In 1955, a complete redecoration of the church took place together with the panelling of the Chancel and the lightening of the wood of the pews and the ceiling. A new lighting system was also installed. On completion of the work, a special service of thanksgiving and rededication took place on 12 June 1995 at which the guest preacher was the Rev David H.C. Read, BD, chaplain to Edinburgh University. In 1956, St Andrew’s along with Abbey and Blackadder churches carried out a joint visitation of every home in North Berwick under the auspices of the ‘Tell Scotland’ campaign.

In November 1959, under the will of Miss Winifred Grey, money was bequeathed for the installation of a stained glass window. This was duly installed in the central circular space in the east gallery.

In December 1961 the Kirk Session resolved that a stewardship campaign should be held. Accordingly, three stewardship dinners were held in the assembly hall of North Berwick High School on 10, 11 and 12 April 1962.

A memorial for the Rev R. Doughty Lyon, subscribed to by the congregation, took the form of an oak communion table and matching minister’s chair. A stained glass window donated by Mrs Lyon and her two sons was installed in the central position in the west gallery. Mrs Lyon unveiled the window and the communion table and chair at the morning service on 30 December 1962.

In 1965, two young ladies of the congregation were training for work overseas under the Church of Scotland. Nurse Rosemary Blair had been appointed to duty at the hospital at Jalalpur, West Pakistan. Her service of dedication took place in the church on Sunday 6 June that year. Miss Helen Bee, elder daughter of Mr David Bee the organist, had been appointed a lecturer in English at the Scots College, Calcutta. A service of dedication was held for Miss Bee on 26 June 1996.

At the beginning of 1966, discussions started on whether St. Andrew’s (whose affairs had been overseen by one body – the Kirk Session) should adopt what was then known as the ‘model constitution’. As a result the congregational board was instituted in 1967.

A thanksgiving service to commemorate the diamond jubilee of the North Berwick scouts was held on the afternoon of Sunday 5 November 1967 in St Andrew’s Church. The guest preacher was the Very Rev R. Leonard Small, OBE, DD.

On 13 July 1969, the BBC televised the morning service from St Andrew’s and in the afternoon they made a tele-recording of Songs of Praise which was shown on 27 July.

At the morning service in St Andrew’s on Sunday 26 March 1972, the first North Berwick Scout Troop was presented with new colours. The troop flag was gifted by Provost John Macnair and the Queen’s Colour by Bailie Denis Stewart. The flags were blessed by the Very Rev R. Leonard Small, OBE, DD.

By 1975 the General Assembly had removed the barrier excluding women from the eldership. Miss Rosemary Blair, who had returned to this country from overseas nursing service in Pakistan on health grounds, accepted an invitation to become an elder. On 13 November 1975 she was ordained elder – the first woman elder in North Berwick. A second lady elder, Miss Alison Dickson, was ordained on 20 September 1981.

In May 1975 a joint visitation of North Berwick by the three Church of Scotland churches took place. Mr Ferrier was the guest of honour at an evening in church in October 1977, conducted on the lines of ‘This is Your Life’, to celebrate his 25 years’ ministry in St Andrews.

In 1982 a parish development programme was embarked upon.

In 1983, celebrations to mark the centenary of the present church took place. In addition, a service of thanksgiving was held in June in the ruined church in Kirk Ports. In 1988, after a ministry in St Andrews of 36 years, Mr Ferrier retired and a farewell party was held in the church hall on 11 August.

In 1989, agreement was reached regarding the union of the congregations of St Andrews and Blackadder. The service of union took place on 5 March that year, in Blackadder church. It had been agreed that with the union, the place of worship would be St Andrews.

1928-51 R.D. Lyon
1952-88 W. McGill Ferrier
1989 vacant
November 1989 union with Blackadder under new minister E. McKenna


Just as a matter of interest…

‘At a Sunday morning service in the early 1970s the preacher was Dr Donald Caskie. He was minister of the Scots’ Kirk in Paris in 1940 when he ‘exchanged his cassock for the cloak and dagger of the Resistance’ – The Tartan Pimpernel’.

Blackadder Church of Scotland

Blackadder Church continued its evangelical tradition when Rev Crichton Barr went to the Scots’ Kirk, Melbourne in 1946. Rev Charlie Stewart, an ex padre, was called in 1947. He was instrumental in leading a team of mainly returned ex-servicemen who stripped and polished the pews transforming the appearance of the sanctuary. This tradition of maintaining and looking after the church was a feature right up to the union with St Andrew’s in 1989.

In 1951 Rev Andrew Gray was appointed but returned to his native South Africa in 1959. Rev Donald McAlister came in 1960 and his long ministry continued until 1989. Highlights at this time were a building-up of the strong missionary tradition with several going out to the mission field. Hamish Ralston, an elder of the then Blackadder church, continues to work to this day (2002) with the Wycliff bible translators

Church of Scotland summer missions were an important aspect of the home mission effort of Blackadder church and were to play a very important role is bringing many people over the years to a belief in Christ as Saviour and Lord.

The illness of the minister Dr McAlister and the impeding retiral of Walter Ferrier meant that in 1987 discussion began to take place regarding the future of the churches in North Berwick. It was hoped that the distinctive witness of Blackadder might continue in some form or other and after lengthy discussions, with Dr McAlister’s retiral it was finally agreed to unite with St Andrew’s in March 1989, thus ending a distinguished era of service for Christ.

1938-46 A. Crichton Barr
1947-51 Charlie Stewart
1951-59 Andrew Gray
1960-89 Donald McAlister
1989 union with St Andrews


Lynne Turnbull shares some memories of Blackadder Church during her teens (1970s-80s)

‘The song ‘If I had a hammer’; the youth fellowship (a youth club / Christian group for teenagers); the seaside mission, with summer Sunday school on the beach; and Christmas presents – donations of toys still in good condition to give to deprived children – labelled ‘boy/girl’ and age’.

Rites of Passage – courtship

‘You might meet at the under-18s disco at the Pavilion, the Gullane Games disco. In the 1980s, perhaps in Edinburgh bars (eg Harry’s Bar, the Piano Bar, the Penguin), and in the 1990s, Indigo Yard.

Places to go were Yellowcraigs car park or Daisy Island car park. Courtship occurred at ‘the Shows’ – the funfair in the recreation park in July, especially to meet holidaymakers. In the 1980s, courtship occurred at 18th birthday parties – everyone had one held either in the rugby club or Old Clubhouse, Gullane. An older friend brought you the alcohol – Martini Rosso or Lambrusco.

Often you were engaged for years before getting married. It was not usual for man to surprise woman with a ring he had chosen; more likely they’d go to a jeweller together. The man asked her father for permission, as a formality, after he’d asked the woman’.

And marriage

‘[Popular] places to get married included Dirleton church, as well as Dirleton Castle, Lennoxlove and Green Craig Hotel. Often a bus was laid on to transport guests from the church to the reception. Receptions in the 1980s were held at the Elizabethan Suite, at the Marine Hotel. The format was usually a meal, speeches then a ceilidh band. In the 1990s, the speeches came before the meal. The woman and her mother organised the whole thing, and the man did not have much say (or want any role) in the organisation. If people had lived together for years (common), they often had a registry office wedding for fear of being hypocrites or false.

In the 1980s, the man might wear a kilt, the woman a ‘meringue’ dress; by the 1990s, the man favoured tartan trews, the woman, a tight bodice with a straight skirt and tiara. The first dance (1990s) was often a well-known pop song (like Eric Clapton, Elvis, etc.) The bride’s family would pay for 70% of the wedding; the groom’s family 20% and 10% from the actual couple. Average cost £10,000.

A typical wedding menu: starter – haggis parcels in filo pastry in a whisky cream sauce, main course – salmon steak, dessert – summer fruit cheesecake’.

St Andrew Blackadder Church of Scotland from 1989

The formation of the new congregation of St Andrew Blackadder was greeted with both a determination to make it work and a sense of unease. In 1989 the congregation set to make the union work and the vacancy committee began the process of choosing a new minister for the new charge. In August, the vacancy committee proposed the Reverend Eddie McKenna as sole nominee. Born in Zambia, Mr Mckenna come from the Borders and was the assistant minister of South Queensferry Parish Church. At 30, the new minister was young and untried and soon began the work of uniting the two traditions together. Growth in the worshipping congregation and an increase of young families was soon in evidence and together with the Kirk Session a long period of consolidating the buildings began.

St Andrew’s manse was sold; it was decided to dispense with the Blackadder church and halls, and they were sold to a new Baptist church. St Andrew Blackadder church was totally re-roofed and for about seven years, discussions took place regarding the premises themselves. In 1999 the congregation voted to proceed with proposals to redevelop the St Andrew Blackadder church.

In early 2000, using the trowel originally used by one of his forebears at the foundation of the then St Andrew’s Church, Sir Hew Hamilton Dalrymple laid the foundation stone of the new premises. The congregation at this time was worshipping in St Baldred’s Church and on 16 December 2000, the congregation met for the first time in the refurbished church. An exciting scheme, the redevelopment soon attracted national attention and has provided a wide range of facilities for the church and town. The congregation adapted well to the new facilities and junior church and youth clubs and the youth fellowship soon grew to record levels for the union. In 2002 after 13 years, the minister, the Reverend Eddie Mckenna accepted a call to go to Aberdeen, and a new chapter of the church was about to begin!

The Catholic Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea

In 1945, with the end of the war, two noteworthy events occurred, both of which contributed to the life of the local Catholic population. Firstly, many of the Polish service men and women based in the parish, who had sung their sad hymns and songs in the church, settled here. In 1946, Luffness House, Dirleton was used as a Polish Convalescent Home, and Mass was celebrated in various rooms there, latterly in the converted furniture store. This ceased in 1982. Secondly, in 1945 the Benedictine monks of Fort Augustus opened a junior school at Carlekemp. The monks became well known in the town, until the school closed in 1977. The games field was often used for pre-match practice by visiting international rugby teams.

From 1961, Leuchie House was used by nuns of the la Sagesse congregation as a training establishment. In 1970, the nuns of the Servite Order, who ran it as a holiday home for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, succeeded them. The nuns left in 1998, but the house is still in use by the society. Mass is still said there on occasion.

In 1954 the parish hall was begun and opened on 25 September 1955. In 1979 the centenary of the building of the Star of the Sea church was celebrated. The parish priest was Father Kevin Rafferty, later to be ordained bishop. The present parish priest is Father John Barry, who was appointed in 1989.

St Baldred’s Episcopalian Church

The centenary of St Baldred’s Episcopalian Church was celebrated in 1962, and the church was linked with St Adrian’s, Gullane in 1976, becoming St Adrian’s & St Baldred’s Scottish Episcopal Church.

1937-48 Hector B. Gooderham
1949-55 A. Lawrence Wilson
1956-62 Kenneth W. Kennet
1963-68 Fred Drake
1969-80 R.J. Denholm
1976 linked to St Adrian’s, Gullane
1981-87 Æneas Macintosh
1988-date John Lindsay

The building was improved over the years: the west doors were gifted in memory of Mrs Grant Suttie (1948); a replacement organ was installed from Chalmers Church, Anstruther (1983); in 1991, the high altar was moved forward and the reredos removed to restore the original apse; and in 1994, the bell tower was removed to ease the pressure on the chancel arch.

The North Berwick Christian Centre

This began in 1988 as a small homegroup, meeting in a basement flat in the town. The group was led by William and Sally Nisbet who at the time were based in a large Edinburgh church where William was one of the full-time eldership team. Over time the homegroup grew and in October 1991 became known as North Berwick Christian Fellowship, obtaining charitable recognition in November 1994 and financial independence from January 1995.

The church is non-denominational, adheres to the basic tenets of the Christian faith and would be classified as one of the ‘new churches’ which have sprung up in the UK over the past 30 years. The church spans all ages and meets in the local high school each Sunday and during the week in various locations and contexts. There is a core congregation of some 60+ adults and 20+ children. The centre offers a creche, children’s church (5-10), 4YP (11-14) and teens.

The church has good relationships with other congregations in the town and William meets regularly with other church leaders in North Berwick. Presently (2003) we are running a weekly recovery course called Genesis and are planning towards a series of Alpha courses (Alpha is an introductory course to the Christian faith).

We also have strong links with:

  • a newly formed Christian school on the outskirts of Kigali, Rwanda
  • a GP working in Mbale Uganda
  • a couple who belong to the church who are based in Kunming, China
  • William has made several trips into the Ukraine to teach at a Bible school and local churches in the Uzhgorad area

Nearer home we have become the ‘home church’ of the students at Teen Challenge residential centre at Whitchester, near Duns.

A couple of years ago, the fellowship ‘planted’ another church into Haddington and has long-term plans to plant more churches.

North Berwick Baptist Church

The church was established in 1994, based at the old Blackadder church building, Victoria Road. As part of the reformed theologians, North Berwick Baptist Church practises baptism by immersion of believers. There are about 30 in the congregation.