Sunday Morning !1:00 am
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Although there was a church in Prestonpans from the 12th Century, all trace of it was lost in 1544 when English troops harried the Scottish LowIands. This was the revenge of Henry VIII for the refusal of the Scottish Parliament to allow the infant Queen Man to marry the Prince of Wales (later Edward VI) when they were aged two and seven respectively!
The story of the present Church begins with the appointment of the first minister. John Davidson. in 1595. Davidson was a fearless champion of the reformed faith in the generation after John Knox. He was an outspoken man. fit for his stormy time. He decried bishops, denounced those in the Church who took scats in Parliament and boldly criticised King James VI. He was briefly imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle in 1601 and to the end of his days forbidden to leave his parish.
He began to build the first Preston Church in 1596. The two local Iandowners. Lord Hamilton of Preston and John Kerr of Newbattle were reluctant to provide for a parish church. Eventually Hamilton donated the site but little financial support and Davidson built, largely at his own expense. the Church, manse and school where Latin. Greek and Hebrew were taught. This tightfistedness continued into the 17th Century when several ministers died deep in debt but this was also the time of the Covenanters who swore to defend the Presbyterian faith and its independence from the state. Among them were three Preston Church ministers whose adherence to the Covenant deprived them of their office.The eighteenth century brought the Jacobite rebellions and the Battle of Prestonpans said to be watched by the minister of the day. Rev William Carlyle (father of "Jupiter"), from the church tower. In 1774 the church was extensively rebuilt and the present shape of the cast-west aisles emerged. Galleries were also added and this meant that between 900-1000 people were able to be seated.
The next century saw the Disruption which rocked the Church of Scotland in 1843 and was caused mainly over the right of congregations to call their own ministers. The mass walk-out from St Andrew's Church in George Street, Edinburgh was repeated to a certain degree in Prestonpans when William Cunningham. minister at that time. left the Kirk with a large proportion of his congregation and established the Free Church in Prestonpans. Preston Church continued to flourish and in 1891 the north aisle and the cast porch were added during the ministry of Rev J Struthers who was there for forty five years and whose research is the source of much of the information on Preston.
1929 saw the United Free Churches re-united with the Church of Scotland and then in 1981 came the union of Preston and Grange thus creating the new name. Prestongrange Church, during the ministry of Rev Colin Morton. 1988 brought the First lady minister. Rev Moira Herkes. and 1994 saw Rev Robert Simpson and his family arrive in Prestonpans.
This was just in time to start the celebrations of the 400th anniversary in 1995 and one occasion was a visit from the then Moderator of the General Assembly. Very Rev James Harkness who dedicated a marble plaque on Sunday. 7 January. 1996.
A lot of events within living memory were recalled during the celebrations. The gigantic task. all with voluntary labour of course, of cleaning and scraping of the pews to bring them back to their natural colour. Then there was the making of folding tables for the hall. a total of twenty and nearly all still in use! Sunday School picnics were by horse-drawn cart in the early 1900s. up to the grounds of Prestongrange House. In the 1920s the tram was used to go to Messelburgh and in the Fifties and sixties a whole train was hired to go to wonderful faraway places such as Peebles. North Berwick and BurntisIand. Photographs of the Drama Club's productions were on show and memories of the Hall were recalled, the Sunday School parties, the Kinderspiels, musical evenings, wedding receptions. pantomimes. Scout concerts and Jumble Sales, and the meetings of the Woman's Guild, the Brownies and the Guides.
There were visits and messages from former ministers of Preston and Grange Churches and all had one wish in common and that was to look to the filture, to the next four hundred years and this led to the gathering together of items for a space capsule.
Ian Wallace compiled the list which includes a photo of the current Session and one of the Sunday School, and letters from the children telling what their lives were like in the year 1995. There were letters from members and one from Rev Robert Simpson with a message to the minister of the future along with a few Communion Tokens and copies of the hymn book and the booklet produced for the 1995 anniversary. These were all sealed in plastic bags and placed in a slainless steel box supplied by GGS Engineering of Macmerry, and then Kenny Frame bricked it up in a hole in the churchyard. Exactly where is known only to a few. If and when ever opened it is hoped that the Church will still be here and still have a central part to play in the community of Prestonpans.
In the next milleiiniuni the changing social pressures associated with Sundays that have characterised the eighties and nineties are likely to continue. Parishes grow larger, congregations proportionately smaller and there is a developing trend towards a more relaxed approach to worship which sliould appeal to the young people. The future is in our young people and the fact that our Church has celebrated 400 years bears witness to all the "young people" who have gone before and worked for "their Kirk".
There are tours available of the church and graveyard which can be arranged by contacting either Session Clerk or Minister.
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