Pencaitland | Belief

There is only one church, the parish kirk of the Church of Scotland. Up to the mid 1960s, the church was generally attended by those of a Church of Scotland background. Those affiliated to other denominations travelled to Haddington or (until 1952) attended the chapel at Winton House (Episcopalians), Edinburgh or Dalkeith (Baptists) and Tranent (Catholics and Methodists). However, from the late 1960s, Christians from a number of denominational backgrounds, resident in the parish, chose the parish church as their local place of worship. Consequently, although the majority were still from Church of Scotland backgrounds, there were also Baptists, Catholics, Christian Brethren, Episcopalians, Methodists and Salvationists. There were still those who, as before, travelled from the village to worship elsewhere: the Jehovah’s Witnesses went to Tranent. Over the years there were a number of attempts to establish other places of worship in the village, based in the village hall, but these survived for only short periods.

Pencaitland’s church is very ancient, standing on 12th century foundations and with parts still in use that were consecrated in 1242. The greater part of the remainder is 16th and 17th century. It is a modified T-plan kirk, holding about 400 people, with two aisles and a gallery. The organ, by Connacher (c1885) is in need of repair; there are plans to replace it with a more modern instrument; (it was sold in 2002 to Manor Church, near Peebles). Following complete replacement of the ceilings and thorough redecoration in the mid 1970s, and replacement of the spire roof following storm damage in the mid 1990s, the church is in sound structural order, although work on the external stonework is urgently required. The layout of the church has remained the same throughout the period, apart from the removal of a few pews in the central area in front of the pulpit to increase the size of the worship area and to allow for greater congregational participation.

The manse is situated adjacent to, and to the rear of, the church. The oldest part is probably 17th century. It comprises two public rooms, a study, and four main bedrooms. From 1981, when Pencaitland parish was linked with the neighbouring parish of Ormiston, the manse became the home of the minister of the linked parishes. In the mid 1970s the servants’ quarters and nurseries to the rear of the manse were converted into a Church Centre, to provide accommodation for parish and other community meetings of up to 60 people.

These rooms then became redundant with the complete restoration of the church’s stable block, beadle’s house and carriage house as The Carriage House in 1992. This provided two large rooms, a kitchen and two smaller rooms, which are used extensively by church and community groups and have become a focal point of much village activity. The church raised the money, some donations coming from the villagers. In the mid 1990s, the former Church Centre was converted to provide a self-contained flat for church use and a church office.

The manse garden, almost an acre in extent, was until the early 1980s, the minister’s garden. It is now used for church events like tent missions, children’s evangelism and fetes, and is maintained by the church and by the local authority. The associated glebeland was sold in the early 1970s to the local authority for the building of the primary school and for private housing. The remaining glebeland skirting the river behind the manse was, until the late 1990s, leased as grazing land for horses. However, from about 1998, it was planted with mixed woodland to add to the public amenity walkways being laid out through the Winton estate and around the south and east of the village.

The churchyard adjacent to the church building is no longer in use. The village graveyard is situated to the east of the village and adjacent to it is a large private burial plot (c1900) for the Ogilvy family of Winton House, which was originally intended for an Episcopalian church, to be dedicated to St Michael & All Angels. Burials, however, have given way since the 1950s and 1960s to cremations, which are carried out in one of the Edinburgh crematoria.

The only other church building in the parish is the former United Free Church and its associated manse, which became redundant following the union of the two churches in 1935. Both were sold; the church was subsequently converted to a house.

The number of official Church of Scotland members in Pencaitland parish has fallen since 1945 from approximately 500 to 280, in spite of the near quadrupling of the village population. However, the membership roll held steady at about 280 throughout the 1990s. The number of adults attending worship on a regular basis rose from c40-50 in the 1940s and 1950s to 80-100 by the end of the period; this number had remained stable since c1985/90. The Sunday school however, had declined from a peak of 100 children in the 1960s to approximately 40-45.

The greatest change in church life was the growth in the number of activities during the week. After the war, apart from the Sunday services, a young people’s drama club, social and fundraising events and the monthly meeting of the Woman’s Guild (which still continues), very few activities took place under the church’s auspices. The Sunday morning service continued in much the same pattern throughout the period, with the dominance of the traditional ‘hymn sandwich’, the hymns accompanied by the organ. Dress too changed from ‘Sunday best’ to informal wear. The Sunday school continues to meet at the same time as the morning service.

During the 1970s and 1980s a midweek service was held on a Wednesday to meet the needs of those who were working on Sundays. There was no Sunday evening service until the mid 1990s. Then a monthly service was instituted which alternated between a less traditional format, with the music supplied by a praise band, and a more contemplative healing service with communion. The healing service was discontinued in 1999 and the informal evening service became a fortnightly event. Four parish communions are held every year. Since the mid 1980s, early morning communion services and evening communion services are held once per quarter. From 1988 the church also provided a service on a monthly basis at the nursing homes in the village. In the early 1980s a prayer meeting and a bible study group were formed; since then, the number of bible study groups has risen to four and the weekly prayer meeting is supplemented by fortnightly breakfast prayer meetings for men and women. The church also runs a weekly coffee shop. Youth activities have come and gone during the period and have tended to last as long as there has been active leadership.

The church has adopted the quoad omnia system of governance, with the Kirk Session consisting of 24 members maximum. Women were granted membership of the Kirk Session in 1972. Reporting directly to the Kirk Session are a number of sub-committees made up of elders and other regular attenders (not necessarily members); the two committees report on Fabric and Finance, and Outreach and Fundraising.

Since the war, there have been five ministers. The first two were ministers of Pencaitland parish only. Pencaitland was linked with Ormiston on 15 November 1981, and since then the ministers have had charge of both parishes. However, apart from the appointment of ministers, decision-making over the upkeep of the manse and occasional joint services, the parishes operate independently. The character of worship, outreach and ethos of the church are heavily dependent upon the minister and tend to oscillate between a greater or lesser involvement of the congregation and a more or less flexible adherence to traditional Church of Scotland practice and tradition. This has produced tension in the congregation at each change of minister. The minister has throughout this period been chaplain of the local primary school, and has taken an assembly at the school on a weekly basis.

1935-63 George Grandison Morgan
1964-67 John MacFarlane Wilson
1969-79 Leon David Levison
1981 Pencaitland linked with Ormiston
1981-99 Colin V. Donaldson
1999-2000 Mark Malcolm

Here and throughout the text, Ralph Barker shares his experiences of living in the parish:

The Rev G. Morgan was much amused when an elderly lady fell asleep during one of his sermons in the 1950s; she then fell out of the pew and landed in the aisle.

Generally speaking, rites of passage centring on the church declined steadily from 1945. Baptism, which until the 1970s was open to any villager, is now restricted to the children of married couples, one of whom must be a member. Just after the war, nearly every child in the parish was baptised, with whole families being baptised together on occasion; the number of baptisms is currently about six to eight per year. The number of parish weddings held in the church has also declined to approximately five or six a year. Admission into membership is also much less common than it was immediately post-war, with, on average, only three or four new members per year being admitted. Most regular attenders in recent years forgo church membership.

[the] old hymns have gone, far fewer go to church now. [It is] no longer needed for help, [people] go to social services now. Many attended out of fear of hell. After the war, more people questioned. [Now] more special services eg for children, much more tolerant, less stern. [The] structure of church organisation much the same as ever; more people help with elders, these used to be all older people – age range widened now. Events – Christmas, Easter, Outreach, visiting ministers and concerts.

Belief – now much wider range – including Baptists, Salvation Army, Church of England, as well as Church of Scotland and Catholics; much more ecumenical.

Janet Bassett

And on death:

[In the past, most] died at home; the body was left in house in a separate room. [We were] used to seeing a dead body, [and the] neighbours came in to pay their respects. Now, bodies are well presented and made up, the hair done. [This] helps families to see [their] loved ones looking good. On the whole people don’t see the dead nowadays. Most wore black or grey. After the funeral, [there was] always a big spread with alcohol for family and friends. [The] Co-op in Tranent did all funerals. Now people shop around for different firms, [and some] plan their own funeral and make arrangements, paid in advance.

Janet Bassett