Although we are sometimes called “The English Church”, our historical roots are in fact Scottish and can be traced back to Celtic Christianity. We were at one time part of the parish church of Dumfries – St. Michael’s. Though the earliest written records of this church go back to 1190, it would appear that a Christian church has stood on the present St. Michael’s site for over 1300 years.
After the Reformation, in Dumfries, in 1690, a small company of people, who wished to remain faithful to Episcopalian principles, left St. Michael’s Church and continued to meet as an “Episcopal Society.” In 1754 the first Episcopal Chapel in Dumfries was built. Octagonal in shape and accommodating up to 200 worshippers, it was in Lochmabengate (now English Street).
A new church was built on the corner of Buccleuch Street and Castle Street and opened in 1817. Although dedicated to St. Mary it was never so called by the general public of Dumfries, who always referred to it as “the English Chapel.” It was built in the neo-classical style with galleries, and had one of the most controversial innovations in worship of the times – an organ, being the only church in Dumfries to have one.
The present building
In 1862 St. Mary’s Chapel was sold to the Wesleyan Methodists for £800 (it is now the Robert the Bruce pub). The chosen site for the new church at Lovers Walk was in the Church of Scotland parish of St. Mary’s, hence the new church had to be called something different: St. John the Evangelist. Inspired by the “catholic” side of Anglicanism, St John’s began to use more ceremonial in worship, greater use of candles and crosses and priests wearing vestments at the Holy Communion. From this inspiration, a new style of church architecture was introduced – “gothic revival” with its high roofs, pointed arches, long naves and ornate chancels. The present church hall was added in 1925 for the growing number of church organisations for men, women and children. The period from 1969 to 1999 was one of radical transformation. The vestry which originally just discussed matters of finance and property, has had a wider remit, looking more after the spiritual needs of the church and community.
In 1996, the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and the Synod of the Methodist Church in Scotland, entered into a new relationship, and pledged that they would work more closely together wherever it was possible. Following on from that, in the following year (1997) St John’s in Dumfries appointed a Methodist presbyter as Associate Minister. As a number of people in the congregation were Methodists, or had been in the past, it seemed entirely appropriate that this should happen. It was a ground-breaking appointment for both denominations, and opened the way for further commitment on both sides in other parts of Scotland.
For further reading:
“History of Dumfries” by William McDowell, Published by T.C.Farries & Co., Dumfries 1986
“St John’s Church, Dumfries – Centenary Book” by Jean Maxwell, Published by Robert Dinwiddie & Co., Dumfries, 1968
“Changes and Chances: A history of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Dumfries 1969-1999” by Dr Doris Hatvany, Published by the Vestry of St John’s Church, 2003
These books are all available in the local studies section of the Ewart Public Library, Dumfries.
Adapted from an article by Revd Ian Meredith