I’ve recently become a trustee of St John’s Kirk SCIO, in North Walls, Orkney. As I’m coming to an end of doing paid client work, I’ll be devoting some of my energy to building up a heritage resource at St John’s. It was sold by the Church of Scotland to a local group some years ago and now runs as a charity, a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) to be specific.
Affectionately known as the Peedie Kirk, it’s a place with close connections to my father’s family. (Peedie is the Orkney word for small). He was baptized there as a baby, painted the windows with his brother when he was a bit older, possibly while his father worked on a new porch in the 1930s. Both my parents are buried there as are my father’s parents and two brothers.
The kirk has a very simple interior. Stone floor, wooden pews, no electricity, gas and oil lights, Precentor’s chair beneath the pulpit, little changed since it opened.
St John’s Kirk opened in 1881 but was never a parish church; that was St Columba’s about five miles away in South Walls. Due to the distance, the Church of Scotland sanctioned a mission church in North Walls and it seems that the members were working towards becoming a full-blown parish. That never happened, partly due to declining population in the area. A missionary could do most things except baptisms, marriages and Communion services, the parish minister would cover that. For more on the that see Frank D Bardgett’s book, Devoted service rendered: The lay missionaries of the Church of Scotland, published in 2002.
St John’s Kirk is also sometimes called “Fisher’s Kirk”. No, nothing to do with fishermen. Rather it celebrates Harold Fisher (1854-1937) who was the longest serving missionary at St John’s, from 1912 until 1931, well respected and very closely associated with the place.
As work goes ahead with establishing a heritage resource for the area in St John’s Kirk, I’m hoping that some of the North Walls material I have here in blogs and pages can be rehomed. We don’t have a website but you can follow St John’s Kirk on Facebook. Please do.