Villagers rise up together to save ancient Kirk from closure for the second time in 900 years

A tiny village has mobilised behind the fight to save a church thought to be the oldest in Scotland from closure as it approaches its 900th anniversary.

St Fillan's Parish Church in Aberdour, Fife, which dates back to 1123, could close as part of a controversial downsizing exercise by the Church of Scotland.

The plan aims to ease the crippling running costs of the Kirk's vast property portfolio at a time when it is battling dwindling income and falling congregations.

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Kirk number crunchers came up with a formula to identify buildings that could be sold off in a bid to reduce its holdings and generate a multi-million-pound bail-out.

Under threat: St Fillans has been a place of worship for nearly 900 years Pic: Walter Neilson

But people in Aberdour, population just 1,600, were shocked and dismayed after the "miniature cathedral" dubbed "one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in Scotland" was included on a list of properties to be "sold, let or otherwise disposed of".

They claim it is a victim of a "flawed algorithm" biased towards modern buildings at the expense of historical treasures.

And they insist they won’t be kicked out of their church "for a second time" – 232 years after the Countess of Morton decided she didn’t want them worshipping so close to her home at Aberdour House in 1790.

Then, another kirk was built nearby, which is now used as the church hall, although the congregation returned to its historic home after it was restored as the parish church in 1926.

The historic headstones at St Fillans in Aberdour Pic: Walter Neilson

Willie Crowe, Property Convener for St Fillan's and a fifth generation member of the congregation, described the threat as "an act of cultural vandalism", and insisted villagers are "utterly determined" to save their church.

A public meeting to discuss the crisis was "standing room only" and more than 150 letters of objection have been submitted to Fife Presbytery.

Mr Crowe said: "Next year St Fillan’s Church will be celebrating its 900th anniversary. It is probably the oldest parish church in Scotland still in use. For everybody the past is important, it shapes us and defines our future. We ignore it to our peril.

"We want to continue worshipping in this unique church and will not be forced, once again, to move our worship from our current setting to the church hall."

Mr Crowe, a structural engineer, said St Fillan's was "in excellent condition and easily maintained at low cost going forward".

He believes newer churches meet algorithm criteria that prioritises "multifunction use and facilities such as disabled toilets, access and car parking".

Mr Crowe said: “It has been designed in a way which generates a poor score for unique historic churches.

"It is therefore very important that the Church of Scotland recognises its history, and old churches are part of that history.

"We know that the Church is more than buildings but the 900-year history cannot be discarded. Even if St Fillan’s Church is converted into a house or venue, that sense of history will be lost."

The campaign has been backed by Scottish football legend and Fife Provost Jim Leishman, who said: "I've been to St Fillan's church. My friend's daughter was married there and I was in attendance. It's a beautiful place. There aren't many 900 year old buildings."

A Church of Scotland spokesman said: "Fife Presbytery, like all Church of Scotland presbyteries, has launched a consultation on a draft mission plan which will determine how limited resources should be allocated to congregations over a five-year period.

"This is a work in progress and subject to amendment but change is necessary in order to deliver sustainable and realistic new expressions of ministry and church and ensure all buildings are suitable for 21st century mission needs.


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