24 January 2024
Stirling Methodist Church: A heritage treasure that’s fighting climate change
Stirling Methodist Church has a rich history and is still making history today through its commitment to social and climate justice.
Located on Queen Street, Stirling Methodist Church is a unique building in an old sandstone quarry and on a volcanic plug that gives the city of Stirling its distinct appearance. The vertical volcanic plug forms the boundary between the church and it’s neighbours behind them who are about 15 metres higher. Sandstone from the quarry was used to build the church.
The church is an example of 1830s town planning, when Cowane's Hospital, a local charity, auctioned off the land that now forms Queen Street, the two plots were set aside for a church and a manse. The auction documents give a sketch of the proposed frontages of the church, its manse and other buildings.
“Stirling Methodist Church is a very old building that has been renovated several times,” explains Revd Walter Atwood from the Green Team of Stirling Methodist Church. The last renovation in the 1990s brought a surprise as, under the platform, was a huge granite rock that rose several inches above the proposed floor level. It took the members the best part of an evening to drag the rock out of the back door where it can still be seen! Many of the local houses have similar hidden features where they have had to build around the natural rocks.
Beyond the architecture, Stirling Methodist Church also has a rich social history. It was the home to Women’s Aid in its early days and offered a meeting place to Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
Stirling Methodist Church is very much involved in the local economy: they have supported many organisations and were instrumental in setting up 'Start Up Stirling', a charity bringing together several churches that provided start-up packs for those moving into their first home after a period of homelessness. These packs included bedding, pots and pans, microwaves, laptops and food packages – which later developed into the food bank. This project has become much bigger than the church and now has its own large warehouse on a nearby industrial estate. The church has also been involved with Fairtrade Stirling.
“This church has been very active on a range of fronts,” adds Walter. “We have worked to highlight issues around climate change and anti-fracking, joining with Friends of the Earth Stirling and Friends of the Earth Scotland.
The anti-fracking campaign was initiated by the Methodist Church in Sterling. They started by holding public meetings and, a few years ago, when the Stirling Council was going to vote in favour of fracking, Methodist Church members lobbied every councillor and talked to them directly. “They told us ‘You have persuaded us’ and changed their vote from 100% for to 100% against it”, remembers Walter.
The congregation was also involved in divestment from fossil fuels with public meetings and the Falkirk Local Authority Pension Fund campaign. It is an endless struggle. “A lot of politicians are looking four or five years down the line for the next election, and some are worried of losing the fossil fuel industry vote. They get away with doing nothing,” regrets Walter.
Stirling Methodist Church has been recognised as a leading active church in the environmental movement, by both the circuit and synod, and for being the church that initiated the memorial to their circuit calling on the Methodist Conference to divest from fossil fuel.
“These activities are not separate from the spiritual life of the church but deeply embedded in our worship,” concludes Walter.