Hilton Church building: 60th anniversary

I’ve been reading reports in the Inverness Courier and the Highland News about the dedication of the Hilton Church building sixty years ago this month on 28th March 1958.

The work in Hilton

The work in the new Hilton estate had been underway for several years prior to this, with meetings held in a hut adjacent to where the Church now stands.  The Rev George Eddington was inducted at Crown Church to the new Church Extension charge of Hilton almost exactly three years before, on 26th March 1955.

By 1958, the Highland News reported, there were 130 people on the communion roll, and also many adherents.  No fewer than 320 pupils were attending Sunday School. Since the hut seated only 100 people, the children met in different ‘relays’ between 12.30pm and 4pm. There was also lack of space for the youth organisations, and it was planned to start an adult Bible Class in the new building.

Hilton Church Original exteriorThe new building

The new church was ‘designed to the style of old Scottish architecture’ by local architect W.W. Mitchell. The seating capacity was 310, while the hall (capable of subdivision into three sections using folding partitions) seated 70. The paper reports that ‘the Church Hall came from the old church of Rotheimurchus’, which puzzles me.

The new building cost £20,000 funded by the Church of Scotland. The first repayment of £500, raised by special collections, was handed over at the opening ceremony.

The church is dedicated

The new building was dedicated by the Rev Hugh Watt (76), a former Kirk Moderator and Principal Emeritus of New College.

I was intrigued by the formalities. Once the congregation had gathered in the church Dr Watt walked up the path, knocked three times on the closed doors, declaiming ‘Open to me the gates of righteousness. I will go into them, and I will praise the Lord.’

The Session Clerk, Mr W. P. Macdonald then opened the door from the inside, and said to Dr Watt ‘In token that this building has been erected for the Church of Scotland, I deliver the keys thereof, and pray you now to dedicate it to the glory of Almighty God.’

To which Dr Watt replied ‘In the name of the Church of Scotland we accept the keys in token of the trust committed to us.’  Dr Watt then took the keys, and laid them on the Communion Table – which the Highland News described as ‘the Holy Table.’

The Courier  takes up the story: ‘Dr Watt then dedicated the Church in prayer, and afterwards, with the congregation standing, he dedicated in turn the baptismal font, the lectern, the pulpit and Communion Table to the glory of God. The congregation then joined in a declaration that they dedicated themselves anew to the worship of God and the service of His Kingdom, and sang “Ye gates lift up your heads.”’

This formality may seem far removed from our current way of ‘doing church,’ but what struck me was this emphasis on dedication to God. It’s a reminder to us of the call to dedicate ourselves ‘to the glory of God’ and to reflect what a dedicated life ‘looks like.’  It also reminds us that the physical building is ‘dedicated’ with implications for how we view it, and use it, and care for it.

Hilton Church Original interiorThe rest of the service

There were three Bible readings – 1 Kings 8:22-30 – King Solomon’s prayer dedicating the Temple in Jerusalem which he had built; Ephesians 2:13-22, in which St Paul speaks of the Church as a spiritual building of people, with Jesus as the most foundation stone; and Matthew 21:12-16 – a solemn warning from Jesus to keep the church as a place of prayer, a place where we celebrate Jesus.

But when he came to speak, Dr Watt preached on the mission of Christianity – Jesus’ ‘Great Commission’ (Luke 24:45-49). He took as his text three words from Luke 24:47 – ‘beginning at Jerusalem.’  I imagine he spoke about the challenge to share the good news about Jesus where we are – in our homes, schools and workplaces, in Hilton, in the wider community, while not forgetting that we are part of a nation-wide and world-wide mission.

But before his sermon, Dr Watt mentioned that the new Hilton Church  was one of ‘very many built all over Scotland in new housing estates.’ He reminded the local Presbytery that during a previous campaign for church extension, spearheaded by Dr Thomas Chalmers in 1839, 222 churches were provided over seven years. And in that year the Inverness Presbytery had contributed more to the appeal than anywhere else in Scotland.  ‘He had no doubt,’ the Courier reported ‘that Inverness was responding well to the present church extension appeal, and he believed that it could not fail to maintain a worthy place in that great national effort.’

In fact, between 1948 and 1959 the Church of Scotland established 84 new parishes, and erected 129 buildings – 108 of which were dual-role ‘hall-churches’ (Hilton might have been included in that category.)

The service concluded with Psalm 122 which contains the words ‘pray for the peace of Jerusalem’: I guess the principal emphasis that evening was on ‘Jerusalem’ as a symbol of the universal church, of which those of us at Hilton are part.

We have much cause for gratitude to the people who worked so hard six decades ago to establish the Church. The world has changed in many ways since the 1950s: our worship is less formal than then; there are new ways of sharing the Christian faith which were then undreamed of; and Scottish society has changed – no longer is Church central to the community, no longer are children sent to Sunday school as a matter of course, no longer do the majority of adults have a basic faith in God, and knowledge of the Bible.

But God remains unchanged – the Spirit of Jesus still calls us to find in him forgiveness and grace, to respond to him in love, and to share that message to all who seek spiritual answers, beginning in our own ‘Jerusalem’ – just where we are, here in Hilton.

(Please do let me know if I have got anything wrong or if you have more information or memories of the early days at Hilton.)


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