Tranent | Belief

Catholic | Church of Scotland | Episcopalian | Jehovah’s Witnesses | Methodists | Christian Centre

The diversity of Christian religious activity in Tranent has been wide and includes strong non-conformist elements. Non-conformism has an association with many coal mining areas. Churches listed in 1945 include the Scottish Episcopals; two Church of Scotland charges – the Old Kirk and the more evangelical Wishart-St Andrews (which had been the charge of the former United Presbyterian Church); the Methodists; the Church of Christ and the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army played its familiar role in collecting around the pubs at weekends. A writer in 1967 reported: ‘They now occupy their own premises, and under the charge of Major Ogden have become very much a part of the life of Tranent (Reid, 1967, no pagination).

The Catholic Church is responsible for the one modern church building erected – St Martin of Tours Church, opened October 1969 by Cardinal Gordon Joseph Gray. A striking building designed by Charles Gray and Partners, it replaced a wooden chapel built as a temporary measure in 1928 when the stone church was abandoned because of subsidence. The Catholic population of the parish ranged between 1100 and 1300 in the years 1950-70 (Turnbull, 1991) and was around 1000 at the start of 2002. The church celebrated its centenary in 1991.

St Martin of Tours Church

St Martin of Tours Roman Catholic Church, Tranent

Church of Scotland – Wishart-St Andrew and Tranent Old, eventually Tranent Parish Church.

There have been major events too in the Church of Scotland. The united congregation of Wishart-St Andrew had been established in 1937 but faced considerable problems with decaying fabric. Major alterations to the pulpit area of Wishart church began in 1951, but further work was required in the 1960s after the discovery of dry rot. ‘Opportunity was taken to strip the old brown varnish from the pews and reveal the pleasant light colour.’ (Brough 1977 p38).

The church and hall of St Andrew had been used as a cooking centre through and after the war and in the process concrete blocks had been laid on the floor, window glass removed and chimneystacks driven through the roof. The hall was restored after its return to the congregation in 1958 but a decision was taken to demolish the church (implemented in 1970). At that time, the Young Wives and Mothers’ group, a recent innovation, had a membership of 60, Sunday school attendance was good and the after-school meeting, Keenites, drew about 35 children each week (Brough, 1977 p40).

Brough writes

Maybe someone will sit down an hundred years hence and be able to write chapters of a more inspiring story of Christ’s Church. Or perhaps by then another Book will have been opened and history will have ceased to matter when all eternity is before us in the presence of the King.

Meanwhile the old parish church had also had its interior extensively modernised, including new pews, central heating and dimmer lights (Scotsman 1965 January 19). It reopened for worship in 1954.

In 1980 a union of the Tranent and Wishart-St Andrew’s churches was agreed. The decision, ‘ended months of disagreement between the two churches over the proposed union, which was formerly strongly opposed by members of the Wishart-St Andrew’s Kirk Session’. East Lothian News 1980 February 15

Wishart-St Andrew had had no resident minister for two years, but the congregation, keen to keep its independence, wished to delay a decision for a further four years. This was not acceptable to Tranent Old, who wanted the union to go ahead. The new name was Tranent Parish Church (East Lothian News 1980 February 15). Further rationalisation of church buildings followed, with the old parish church becoming the main place of worship. On 6 August 1989 a service of dedication of a memorial window to the late Rev Alex M. Miller was held. The theme of the design is ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me’. Wishart-St Andrew Church is the church hall and there are around 420 church members. The Rev Miller shares with Father Somers, the Catholic priest, the distinction of having a new street named in his honour.

Tranent Old Tranent Wishart-St Andrews (united 1937)
1942-53 James B.P. Bulloch 1937-60 James M. Clyde
1953-83 Alexander M. Miller 1960-68 James A. Hall
1968-75 Robert Brough
1980 Tranent Old and Tranent Wishart – St Andrews united as Tranent Parish Church
1985-2000 Thomas M. Hogg

The Church of Scotland Mission Hall, Elphinstone is still in use; the lease has run out but negotiations with Lord Elphinstone for a renewal are under way. The building is in need of significant refurbishment and has no running water. A monthly service and weekly Sunday school are held. The MacFarlane family has run those for three generations and was still involved at the time of writing. There is still strong local goodwill for the hall, despite the structural problems, as it was built the century before last by local men in their own time, with their bare hands sometimes.

In 1941, St Germain’s Episcopalian Church was damaged by fire, and the mission there was closed until 1947; meantime, those who wished could worship at the chapel at Winton House, Pencaitland. From 1947-73, it ran in the Wishart church hall, and from 1973-75 from a caravan. After the death of the Rev C.C. Porteous in 1975, the mission was discontinued, and worshippers had to go to Prestonpans for services.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses, described in 1953 as making ‘little headway’ (Snodgrass, C.P. 1953 p193) acquired Henderson Hall, Church Street and renamed it Kingdom Hall. Henderson Hall had been gifted to Tranent by John Henderson, minister of Tranent Old Church to 1850.

The Methodist Church stands in Bridge Street.

Church member Ian Downie recalls:

I became a member at the age of 16 in 1964, but was christened into the church the year I was born 1948.

My first recollections were of the Sunday school, parties and outings. Looking back, our Sunday school was a large one compared to the present day, though the membership, which stands at over 60, compares well to the number of members in the early fifties. Also at this time our church had as members two prominent people of the community. Mr George Ross was a county councillor and a big wig on the board of directors of East Lothian Co-operative Society. The Ross High Secondary School was named after him. Mr Harry Ross the church treasurer was managing director of East Lothian Co-operative Society. The church was known as the “Store Kirk”.

Its physical structure was changed internally in the late fifties when it was divided down the middle to create a hall and a worship area. Substantial reinforcement of the west wall was required around this time as well.

In the early sixties up until the early seventies there was a large youth club, which did many things from putting on concerts and nativity plays to playing table tennis and badminton. The competition was fierce. Up until the late seventies the congregation was drawn from Tranent. Now there are a lot of English people who have retired or have come to work in and around Tranent, East Lothian or Edinburgh.

Methodism is organized in a Circuit System. We at Tranent are one of ten churches in the Edinburgh & Forth Circuit. We share a minister with Dunbar and Cockenzie with the manse here in Tranent. The other churches in the circuit are Edinburgh Mission at Tollcross, Nicholson Square, Leith, Granton, Abbeyhill (all Edinburgh), Rosyth and Kirkcaldy. Our ministers stay on average about five years. I have seen in my time twelve ministers come and go, the last being the first lady.

The Tranent Christian Centre was founded in 1985 by ex Salvation Army officer Richard Russell, and his wife Agnes, and was initially located on Haddington Road in the former manse of the United Free Church. It is now located at 3 Winton Place, the former Cadona cinema and is called the Fraser Centre.

The current church building of the Church of Christ is at 20 Church Street (it is interesting how this street, named for the 18th century church, is still a magnet for much religious activity in the town). From 1945-83 the meeting place was at Well Wynd. This building was demolished as part of the redevelopment for the Health Centre.

Church members John Kneller, Longniddry and Mark Plain, Tranent have provided the following account:

The Bible is held to be the revealed mind and will of God, and is used as the rule of faith and the basis of our practice. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is the focal point of our faith. Senior male members are appointed, when qualified, to the position of elders and are then responsible for the spiritual direction of the congregation. The congregation is autonomous, self supporting and responsible for the building, which it owns through trustees.

Baptism of believers is practised for remission of sins symbolising our union with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection and our call to a new life. This is a fundamental belief based on the practise of the New Testament church. No rite of confirmation is therefore required, as the celebrants have made a personal decision to serve God. Marriage ceremonies have been performed for members of the congregation although there has been no requirement in recent years. Funerals are arranged using our own building and the local cemeteries or crematoria. Services stress the Christian values and emphasise belief in life after death and the need to prepare for it.

The morality of the parish of Tranent is probably best left to the parish minister to comment on. We hold to the Biblical values, rather than the current social values, believing in fidelity in marriage, honesty and integrity in our dealings with others.

Childhood memories centre around Sunday school which was always full, sometimes only windowsills or standing room left. The bible stories were often illustrated or the children used to role-play the characters. Choruses and hymns were sung loudly often with actions to emphasise the words. Highlights would be the New Year party and prize giving, and the summer outing by bus.

The church services were not very attractive to children. The men all seemed to wear three-piece suits and the old ladies had fur coats, and you had to be quiet. Services have become less formal and a greater emphasis is now placed on the spirit and fellowship aspect of the service. Tea and biscuits and a time to chat to each other normally follow mid-week meetings. There is less outreach to the wider community now, which is probably due to perceived disinterest in church life and also the difficulty of finding acceptable methods of making contact. The congregation is ‘ageing’ as the number of younger members decreases. The decline of interest by younger people is a major concern. Numerically the congregation has halved in 20 years.

Congregational business meetings are held every three months. The treasurer and secretary attend to their respective aspects of church life. Other members will be delegated to attend to specific items of business. A speaking plan is prepared quarterly to list the participants in the services. The men of the congregation prepare and deliver the lessons and lead the services. Visiting speakers are used for special events. The singing is led by one of the members and no instrumental music is used.

Each March an anniversary meeting is held at which tea and refreshments are provided, and sister congregations are invited. It includes singing and recital items and an open discussion period on topical issues.

The congregation celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1992 and held a celebratory meeting in the Loch Centre.

See also: Recollections 1953-63 by Sister Bernard