By Ian Cooper. From his excellent series Records of a Bygone Age published in The Stronsay Limpet.
After what had been a long and difficult journey the new church was finally ready and, looking to the Stronsay Church Board minutes once more, it was with a note of pride and honour that the dedication and opening of the Moncur Memorial Church was reported in the minute of 11th May 1955:
It was apparently quite a wintry day that day and the Moderator had to wait until a heavy hail shower passed before making his way from the Church Hall around to the entrance of the Church.
I like to lay claim to having been at the opening of the church in May 1955 as I would, at that time, have been slightly more than a twinkle in my dad’s eye, although I wasn’t born until January 1956!
The photo above brings to mind a tongue-in-cheek comment from the late Jim Work, long -time Stronsay elder and Session Clerk, who said he had once been told that “Ministers are like a midden; if they are all gathered together in one place they aren’t for much use, but spread them around and it’s amazing how much good they can do!”
The first Sunday service to be held in the new building was a Communion service on 15th May where 110 members shared the Sacrament. The second service, on 22nd May 1955, was to see the total of four children baptised on one Sunday soon after Philip Fox came to Stronsay surpassed when seven babies were brought forward for baptism.
These seven were Eunice Caithness, Boondatoon; Duncan Kenneth MacRae, Hotel; Ruby Chalmers Rendall, Roadside; Ruth Agnes Shearer, Crowanna; Rhona Margaret Stevenson, Mingro; Marie Robina Stevenson, Springwell and Ivan Sinclair Stevenson, Midgarth Cottage.
In the days before mains water and electricity reached Stronsay, the supply of both to the Church and Manse was an ongoing problem. Mention was made earlier of the purchase of five Tilley lamps to light the old Mudie church, and lighting continued to be by Tilley and oil lamps until 1956, when lighting was installed in the Church Hall and Manse powered by a new petrol engine and generator, all achieved at a cost of £250! Two years later electric lighting was also installed in the Church. Then, in 1964, this generator was upgraded to a Lister diesel ‘Startomatic’ lighting plant at a cost of £120.
This meant that it was no longer necessary to go to an outhouse (the ‘engine hoose’) to manually start and stop the engine as need required, with this new system being thought to be the height of luxury at the time!
The main source of water for many years was whatever rainwater could be caught and stored in stone tanks at the Church and Manse, supplemented by water carted from a well in a field belonging to Dale Farm. A petrol water pump was later installed at this well to pump water to a storage tank at the Manse but the water still had to be pumped by hand to a header tank in the loft to give a supply of water to the single cold tap in the scullery. A solid fuel range was later installed, complete with back boiler, which helped ensure a supply of hot and cold water on tap.
This was all to change in the 1970s when mains electricity came to the island via an undersea cable from Shapinsay. The Church, Hall and Manse all had to be rewired to current standards and the Chapel in the Village was also wired for electricity for the first time. This all came to fruition on 12th June 1973 when Stronsay’s mains electricity was switched on for the first time.
In December that same year a long awaited mains water supply to the island was completed, with the Church and Manse being connected up to that supply the following year.
This was a busy and expensive time for the church as, in addition to funding the installation of mains electricity and water, the old Manse roof of grey slates was removed, the roof covered in sarking and felt and new slates fitted.
Winter storms in Orkney and the damage they can cause are always a cause for worry but over the years the Church and Manse seem to have stood the effects of these storms quite well. One notable exception was when Stronsay was struck by a severe storm in February 1981 which stripped off a small area of slates on the south west side of the Church roof, leaving a section of the sarking exposed and allowing water to leak into the Church until repairs were carried out.
Rev Philip Fox retired in September 1983, having served the congregation and parish faithfully for over 33 years in this his first and only charge. During his time in Stronsay he held a service every Sunday at noon in the Church and at 6.30 pm in the Village Chapel plus a service in the South School on the first Sunday of every month and a service in the Rothiesholm School on the last. This must mean that he would have delivered in excess of 4,000 sermons during his ministry.
After quite a short vacancy Rev Kenneth Borthwick was ordained and inducted to this, his first charge, in April 1984. Kenny and Morag had their first child, Sarah, soon after with their son David arriving a couple of years later, the first time for many years that there would have been children’s voices heard in the Manse.
Later that year central heating was installed in the Manse, new hardwood double glazed windows were installed and new front and back doors fitted. This was reported to have made a considerable difference to the cost and effectiveness of heating the Manse.
Rev Borthwick moved on to St Peter’s and St Andrew’s in Thurso in June 1989 and Rev Kenneth Fisher was inducted in July the following year. Rev Fisher, who had been unable to carry out his duties as Minister of this parish for long periods due to poor health, retired in 1994.
After a vacancy of more than two years, during which time the church had the services of locum Minister Rev Hugh Drummond for three months and Rev William Dungavel on two occasions for some time, the ordination and induction of our new Minister, Rev Joyce Keyes, took place on 11th September 1996.
In 1999, with the approaching New Millennium, it was agreed that the congregation should raise funds for installing a new heating system in the Church. With this in mind an application was made to Orkney Islands Council’s Development Fund for the New Millennium which had been specifically set up to support Millennium projects. Sadly this application was turned down as the Council were apparently not supporting any funding applications from churches, a decision that was greeted with some surprise and dismay as there was no mention of this in the application guidelines. The Congregational Board felt
strongly that the Council had rather missed the point of whose birth these millennial celebrations were commemorating and should actually focus on!
It was agreed that the congregation should still try to raise funds for this ‘Millennium Project’ even without the help of the OIC and, after some vigorous and very successful fund raising events and grant assistance from several bodies, the funding target was reached and the project went ahead at a cost of around £29,000.
As a further celebration of the approaching new millennium a very successful ‘Millennium Concert’ was held in the Church in October 1999 with in excess of 180 people in attendance. This concert was a truly memorable event and, as the Church moved into a new century and new millennium this seems a good point to bring this history of the Stronsay Church to a close.