Tears and Hymns at Kirkapol Church’s Last Stand

A poignant last service was held by the congregation of Tiree Parish Church to mark the closure of Kirkapol Church which has served the community since it was built in 1842. During the service plaudits were made and reminiscences given by members old and new who shared their memories of the church.

Some older members of the congregation shed a tear, as memories they held came flooding back.

The current minister, the Rev Elspeth MacLean, said that it was both a sad occasion and a celebration

of the life of Kirkapol over the many decades it served the community. She said that since the foundation of our faith is the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we can be assured that the ‘death’ of this beautiful old church building is not the end, but is the beginning of a new chapter in the life of Tiree Parish Church. Christ came to bring unity and peace. The square-shaped listed building, in its beautiful

setting at Gott Bay, is being sold by the Church of Scotland, after the dwindling congregation struggled

financially for a number of years to maintain its two buildings. Now all other services and funerals and weddings will take place in Heylipol Church which is inland at the other end of the island. The congregation had intended to walk out together at the end of the service to symbolise the final ending before returning inside for tea and sandwiches. However, the weather was so bad the plan was abandoned. Lachie MacFadyen carried the pulpit Bible outside accompanied by fellow elder Ewan MacKinnon who took out the baptismal font. Both items will now be stored at Heylipol Church along with

furnishings from Kirkapol. Professor Donald Meek, who was raised just over three miles away in the island at Caoles, spoke of his very happy association with the Church of Scotland in Tiree, and

especially with Kirkapol. Although he attended the local Baptist Church – his father was a crofter and Baptist minister – his father preached regularly at Kirkapol when its own minister was on the mainland, and helped to maintain the church in long periods of vacancy.  Donald referred to the kindness of the former Session Clerk, Donald MacIntyre, of Gott, whose warmly appreciative letters had been treasured by his father and had been preserved by the family. Donald, spoke of his visits to Kirkapol Sunday School when Mrs Goedheir was the teacher, and how much he owed in later life to the fine example of successive ministers, from Dr Albert Goedheir to the present. He said: “I learned the best possible kind of ecumenism through my father’s relationship with the Church of Scotland in Tiree, and especially through

Kirkapol.’ Rev. Bruce Neill, a retired Royal Naval chaplain who served the congregation during its long vacancy, sent a warm letter, recalling his happy times with them and how on one occasion he was surprised with a birthday cake at the end of the service! A message from one of the elders Ian Sharp, who was off ill, was read out.  Ian Sharp wrote:  ”I first entered Kirkapol Church almost three decades

ago with my wife Patricia and our three children, Graeme. Joanna and Ian, the day after arriving on Tiree for the first time… ”We had all been seasick – like most of the other passengers on Caledonian  Macbrayne’s old side-loading MV Claymore as it ploughed through heavy weather. ”I sat helpless outside hanging over the rail, not caring if the vessel sank or not.  Patricia and our children had been helped by Mr Alec MacKenzie of Milton, (Tiree) who was a good sailor and a Good Samaritan. ”Next day we walked into Kirkapol Church.  I was amazed by the simple beauty of the interior and  remember thinking that it would be a wonderful setting for a church scene in any film being made. ”I have often said, half-jokingly that I felt that our attendance there in Kirkapol Church that first morning was like giving thanks for being nearly-ship wrecked…..” ”We initially stayed in the late Mary Ann MacLennan’s Dunbeg House and we have happy memories of sitting with her and her sisters, Flora and Effie and their husbands, Neil   MacLean and Willie Dickie and other Eastenders in the church. ”After our first service at Kirkapol a woman came round to see us on the beach at Caoles, to say that she had been sitting behind us in church the previous day, and how we had reminded her of being there with her own young family years before. She invited us to her holiday home and gave us ‘seaweed pudding.’ She was Mrs Mary Henderson, a lovely woman. Her maiden name was Munro of the once well-known Munro Spun woollen firm. ”We came back next year, having been bitten by the ‘Tiree bug.’  We came three times a year when the children were on school holidays until Patricia and I managed to settle full time about six years ago.

”When we met up with Alec MacKenzie on our return to Tiree the second year, he said he was surprised

we had come back after our experience on the storm-lashed Claymore. ”I thank God for the building and the members of the congregation – and for Elspeth and the four previous ministers who took on the challenge of this tough calling – whose attendance and friendship to me is a great encouragement in my daily walk…”I also thought – and still do – that its outside setting is, in itself, a wonderful witness for our Lord Jesus, and I am sad that it is being sold.” The service closed with the congregation standing and

saying together “Come, fill us with your Holy Spirit, that we may be your temple, and,

when we go from here, we may worship You in spirit and in truth, with a new vision of

Your glory, a new experience of Your power, and a new joy in Your service.        Amen.”