Roof caves in on church's bicentenary celebrations

THE invites had been sent and the final polish was being applied.

But an Edinburgh church's 200th anniversary celebrations have suffered a severe last-minute setback – after the roof fell in. Portobello Old Parish Church had spent months planning a special bicentenary service for March 29, with the Moderator as guest preacher.

Now the occasion is being hastily reorganised after a chunk of plaster crashed to the floor.

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Session clerk Alex McDonald said: "Luckily there was no-one in the church at the time. There had been some children there just an hour earlier, but thankfully they were away or it could have been quite serious. We don't know what caused it – whether it's something to do with the weather or if it's just old age.

"It wasn't that big a piece of plaster, but the whole ceiling has to be inspected in case there is some other part that's ready to come down."

The sanctuary is now covered in scaffolding as checks are carried out and the congregation will probably not be able to worship there again for several months.

The bicentenary service with Kirk Moderator the Rt Rev David Lunan will still go ahead on March 29, but it will now have to be held in the hall instead of the church.

Mr McDonald said the hall would take about 180 people while the church could have accommodated around 500.

He said: "We had already written to ex-members, a lot of them in different parts of the country, inviting them to the service and quite a few had been interested.

"Now we've had to write back to them and say 'We're terribly sorry, but would you like to postpone your visit?'.

"For some of them, coming back to the church where they were married or grew up would have brought back lots of memories. Coming to the hall was not going to be the same.

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"We will have a special service when it's all put right and make it up to them."

The church in Bellfield Street – built in 1809 by William Sibbald with a clock tower added in 1839 – is the oldest in Portobello.

The focus of the celebrations has been raising money for the rebuilding of a dilapidated kindergarten in a village in Ghana. Initially the congregation set a target of 10,000, but with support from Towerbank Primary School, neighbouring churches, Probus clubs and other local groups, it managed to raise 13,000.

Mr McDonald said it was too early to know how much the church repairs would cost, but estimated it would run to tens of thousands of pounds. He said: "We're hoping it might all be repaired by the end of June."

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