St John’s Kirk benefits from the support of a fairly unique body – the Trust for St John’s Kirk of Perth – whose aims are to preserve, maintain and improve – Perth’s oldest surviving building.
Set up in 1951, the Trust is responsible for securing the funds required to secure all necessary repairs, carry out improvements and meet future needs of an ever-changing congregation, tourist and civic “customer” base.
In recent times, the Trust has been the funding force behind major £2.75m refurbishment works to create a venue fit – not only for its primary role of worship – but also for the multi-functional demands of a city centre building of such import and appeal.
And, with an eye to the future, the Trust faces increasing demands for funds to carry out its duties and safeguard this historic gem for generations to come.
So who are these Trustees charged with such a responsibility? Let’s take a look first at the origins of this vital organisation.
When the great restoration of the church was completed in 1926 - creating the city and county's memorial to the men who fell in the First World War - no funds were left for the upkeep of the building.
It was then that the ownership of the building passed from the Town Council to the General Trustees of the Church of Scotland, along with all legal responsibility for maintenance.
The General Trustees are, in name, owners of most of the buildings of the Church of Scotland but they have no money with which to execute repairs: the obligation to look after these falls on congregations. This meant that, for around a quarter of a century, all the outlays on the fabric of St John's had to be met out of ordinary income. It also meant, in practice, that such outlays were equal only to keeping out wind and water and, at a cost of £200, keeping the weather-cock from falling into the street.
Approaches to the then His Majesty’s Office of Works to declare St John’s Kirk an “Ancient Monument” and take over the responsibility of the building – as they had with Glasgow Cathedral – proved fruitless.
And so the Kirk Session turned their eyes to the East and looked at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh where the fabric of the building (also not then an Ancient Monument) was financed by a body known as the Cathedral Board.
After careful thought, the Session decided to take this Board as a model for its own Trust.
A constitution for the Trust was approved by the Session, the General Trustees, and the congregation. Its members would include the Lord Lieutenant, the Lord Provost, the Convener of the County, the Sheriff Principal and the Sheriff Substitute. All of these not only expressed their willingness to serve, but encouraged the Session with a lively interest in their proposals. There were also to be representatives from the Presbytery, the General Trustees, the Ancient Monuments' Board for Scotland and the Royal Scottish Academy, as well as the Kirk Session.
The Trustees have the power to co-opt not more than six additional persons as Trustees. Each co-opted Trustee shall hold office for a period of five years from the date of his or her appointment (and may thereafter be co-opted for further terms of five years).
The object of the Trust is also very clear...
“Raise, receive, hold and administer funds for the purpose of the preservation, maintenance and improvement of the fabric, fittings, furnishings and equipment (including the bells) of St John's Kirk of Perth, and the chapels, vestry and other accommodation contained in the said Kirk and also the memorials and windows in the said Kirk.”
The current Chairman of the Trust is Perthshire journalist and PR consultant Maureen Young who, alongside secretary Charlie Fraser and treasurer Douglas Calderwood, heads up an enthusiastic and hard-working Board of Trustees determined to meet whatever challenges the demands of such a role may present.
St John’s Kirk is a demanding charge – the continual upkeep of the ancient building which has stood sentinel over Perth’s city centre for centuries proves costly. As one expensive preservation or improvements projects ends, another looms, and the demands on the vital work of the Trust increase as they work to meet their historic and ongoing purpose – to secure the future of St John’s Kirk.