Strathkinness Parish Church


The church was involved in the first written mention of Strathkinness when in 1144 Bishop Robert gave "Lands of Strathkinness" to the St. Andrews Priory. In Reformation times Strathkinness was part of St. Andrews Parish so it lay within the care of St Andrews Parish Church, now called Holy Trinity and the ministers sent preachers to conduct services. Eventually there was agitation that because of size and population there should be churches outwith St. Andrews. In 1597 the Presbytery records show that "George Ramsay craved the Presbytery's opinion that the vicar should deliver the silver given to him for the biggin of the landward kirk. The Presbytery ordains the ministers of St. Andrews to convince the gentilmen to tak order with the silver collected for the biggin of the foresaid kirk." It is not clear what this means but there is a further record that some Strathkinness men petitioned that they had never consented to a new church and the outcome was that the Town Church kept control. Cameron petitioned parliament and became a parish but Strathkinness had to wait for a further 200 years.

However, the Town Kirk did not neglect Strathkinness, and about this time services began to be conducted in the village and the Session took great interest in maintaining a school. Strathkinness school was one of several established in St Andrews parish in 1647. In 1777 a plot of 4 acres was set apart as an endowment for the school and later there was a Free Church school with, in 1864, 170 children while there were 60 children at the parish school. Before the present church was built, church and school were at the site of the present school. St. Andrews Kirk Session had difficulty in finding preachers for its outlying areas and in1854 there was a special meeting to consider how the preaching stations of Boarhills and Strathkinness could be carried on and supported. In June 1860 the Presbytery petitioned the Court of Teinds to establish Strathkinness as a parish quoad sacra. This means "as regards sacred matters" or a church parish but not a civil parish. It meant that the church would receive some teinds or endowments towards the minister"s stipend. Thus, the Rev. David Stewart was ordained as the first minister on 13 December 1860. When, four years later, repairs were needed for the church, it was resolved to build a new one and the present site was granted by Mr. John Whyte Melville. The building opened for worship on 2nd October 1864 when the population of Strathkinness was given as 1296. By 1873 the manse was completed at a cost of £700 "exclusive of cartage given by the farmers gratuitously."

Strathkinness, like other places, experienced dissent and breakaway congregations. The Relief church came in 1799 and faded 20 years later, as did the Methodists who bought their little church. A Secession church also existed for a few years. It eventually reunited with the Church of Scotland and with it brought their minister the Rev. Ralph Robb.

During these times the Church of Scotland ran into trouble because there was great objection in Scotland to having ministers imposed without the congregation having the right to chose. Thus, in 1843 more than half of the ministers and many people walked out and with them Mr Robb and his Strathkinness followers. Later, in 1867, they built their own Free Church at a cost of £1200 and it is the present Village Hall.

It became again part of the National Church when, in the early years of the 20th century there was a coming together of many of the separate churches.

The national union took place in 1929 but the Strathkinness canny folk of the United Free Church held back till the Rev Walter McLeod died to end his 38 year ministry in 1935. The church in Strathkinness became united again and more than that was free to run its own affairs.

In modern times a widespread decline in membership and in the availability of ministers led to Strathkinness church being linked with Dairsie and Kemback in one ministry and in this century that grouping has changed and we are now after a century and a half again linked with a larger church in St. Andrews. With Hope Park Church we go forward. Our new hall, completed in 1995 at a cost of £100,000, indicates our confidence. The past tells us that there will be further changes and so does the writer of Hebrews, "Here we have no permanent city, we are looking forward to the city which is to come."

Christine Scott's Baby

A true story of Strathkinness related by John A Hall, former minister of Strathkinness.

One evening in the year 1586, Thursday the 24th February to be exact, a solitary figure left St. Andrews by the West Port and strode out along the rough road which would take him to Strathkinness. His name was John Downy and he is described as a "messenger". This evening, however, he was simply taking a walk to see his sister, Alison, who had married a Strathkinness man, James Carstairs, and had settled down in the village.

Before the evening was out he would get himself in a bit of trouble and a place in local history. It would not be his first brush with the men of the kirk in St. Andrews for, on former occasions, he had suffered rebukes for outspoken opinions on matters of doctrine. We do not know if his ideas were sound but he can be commended for being concerned with theology and not leaving it to the learned men of St. Mary's College. When he exchanged local news with his sister, Alison, he learned that a neighbour, Christine Scott, had borne a child and was naming the Earl of Rothes as the father. Christine was greatly concerned to have the child baptised, but she shrank from the publicity and penalties which would have to be faced if she applied to the ministers of the Town Kirk. On hearing this tale, John Downy saw a chance of getting a little of his own back, and at the same time doing a good turn for a friend in distress.

"I'll baptise the baby for her," he said.

"How can you baptise the bairn?" replied Alison, "You're no a minister. You're mad to say sic a thing."

"No," said John, "I'm no a minister, but ye see, it's guid soond doctrine that any Christian can baptise a bairn if it's weak and likely to dee."

"But Christine's bairn's no like tae dee," retorted Alison.

"We're a' like tae dee if it comes tae that. Forbye, ye can aye say that the wee thing had an ill turn and we thought it was breathin' its last."

"Ye canna be serious," said Alison, although she seemed to be turning the idea over in her mind.

"I am serious," said Downy. "Look, Alison, you tell Christine to bring her bairn in here the morn. Ask your faither and ony neebours ye like, and I'll gie the laddie his name. What d'ye say, Jamie?" This last was addressed to Alison's husband who, so far, had been a listener.

"I'll no stand in your road, John," said James Carstairs, "I'm sorry for the lass."

Shortly after eight on Friday morning, 25th February, John Downy arrived at his brother-in-law's house. He was dressed in his best, and he certainly appeared to conduct the service with all reverence. John Scott, Christine's father was there, a neighbour named Andrew Brown, James Carstairs, who was Alison's father-in-law, Alison herself and her husband. Alison produced an ordinary kitchen plate to hold the water and just as the ceremony was about to begin, a neighbour, John Hagy, looked in and stared at the unusual group. He was motioned to a seat and the baptism proceeded. At the end of it, John Hagy - who could hardly believe his ears - exclaimed, "Well sirs, what ungodly work is this? Who gave orders for this to be done?" "It's my doing and I'll take the hale blame," said John Downy.

There was no particular desire to keep the matter secret and it is not surprising that the Kirk Session of St. Andrews soon got wind of this irregularity. Accordingly, it was not long before the Kirk Officer, James Steel, was seen calling at several houses in Strathkinness with a summons to each one who had been concerned in this baptism to appear before the Kirk Session. Throughout the summer, the Kirk Session threshed out the case against John Downy who was charged that he had "maist ungodly and against all guid order in contempt of Christ and His Kirk, usurping the office of a minister baptisit the said bairn upon Friday betwixt 8 and 9 hours before noon on 25 February last."

After sifting the evidence of all witnesses, the Session ordered John Downy to pay £3 to the poor box, to come to the penitent stool in sack-cloth and humble himself, failing which he was to sit half a year in the penitent stool, and this under pain of excommunication.

And what happened to the others? In all probability Christine Scott married a decent man called William Peebles, for it is recorded that those two applied for banns to be proclaimed in the Town Kirk, but the Session had refused until the matter of the illegitimate child was cleared up. And baby Alexander? Did he grow up in the village as Sandy Peebles, brought up by his mother and step-father? We shall never know but there is an interesting and exciting suggestion in an editor's footnote to the printed records of the Town Kirk. Could this child possibly be identified with General Sir Alexander Leslie, the covenanting General, later the Earl of Leven and uncle of General David Leslie? General Sir Alexander was known to have been illegitimate and there are different accounts as to who was the father. One is that he was the natural son of a Fife Laird. What if the Laird was the Earl of Rothes whose name was Leslie? The General died in 1661. Nobody knew his exact age but he was supposed to be about 80. Christine Scott's baby would have been at least 75 in 1661 and maybe older.

But for this incident the names of these people would be forgotten but because of the bold spirit of John Downy we get a glimpse of fellow-villagers more than 400 years ago who, on a day when Mary Queen of Scots was still living, a day when you might meet people of the village who had heard John Knox preach and some older ones who remembered seeing George Wishart burn at the stake in St. Andrews. Religious fanaticism could arouse passions and breed such cruelty but there were kindly folk in Strathkinness who, at the risk of displeasing the kirk could show kindness to a woman and her child born out of wedlock, and gathered together in a cottage to proclaim in their own fashion that the baby belonged with them and also to the family of God.

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