Does it really matter that a church is converted into a pub or a carpet store?

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Old High Church, Inverness

There have been concerns about recent proposals from Inverness Rectory to bring the Old High Church to market. The background is a nationwide decision to reduce the number of Church of Scotland ministers by a third in light of Kirk’s declining membership, and to get rid of redundant buildings, allowing the Church to experience new ways to connect with the Scottish people.

What do I think about the eventual sale of the Old High? What matters fundamentally is to meet the God who loves us, and it can take place anywhere. Such encounters occur wherever people meet and share their faith in Jesus. A special building is not essential. A “church” is simply a gathering of people who joyfully realize that regardless of their nationality, they are members of the tribe of God and choose to live as disciples of Jesus.

But religious, including Christians, speak of “thin places” where God is tangible, where light and peace burst, where the Author of the great tribal history makes his presence known.

Iona Abbey: a
Iona Abbey: A “thin place” for many religious people. Image: Wikimedia Commons

There are a lot of these “thin places”. Take Iona, where many, many people over the centuries have felt God particularly close. Many Christians have their own “thin place” – perhaps the corner of the room where we pray. And every line in the Bible becomes a holy place as God speaks to us through it. But also important are the buildings where through the centuries God has been worshiped, the bread broken, the wine shared, the prayers pronounced.

There are arguably too many church buildings in Scotland, and some will have to disappear. Each closure brings regret to those who have encountered God within its walls. And for many Christians, buildings with deep roots in the past, physical reminders of our tribal history, housing works of art that reflect the creativity and beauty of God, are just too precious to be lost.

There was worship on this mound next to the Ness where the old tall church stands for centuries, probably before Columba came. It is probable that the saint preached there, it is perhaps at this very place that the picte king Brude converted to the Christian faith. With varying degrees of sincerity, people have knelt and prayed in the buildings of this site throughout the colorful history of the Highland Faith.

For the Old High, a Grade A listed building, becoming a pub or carpet warehouse would be (although God is no stranger to bars and business premises) to ceding something precious for lay use.

Yes, the people who meet Jesus today, wherever they are, is far more important than preserving the old buildings as such. But could treasures like the Old High be portals through which we find our way into the Great History?

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