Repair bill is too much as Yell kirk forced to close
St John’s Church in Mid Yell is to close its doors for the last time on today.
A dwindling congregation and the spiralling cost quoted for repairs in recent surveys mean the church is no longer viable.
The Rev David Cooper said that the closure was “sad but not unexpected.”
The church had been in increasingly poor shape, according to analysis of the structure.
Mr Cooper said: “We had a warning shot across the bows back in 2002. Every few years all of our properties have to have a report by a surveyor.
In 2002 they said that £250,000 was needed to put the place in decent order.
“The report in autumn last year said things had got a great deal worse. They now said £400,000 would be needed and that the little church hall we had been meeting in needed £100,000 of work.”
He added: “That sort of cost is way beyond anything that a small island congregation can manage.”
Because St John’s does not have a graveyard and plays host to very few weddings there will be little in the way of a knock-on effect from its closure.
Only the handful of regular attendees will be affected.
When Mr Cooper started working in the church nine years ago the congregation numbered roughly a dozen.
Now he can regularly count the attendees on one hand.
Some of the former regulars are now in the local care home while other members of the ageing congregation have died. But there are other factors impacting on congregation numbers.
Mr Cooper said: “It is very sad but the sadness isn’t new. You have to remember that these days 50 per cent of the population has no interest in religion of any kind. This church belongs to a very different era.”
The Reverend, who also conducts services in Unst and Fetlar, said he intends to hold services at the care home from time to time at the invitation of the home. This, he hopes, will mean that church members now resident there will still be given an opportunity to worship.
St John’s is one of three Church of Scotland churches in Yell. The island also has one Methodist and one Episcopal church.
Will John Anderson, a Church of Scotland elder in Yell, said that St John’s will be the fourth church to close in Yell since 1984.
He said that the repair bill of half a million pounds was just too much to justify with such a small congregation attending regularly.
Mr Anderson said: “I think it was inevitable. The church had less and less members attending all the time. The sad fact of it is that this is happening all through Shetland.”
Mr Cooper also saw the closure of St John’s as part of a wider trend.
He said: “This kind of church life is coming to an end and something quite different will have to replace it. Whatever that is it can’t be just a revival of the past.”