Having found the new optimism more mundane than the image it projected of itself, I returned towards the jet d’eau to set off round the perimeter of its “parish” in the hope of finding whatever might remain of the earlier optimisms it had displaced. My perambulation uncovered no less than thirteen ghosts, relics and living examples.
St. John’s Church, Small’s Wynd Now demolished. Built in 1843 as Dundee’s first “free” church. Site bought by the university and the church closed in 1884. The site is now occupied by the Old Medical School encountered on my Journey to the Centre of Enquiry.
- Dundee West Church, Perth Road. Built 1882-4 as St. John’s Free Church for the congregation of the old St. John’s in Small’s Wynd. Now Church of Scotland. An imposing example of Victorian Gothic with a soaring spire clearly designed to make the most of its location despite the somewhat cramped site. Exterior details include depictions of biblical patriarchs Martin Luther, John Knox and Thomas Chalmers.
- Gate Church International (formerly St. Mark’s), Perth Road. Another tall-spired Victorian Gothic pile built 1868-9. On the Gate Church website, I read that “while ultimately it is by faith that we know that Christ is risen, this belief is actually supported by the evidence“. They seem to have missed the obvious: if the evidence is compelling, then there is no need for faith. Unsurprisingly therefore, the evidence is far from compelling. In fact, as far as I could see, the “evidence” they cite comes down to the word of the bible and the word of those who believe in it. An exercise in circular reasoning if ever there was one.
- Ryehill Church, Perth Road/Mid Wynd. Built 1880-9. Notable for the elaborate Romanesque main doorway which somewhat upstages the rest of the building. Less imposing, although arguably better-proportioned since losing its cupola when converted into residential apartments in the 1980s.
- Grace Church, West Wynd. A bit of a cheat, this one, as it’s the church office, not the actual church. On their website, I read their statement of belief which says that “Our human logic, nice ideas, good intentions and the way we interpret the world would all produce a flawed understanding“. While there is indeed no good reason to believe they necessarily should produce a perfect understanding, there is, equally, nothing to say that our interpretations of the world are not amenable to critical review and continuous piecemeal improvement. Nevertheless, Grace Church goes on to say that “The Bible is the Word of God and is totally true…It is not a book to be read disinterestedly as if it were on a par with any other book“. It is not at all clear why, given the possibility of continuously improving our own understanding, we would read the bible uncritically, especially as the bible, being finite, will often leave us uninformed.
- St. Peter’s Free Church, St. Peter’s Street. Built 1838. Sober design with spire and adjacent graveyard. The minister’s blog often attempts conflation of Christian ethics with conservative politics. A fawning article about a conservative politician recommends his political positions in terms of his catholic faith. A lengthy series on the supposed “death of Christian Europe” (code for Muslim immigration) limits everything that is desirable to that which is Christian and then recommends, unsurprisingly, that another Christian reformation is the only way to save “Christian” Europe. Meanwhile, those of his readers inspired by his discussion of the ‘Muslim immigration problem’ may have become motivated to enact other responses…
- McCheyne Memorial Church, Perth Road. Yet another high-spired example of Victorian Gothic dating from 1870. Named after the first minister of St. Peter’s, it closed as a church in 1999 and is now in private ownership apparently with plans to convert it into residential accommodation.
- Logie and St. John’s (Cross) Church, Blackness Avenue/Shaftesbury Terrace. Built 1911-14 in Edwardian Romanesque style. Church of Scotland. This church apparently lost a minister and half its congregation in 2013 over the Church of Scotland’s decision to accept same-sex marriage and homosexual ministers.
- Russell Congregational Chapel, Ure Street. Built in 1869. By the early 1980s it had become known as the “Caledonian Halls” and was derelict. Now integrated into the adjacent Whitehall Theatre.
- St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, Wilkie’s Lane. Built 1873. On the church website, the parish priest welcomes visitors “to our multicultural community“.
- Al-Maktoum Mosque. A testament to inward investment having been built in 2013 at a reported cost of £1.35 million from the Dubai-based Al Maktoun Foundation. The mosque is apparently part of the foundation’s Al-Maktoum College development and is described as “a heartfelt contribution to the city, the community at large and to multiculturalism“.
Apparently, the local Muslims and Roman Catholics are more optimistic about the prospects of multiculturalism than is the presbyterian minister of St. Peter’s.
- St Mary Magdalene, Blinshall Street. Built 1854 and once Scotland’s largest Episcopal congregation. Closed as a church in 1952 and is now fitted out internally as a climbing centre.
Chalmer’s Church, Hunter Street. Built 1854. When it closed as a church is uncertain, but the building was finally demolished in 1981 along with what was left of Hunter Street. The present day Hunter Street does not follow the exact path of the original and passes over the site of the church.
Of the thirteen sites found, therefore, two were reduced to mere ghosts and another four had been repurposed to secular use. Only one did not predate the Centre of Enquiry and that one reflected exotic influences. Among the surviving six, there may be some that individually claim to be growing, but it is hard to tell whether that reflects any real growth in adherence to Christianity or only reconcentration of existing adherents in some centres at the expense of others. This excursion, also, tells me nothing of if or how such adherents reconcile their values with those of the Centre of Enquiry. That is for another day.
This post is Part Five of a Series.