The Northern tip of Fife hardly lacks style or history in many of the architectural gems that are its religious edifices. In such exalted company the good folk of Wormit can hold their heads high. Their parish church sitting proudly on the main road above the River Tay opposite Dundee and rolling Perthshire countryside is a match for any of them. It may not be huge but it is certainly handsome.
It is also unique. Inside it has a feature no other kirk in Scotland can boast of – an interior clad in undressed Victorian red brick.
Wormit has a worthy history covering many important events of the last century among them wars, the gradual emancipation of women in the kirk and disaster. Indeed it is to disaster that the church partly owes its existence. Before the horror of that stormy December night in 1879 when a train plunged into the River Tay when the recently constructed Rail Bridge collapsed with the loss of 75 lives what is now Wormit was no more than a tiny hamlet. The site was chosen as the Fife terminus for the bridge and Wormit was launched towards the prestigious residential area it is today.
Click the image to see a tour of the church.
Forgan – Our Mother Church.
Centuries before, however, Christianity had made its presence felt in the area. What was to eventually become Wormit fell within the parish of Forgan where a church had been founded as far back as 1124, but as the village grew throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries it became clear that provision was needed for a district from which the nearest Church was two miles away. And that beginning could hardly have been more humble. A house, formerly occupied by the Tay Rail Bridge workmen, was gutted and turned into a small hall and opened in 1889.
The West Hall.
Soon, however, it too lacked sufficient space and following a bazaar in Dundee in 1894 at which more than £600 was raised the new hall was completed and opened for public worship in September 1895. The building, which is today known as the West Hall, cost a total of £1,028 11s 10d. Three years later following its elevation from Mission to Chapel of Ease status the Rev Thomas Munn, Minister of Forgan, ceased to be its pastor and the Rev Robert Constable Mitchell became the first Church of Scotland Minister in Wormit.
The Disruption And The United Free Church of Scotland
Meanwhile the Free Church of Scotland, set up following the 1843 “Disruption” which saw many Ministers and members leave the Church of Scotland in protest at local landowners having the sole right to appoint Ministers instead of the congregation, was also holding services in Wormit. And they were successful. So much so that in 1899 the United Free Church started constructing the present Church of Scotland building at a total cost of £3,000 with a further £1000 for joinery work. A fortune then, no doubt, but anyone looking at the stone and woodwork today would consider it money well spent.
The years passed with both churches continuing to hold services in their respective buildings although from 1908 they did come together in the summer months to alleviate holiday problems with the Ministers covering for each other by taking alternate morning and evening worship in both buildings. The practice continued for a number of years
Then in 1911 during the ministry of Rev James Coutts, what up until then had been the Chapel of Ease became Wormit Parish Church with elders and trustees elected. One of the first arrangements to be made was for the service to be held in the church on the Coronation Day of King George V. At the time there were 197 members on the Roll.
It would appear, however, that it was not all sweetness and light. The organist began to have trouble with unauthorised “visitors” playing the organ and interfering with the music of the choir. As a result there was an instruction issued that no unauthorised person should hold a key to the church. The vestry was also locked.
But these were no more than minor irritations compared with the slaughter of the First World War with families in the community mourning the loss of loved ones. The killing fields may have been many miles from the village but there was ample evidence of war with hundreds of troops in training stationed in Wormit. The church was also used for Red Cross lectures and in 1915 evening preparatory service for Communion was discontinued. In the same year it was decided that a Roll of Honour should be hung in the vestibule.
Even as late as October 1918 the war was having an affect. It had been hoped to recommence evening services but as there were still lighting restrictions it was decided to hold them in the afternoon.
Shortly before the ceasefire the first session clerk was appointed in April 1917. Prior to this the then Minister the Rev James Coutts, who was called to another parish, filled both roles.
As the nation recovered from the ravages of conflict things for Wormit and its church also improved. By January 1927 the membership had risen to just over 300 and it was in that year that the union with the Free Church was first discussed locally. Two years later ballots were taken in both churches to see if the congregations wish to go ahead. The Yes vote appears to have been overwhelming although union was not possible until there was a vacancy in one or both of the churches.
The Union With The United Free Church.
In 1932 the first door opened when the Rev Alex MacDonald of the Free Church accepted a call to Elgin followed shortly afterwards in early 1933 when the Rev Robert Morris also received a call.
So it was that on April 2 1933 the two congregations were united with a service in what is today Wormit Parish Church. And the attendances were good; despite the new Minister the Rev James Hutchison’s frequent remarks to the contrary. The Woman’s Guild was very active as was the Girls’ Association.
The Role Of Women.
About this time too the General Assembly decided to admit women of the church to membership of Congregational Boards and their cause had the strong backing of the Wormit Minister. “The time has not yet arrived for granting them the status of an elder or Minister. It is remarkable, however, that so many Presbyteries in the Church of Scotland should show very strong minorities in favour of opening the way for women to the eldership and even the ministry,” he declared.
The women of the church were also proving their worth in other ways. The Woman’s Guild visited all the houses of the congregation in fellowship; in 1939 they were collecting “good sized bundles” of cast off clothing for refugees and the Girls’ Association was trying to rally the young folk to attend country dances. They met with less success, however. The young Romeos of the village didn’t seem to be too enthusiastic about old fashioned dances!
World War II, Evacuees & The Norwegian Air Force.
In September 1939 it was back to war again. As in the First World War Wormit was to be well aware of it almost immediately. On the day the conflict was declared 100 of 170 evacuees from Edinburgh attended morning service. Shortly afterwards 48 of the young people of the church were on active service. Evening services were initially cancelled and by 1941 contingency plans had been drawn up by the Presbytery in the event of the church being bombed.
Further evidence of the conflict came with the presence of Norwegian air force crews and their Catalina flying boats used on sorties in the North Sea and secret missions into occupied Norway. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1942 services in Norwegian were held in the church. Other services for the Norwegians were held later in the war and after.
Finally it was over but its effects could still be felt. Plans were made by the Kirk Session to hold a Welcome Home social for the men and women who had been in the forces. But due to bread rationing sandwiches were off the menu. Once again it was over to the Woman’s Guild with the ladies asked to help with tea and cakes!
What Of The Church?
The Fifties opened with the Rev Hutchison, the first Minister of the united charge, posing a very pertinent question for his flock. “What of the Church?” he asked. “Is it playing its part in the life of nations and individuals? Judging by the numbers on our Communion Rolls the Church was never so full of people. Judging by our own eyes, even on Sunday mornings, the Church was never so empty.”
By this time his stipend had increased to £450 a year and it was hoped that by 1951 the church would be in a position to pay the minimum stipend of £500. The Roll was 378.
Another matter concerning the Minister and no doubt many other preachers throughout the land was empty front pews. In 1955 he wrote: “People go where they want to go and that is certainly not to the front seats of the Church.” A few years later when it was raised again it was suggested that the Kirk Session and their families fill the unpopular seats.
In 1957 Mr Hutchison left for Kirkmichael after 24 years service and the Rev Ian Robertson was inducted as his replacement.
Sunday School Outings & Fabric.
The early Swinging Sixties took the Sunday School picnic-bound children by bus to Guthrie Farm which was probably a swifter mode of transport than the youngsters of the 1937 outing. They travelled by hay cart to Kilmany – but probably enjoyed themselves just as much. And at 6d a head it was a shilling cheaper than the trip 35 years later!
Finance of a different sort was of more concern for their seniors. Repairs to the organ left the Fabric Fund with nothing while the exterior of the church was “greatly in need of repair”. Work on this started in March 1965 with cash from the Church Preservation Fund and the good news is that by early 1967 things appear to have been improving financially. All the walls of the Church had been repaired, painting had been carried out and an oil heating system installed.
It was also a decade which saw the rights of women in the Church take another step forward when in 1966 the General Assembly recommended that they should be admitted to eldership. Wormit, however, was not quite ready for such innovation.. The matter had been left entirely with the Kirk Session of each church and in Wormit it was unanimously rejected although this was rescinded in 1976. It was another eight years after that, however, before the first women elders were ordained in the church.
From Dundee To St. Andrews Presbytery.
The Seventies saw Wormit Church transferred from the Dundee Presbytery to that of St Andrews and North Fife a move which did not meet with unanimous approval.
One which did was the 50th anniversary of the union with the Free Church and the event was celebrated in March 1983 with a Social in the West Hall. It was also the year the Rev Ian Robertson retired by taking his last service in Wormit almost 26 years to the day after his first. His replacement was the Rev Andrew Stevenson who became the first Minister of the new joint charge of Wormit Church with Balmerino joined with Gauldry. The new Minister also got a new manse in 1985 allegedly so desirable that it was reported there was a new commandment in the St Andrews Presbytery which said: “Thou shall not covet the Wormit Minister’s Manse!”
The church also got a face lift. The oil fired central heating system which was now failing to warm up some of the older members was eventually replaced by gas central heating, carpet tiles were laid, the organ rebuilt, the building re-wired, a better lighting system provided and the sound system upgraded. Where possible the work was carried out by a team from the congregation thereby cutting costs. In 1987 electronic bells were installed because the tower was deemed not strong enough to take the weight of real bells.
Another successful innovation introduced in 1992 was the Easter Day dawn service at the Mars Pier. In the same year the Bible Class which had met for many years was replaced by Grapevine a group which met on Sunday evening.
At the end of August 1993 Mr Stevenson retired and was followed into the pulpit by the Rev Graeme Beebee as Minister of the linked charge.
In May 1995 there was happy reminder of the war years when friends old and new met with serving members from 333 Squadron of the Royal Norwegian Air Force whose colleagues of yesteryear and Catalina flying boats were stationed at Woodhaven pier. The link has never been broken.
And as well as spiritual matters the church showed that its members also had a practical side. In April 1995 volunteers responded well to a Spring Clean the church campaign. It is reported that tall men were seen dusting down walls while the ladies got down on their knees for a bit of floor scrubbing. The operation was so successful it has become an annual event.
And the youngsters were not to be outdone. In 1997 the Sunday School took on the sponsorship of Abbu a ten year old Ethiopian boy and with the help of members of the congregation have kept up the good work. In 2007 in one of his letters he reported that he was working very hard at school to get a good education. See more about this on the Junior Church link.
In November 2004 the Rev Dr Jim Connolly accepted the challenge, by the grace of God, to continue the good work started by our former preachers two centuries ago.
This is only a fraction of what could have been written about the church’s history. Much of what has been used has come from the excellent booklet, ’The History of Wormit Church’ written by the late Audrey Conway and anyone who wishes further information should read it.
Various ministries are offered by the church today and these can be found on this Website. We have many organisations within the church and the programs for them can be found here under the Ministries section.
Wormit Parish Church of Scotland is a registered Scottish Charity SCO06447