New dawn for congregation

David Pitkeathly
Rev David Pitkeathly. Credit - Cumberland News

A new dawn has broken for a small Church of Scotland congregation in northern England.

After 10 years of thoughtful and considered prayer, Longtown Parish Church in Cumbria has decided to give up its own building and share premises with the local Methodist Church.

Rev David Pitkeathly, minister at Longtown, explains why the congregation has embarked on this new journey.

Serving together

"When the Presbytery of Annandale and Eskdale decided 10 years ago that the Longtown Church of Scotland building would close in a decade I suspect they assumed, without malice, that it would be the end of the road for the congregation.

"As a small community of Presbyterians meeting a stone’s throw from the border with Scotland we have sought in that period to explore ways of maintaining our worship and witness beyond the looming deadline.

"We have been richly blessed by the warm friendship and shared vision of our Methodist neighbours in the same community.

"We recognise that while both small in numbers and increasing in age we can still achieve many more positive things together rather than working apart.

"In the last five years an eager and able team from both Churches along with three helpers from the local Anglican Church have established a very fruitful annual holiday club and monthly Messy Church.

"This has given us a sense of common purpose but has also served to build close personal relationships to the extent that our denominational background means little as we plan and serve together.

"We also have enjoyed opportunities to worship together as two congregations and after much negotiation and legal drafting are about to begin sharing the Methodist building.

"It is hoped that other shared initiatives of care and outreach might be possible both within this excellent building but also within the wider community.

Mixed emotions

"This Christmas has been a time of mixed emotions as we prepare to leave behind a sanctuary that is well over a 100 years old although there has,in fact,been a Church of Scotland presence in Longtown for over 180 years.

"Churches are a gathering of people but there is a strong sense that a building is like a second home, a place of belonging and togetherness.

"Our members have seen family weddings, baptisms and funerals in that sacred space.

"Joy has been expressed and tears have been shed.

"It is a wrench to shut the doors and move on even if we have encouraging opportunities ahead.

"We shared prayers on our last Sunday in the aisle, the pulpit, by the font at the communion table and at the door.

"We also remembered how important God’s house was to Jesus from the very moment he was brought there as a babe in arms.

"We recognised that he would share the feelings of loss of the congregation and noted that he acknowledged the faithfulness over the years of Simeon and Anna as he would that of our members past and present.

"We reflected on the fact that this first visit was for Jesus the beginning of a mission that would bring tremendous light to the world and we still had the potential to share in that mission with our Christian friends in the town.

Hospitality

"This year offers a new dawn for a small Church of Scotland that is just inside England.

"Cumbria is England’s first ecumenical county, a county where close partnerships have been forged between the major denominations.

"We are delighted to share in this sense of common Christian cause by continuing our worship and service in the Methodist sanctuary and are indebted to their minister and congregation for their hospitality and grace."