Prestonkirk | Belief

The victory celebrations of 1945 must have brought back memories to the Rev R. Clayton Corrie, minister at Preston Kirk parish church – the Old Kirk – from 1918. The other Church of Scotland congregation at St Andrew’s church faced the departure of its minister in 1946 and the search for a replacement. In 1946, the Rev R.R. Fisher was inducted to the charge and was to minister to an active congregation there until 1959 when the two Kirk Sessions of the Church of Scotland combined under the Rev Robert Maule Brown; the Old Kirk became the designated place of worship for the new congregation. The dedication of the memorial windows in St Andrew’s church in 1948 was an indication of the heartfelt thanks of those who returned and the debt to those who did not. The windows are now installed in the old historic Preston Kirk.

The small group of members of the Roman Catholic Church continued to worship at their chapel in the High Street where they were led by a visiting priest; by 1992 it was decided to sell the building as the last service had been in 1979. Members of that faith now travel to chapels in Dunbar, Haddington or North Berwick.

A small group of members of the Scottish Episcopal Church attend services at St Anne’s Episcopal Church in Dunbar. This reflects a trend of Christians worshipping at a church of their preference, with some members attending Preston Kirk from outwith the parish.

In March 2000, the Rev Howard Haslett was inducted to the new parish of Traprain following a union of Stenton, Whittingehame and Preston Kirk, thus becoming the 31st minister to hold office in the Old Kirk and the first of the new parish. His ability as a preacher attracts interest from far afield and he has attempted, through invitation to guest readers, to put Preston Kirk on the map as a place for worship to a wider world. Since 1984, there has been a carol singing event at the fountain on Christmas Eve. In December 2000, it was supported by at least 80 people of all ages, the highest number people could remember.

One of the problems for all organised systems of religion is that of finding the right balance between provision and maintenance of buildings, and their wider mission. The Rev James Lawson, minister 1986-98, faced that challenge in helping his Kirk Session address the problems of continuing to use the former St Andrew’s church building in the Square. Some held the view that it should be a community resource, but with the burden of revenue costs falling on the church members. The building was sold in 1996 and the former stable block at the Old Kirk was adapted for social activities with an enlarged car park area.

In an increasingly multi-faith era, a recent activity has been a club for children run by an evangelical group with American links. The club programme included a summer playscheme that could be of help to working parents during the school summer break. It is difficult to assess what the former members of the Priest’s toun would make of today’s search for the meaning of life, and the major change in Sunday being a day of activity, with some tourist firms marketing weekend breaks for clubbers in the Med; everything is a flight away!

Sense of community and rites of passage

One marked change from the vision of the early reformers of the Presbyterian Church (such as Knox and Melville) for every parish to have a school is the way that some younger children receive their education outwith the parish and all secondary school children attend schools elsewhere. A sense of belonging to the parishcontinues for many but others are part of wider networks of friends and cultures. Institutions that reinforce geographical identity continue but communities are now more about circles of interest rather than perhaps geographical in nature. Some of this is not new. The third account refers to the ‘New Toon’ at Brown’s Place. Incomers and locals continue to co-exist in a way not uncommon with many other small communities. Qualification as a Lintonian is occasionally referred to without the historical opportunity, as in the Royal Burghs, to become a burgess. It would be interesting to undertake an analysis of support networks of residents in the parish for future comparison, a form of family and kinship study as an analysis of social structure.

One fruitful study could be membership of organisations and period of residence. Another target for study could be the regulars of the three licensed premises all of which have been upgraded from their 1945 appearance. Prior to its closure, the former Harvesters’ Hotel attempted under different owners to attract customers with either a bistro experience or an earlier attempt in the 1980s at what was called a Bunny theme (without the dancing display!). The Drovers and the Bridgend Hotel have perhaps been more successful with their change of name and image, from the Railway and the Red Lion. The Crown Hotel also deserves mention with its own local regulars. While the national scene now suggests a move away from a pint in the traditional pub, there is still an excellent choice of beer to be had and an attraction for enthusiasts of special brews. All three now offer a choice of eating facilities but again, each would appear to have a different customer base, well worth evaluating for the future. The youth of the community were probably the group affected most when the local fish and chip shop closed its doors in the mid 1980s. They still have no replacement café or dry bar or fast food outlet to meet at in the evenings. Alternatives range from walking the streets, congregating in huddles in all weathers or chatting with friends in cars.

In 1945, it was possible to acquire all the daily needs from the 28 little shops in the town (except on the Sabbath) and to say that there were only a few commuters to the city. That position has now changed, but there are areas in the parish where residents are more likely to commute for employment, and others where residents are more likely to use the local infrastructure for most of their needs.

While baptism is still a regular feature of worship at Preston Kirk, by October 2001 the new minister was still waiting to conduct his first wedding at Preston Kirk, a reflection of changes in attitude to marriage, the availability of other non-kirk venues (including abroad,) and relationships being made and then confirmed outwith the parish. Funeral services at Preston Kirk followed by burial or cremation are still a feature however, although many will choose a service at an Edinburgh crematorium.