The Rorison Story


There are several reasons why I feel that the story of the Rorison Renovation project should be told. The main one is that it is a story worth telling because it bears testimony to the vision, determination and faith of God’s people, also their generosity and that of a number of folk outside the congregation. Much more than that however it bears testimony to the sovereign grace and providence of God. Significant things do not happen in the church by accident. God not only has a vested interest in our work as a church because it is his work and his Son’s church but he is the driving force behind it and must be given the glory for any “successes” we have. The project represents what is possibly the greatest financial challenge ever to face Dalserf Parish Church of Scotland congregation certainly within the lifetime of any current member.

Another reason to tell the story is that we have added a number of new members and adherents to the congregation who know little or nothing of the background to the renovation. The same applies to people outside the congregation and may also apply to some long established members whose understanding of some aspects of the story owe more to rumour and gossip than to fact. The earlier controversy sparked off by the project has largely died down and is not likely at this stage to be rekindled. We are able at this stage with the benefit of a panoramic perspective on the project to view it more objectively.

I wrote most of the story in 2007 but decided the time was not right then to circulate it. With the Rededication of Rorison imminent I feel this is the appropriate time for the story to be made available beyond those who have been directly involved. Two elements I have tried to minimise if not avoid altogether are speculation and criticism. I have scrutinised Kirk Session and Renovation Committee minutes, correspondence, Dalserf Newsletters and other communications and reports in order to verify dates, facts and figures.

Cameron McPherson
March 2009

The history of the building

A committee was formed in March 1877 to consider the erection of a new building in the upper section of the Parish of Dalserf, services having begun to be held in Shawsburn school the previous year. Whatever the reason for it, nothing appears to have happened until 1888 when Dr. Rorison (minister of Dalserf from 1850 to 1907) “suggested the construction of a “Mission Hall” and the Session agreed to call a meeting from the pulpit of parties interested”. There was evidently little further delay as in 1889 the building initially called Dalserf Mission Hall (occasionally Rorison Mission Hall) was erected. In 1896 it was renamed Dalserf New Church. It was at a later stage that it was called Rorison Memorial Church the suggestion having been made by Hon. James H.C. Hozier son of Lord Newlands and Member of Parliament for South Lanarkshire. The Hoziers were members of Dalserf Church being its most generous benefactors. James Hozier “gifted a fair proportion of the cost of the extensions to Rorison Church”. To begin with the building must have been used for some “social” events because the records state that “for tax considerations it was decided to limit the activities in the Hall to Services, Sunday School etc.”. In 1912 the premises were extended, presumably by the addition of the hall, kitchen, toilets and Church Officers House. It is the renovation of this extended building which is the subject of this booklet. In the mid 80’s the church officers house which was no longer occupied was restructured and renovated to provide extra accommodation in the form of three rooms the larger of which was used for Kirk Session Meetings. This area of the building developed dry rot several years ago which was eradicated as part of the first phase of the renovation. When I came to Dalserf in 1982, while Rorison was evidently needed to some extent, its size was greater than was necessary for its use. It was used for the Rorison branch (one of three) of the Sunday school, for the Woman’s Guild every second Wednesday evening, for six to eight Kirk Session Meetings a year , for a weekly Sunday service with at best thirty in attendance. It was used for the Induction Social and certainly on that occasion every square inch of the church and hall was utilised. It became more necessary to have a building of the proportions of Rorison when in April 1983 the First Dalserf Girls’ Brigade Company was established and then in March 1984 the First Dalserf Boys’ Brigade Company was re-established. Youth activities require space, and the dimensions of the church and hall were now being utilised to the full to facilitate the youth work of the congregation.

Looking at the options

It all began at a Kirk Session Meeting on 9th. September 1999. Our Fabric Convenor David Manson, architect, challenged the Session regarding the condition and use of Rorison. The building was clearly vital to the work of the congregation especially amongst the youth but had been neglected in many respects over a number of years. Work tended to be carried out only in response to emergencies, in other words “patching up” rather than systematic maintenance. The result was a building in generally poor condition. In addition to this, as David pointed out, a building erected in the Victorian age is not necessarily best designed for use at the end of the twentieth century. The first suggestion in response to this challenge was to sell Rorison to a developer (an option which we had not appreciated was viable until David assured us it was) and erect a new hall in Dalserf village. This was pursued with discussions being held with relevant parties including the Planning Department and the Presbytery who were particularly concerned about our removing premises from Ashgill to Dalserf. The final result was that it was considered that Dalserf village was not a suitable location for a replacement for Rorison. The possibility of building on another site in Ashgill was investigated. Regardless of whether we sold or renovated Rorison it was considered necessary to investigate the state of the foundations on account of old mine workings in the vicinity of the building which had caused problems in the past.

The Session approved the spending of £3000 for Hume Geo- Environmental to carry out investigative work involving drilling at various points around the building. Although a grant was available for this from the General Trustees the Session decided not to apply for it since we were advised that it may prejudice an application for a grant for the building itself. The result of the investigation was favourable, the foundations were considered to be stable. The search for an alternative site in Ashgill was proving unfruitful. The door seemed to be closing on relocation and efforts were being concentrated on renovation as the best answer.

The Rorison Renovation Committee is born

On 27th June 2000 the Kirk Session set up the Rorison Renovation Committee appointing several members and elders of the congregation to serve on it. These included the leaders of the organizations using Rorison. John Murray was to be the convenor. At a later stage the Session approved the addition of several other members with particular expertise. From the beginning the Renovation Committee reported on the progress of the project to every meeting of the Kirk Session. Our Fabric Convenor David Manson was to be the architect for the project. On 22nd. August 2000 the plans having been drawn up, the proposals for the renovation were shared with the Session. With the exception of minor alterations these are the plans which have now been followed in the case of phase one and are anticipated for phase two. The main features were to be – reslating, including redesigning of the roof above the kitchen and toilet area; a new worship area in the former church officers house; new disabled-friendly toilets and entrance; new heating system ; new windows and rewiring. The plans were circulated amongst the organizations using Rorison who then reported back to David Manson. On 26 September 2000 David reported to the Session on the feedback from the organizations who had proposed some minor changes such as ramps for disabled access. Before we could take the matter any further it was necessary to have an indication of the cost of the renovation. On 30th. October 2000 David Manson informed the Session that the Quantity Surveyor (QS) had estimated the cost at £250,000 plus VAT plus professional fees. I was personally shocked not expecting a figure anywhere near that. Surprisingly no elder suggested even a scaling down to a less ambitious goal and so the project continued to be pursued. The Presbytery Property Committee instructed us to investigate whether demolishing the present building and erecting a new one might not be a cheaper and better option. The figure given by the Quantity Surveyor for a building to replace Rorison in terms of area and facility would have been £450,000 although we are now of the opinion that this could have been done for much less. From the earliest stages we had been in communication with the Presbytery regarding the project since no work on this scale could have proceeded without their agreement. Before Presbytery give approval to a project they require assurance that the Kirk Session itself has approved the project and that the application is coming officially from the Kirk Session in the form of a declaration to that effect. Although there had been no counter-motions or amendments thus far neither had there been any formal decision taken by the Session by way of approval to proceed with the project. This was done on 29th. November 2000 the decision being unanimous.

Dealings with the Presbytery

The Presbytery Property Committee after several meetings and conversations turned our application down pending further information viz. the relative cost of rebuilding as opposed to renovation (as mentioned above); the present and future use of the building and “confirmation of the hoped for financial package and how this is to be funded”. In my answer to them I said the following: “This is a venture of faith. We need this building. it requires a great deal of work (1) To prevent serious and rapid deterioration particularly as a result of dry rot (2) To reduce hazards particularly to children and young people and the elderly. (3) To provide appropriate facilities for the disabled. (4) To make the building more inviting, warmer, drier and thus enhance its potential as a tool for mission. Its renovation is not a luxury but a necessity if the gospel is to continue to be spread effectively within the parish of Dalserf”. In spite of the vagueness of my answer to them regarding the funding of the project – that in addition to grants and fund raising we might ask the congregation for pledges the committee agreed to present the project to a full meeting of the Presbytery for approval. Eight days before that meeting it suddenly struck me that we had never actually worked out any kind of coherent strategy for carrying through our bold proposals. Venture of faith or not, we needed a business plan. What jolted me in this respect was the prospect of awkward questions being asked from the floor of the Presbytery which would have no convincing answers and leave us looking rather silly. A Kirk Session meeting had been arranged for the next day which was fortunate in one sense but unfortunate in the sense that there was no time for a meeting of the Renovation Committee. I realised that I urgently needed to sit down before the Session meeting and think through the questions which we needed to answer. This was done with a view to having a strategy which would not only satisfy any inquisitive Presbyters on the following Tuesday but even more, for our own sake, begin to add some flesh to the skeleton of our plans.

The means to the end

Would we do the work in stages or all at once taking out a loan? Where could the money come from and how much might we expect from each source? The answer to the first question would be clear cut, the answer to the other two would be largely educated guesswork. I have to confess I did wonder myself up to this point where the money would come from and had to satisfy myself that it was at least possible to raise such a large sum of money. The time was overdue to give the question serious consideration if we were serious about the project. It was obvious that a large amount would have to come from the congregation not just to make up the shortfall from other sources but also to qualify for grants. At the Session meeting on 12th. June 2001, I presented a suggested scenario with different numbers of members giving different amounts which involved 40% of the congregation giving an average of £4 per week to the project over five years, the equivalent of every member giving £1.60 per week. I suggested £50,000 in grants, although I was hoping for and expecting more than that. While on the one hand I wanted to encourage the congregation that the project was possible I did not want them being given a false sense of security – depending on grants which we may not get; hence my limiting that figure to £50,000. I suggested we may achieve £25,000 from fund raising. Also included was £30,000 from the Walker Fund and a potential £20,000 from the sale of redundant pewter and silver communion ware. The total took us close to the sum needed.

The Session agreed to our attempting all the work at the same time with whatever loan might be necessary and that a letter be sent out to members inviting them to make a pledge for five years. The sale of the pewter and silver has never been seriously debated. It was never intended of course that a loan would be taken out other than on the basis of assured income.

The following week the Presbytery gave their approval “on the nod” without any further questions being asked. There seemed to be no good reason why we should delay the process and the letter was sent out as soon as possible thereafter.

Panic attacks

A few days after the invitation to members for pledges was sent I began hearing reports that some members were complaining that they had not realised the project was going ahead and in some cases were unhappy either with the project itself or with being “expected” to contribute. This put an entirely different complexion on our approach. I immediately realised the need for a congregational meeting about the project in order for the Session to hear members comments and answer their questions. With the exception of one or two cautionary remarks these were the first negative comments which had been expressed since the renovation had first been suggested. I have to confess that I myself undoubtedly added unwittingly to the initial element of panic by presenting the need in the starkest terms “most of the money would have to come from us”. In the letter I also said that the money would have to be borrowed from the Trustees. What I did not say and wish I had was that money would only be borrowed on the basis of assured income and not without knowing where it might come from. This would not have been permitted by the Presbytery anyway but members were not necessarily to know that. If I had envisaged opposition, of which there was no evidence previously, everything would have been done differently. I assumed that we were dealing with a congregation who were largely sympathetic – how wrong I was in respect of a large section of the congregation and even as it transpired some elders. The task now was as far as possible for the Session to pacify and gain the support of the objectors. I called a meeting of the Kirk Session immediately after the service the first Sunday thereafter and proposed that a Congregational meeting be held after the service on 22 July, which was agreed to. A letter giving information about the project written jointly by David Manson and me was sent to members beforehand. This meeting gave members an opportunity to air their views and me an opportunity to exhort the congregation to realise that even if we ultimately fall short of the whole project we ought to aim as high as we can. As feared the meeting revealed substantial opposition to the project. This was a time of great discouragement for those who were enthusiastic about the project. Some of us wondered if the project would ever get any further. Why did I or any other member of the Session for that matter not think of interacting with the congregation in this way at an earlier stage? The following is the answer I gave to this question in a follow-up letter to the meeting of 22 July sent to all members.

With hindsight we would have held such a meeting at an earlier stage, but I would like to point out that in almost two years of discussion about this project the calling of such a meeting has never been suggested, either by any member of the Session or the congregation until recently when the financial appeal was circulated. Apart from the AGM, congregational meetings are rare in Dalserf as constitutionally the Kirk Session take decisions on behalf of the congregation and the concurrence of the congregation is not automatically required. Obviously it makes sense for the Session to interact with the congregation in such major matters. It has taken the response to the financial appeal however to alert us to our shortcomings in this respect. The progress of the project has been reported in the Newsletter and at the Annual Congregational Meeting and commented on from the pulpit and no objections were ever voiced.

Another meeting was arranged on 24 September 2001 where David Manson gave a presentation on the project and further interaction took place between members of the congregation and David, myself and members of the Renovation committee. It was felt that the presentation should be repeated specifically for parishioners who were not members of the congregation and also for church members who had been unable to attend the first presentation. This was done on 28 November although only one non member attended. A further opportunity for airing of views on the project was provided by the Annual congregational meeting on 12 March 2002.

Some members expressed their misgivings verbally at meetings some in letters, some through their elder or directly to me.

The nature of the criticisms

The following are some of the criticisms expressed and how they were answered.

Some criticisms were aimed purely at the financial aspect fearing that the project was beyond the means of the congregation. My answer was to present figures from other congregations who had successfully embarked on major fabric projects showing the total cost in relation to the size of the congregation, their normal income and the amount they had to contribute themselves. On the basis of these figures there was absolutely no cause to say that we were being unrealistic. Another point I made was that it was bad business practice as well as bad theology to limit hope for future success by past levels of achievement. Some criticisms suggested that we were being extravagant even foolhardy. My answer here was to point out that the work was necessary for the comfort and safety of everyone using the building particularly the young and the elderly and some of it was required by law under the Disability Discrimination Act. In addition we should do all we can to make our buildings as inviting as possible to maximise our missionary efforts. We try to achieve the highest standards we can for ourselves and our families, in the same way, even more so indeed, we ought to give God the best not the least that we can. That is not extravagance it is devotion for God. As far as the project being foolhardy is concerned admittedly sometimes it is hard from the outside to discern the difference between faith and rashness. Both involve taking action before receiving confirmation of success. The difference is that rashness is acting on impulse, faith is acting on trust that God will supply our needs. Implicit in faith is the conviction that the action concerned is right rather than just desired.

Some fears expressed were based on misunderstanding, for example “Are we not going to hand on a burden of debt to future generations?” This was easily answered by pointing out that no loan would be taken out beyond what we are sure we can repay, in other words we will not spend beyond our means. Another question was “What do you say to elderly folk who are reluctant to make a pledge because they don’t know if they will survive long enough to pay it off ? The answer given was that the same is true of any of us regardless of age and not to worry about leaving the church in debt but if still not reassured take a pledge for only two or three years.

Other criticisms were aimed primarily at the building itself: “We don’t need such a large building . . . we ought to demolish and build something smaller. . . other congregations manage with smaller premises”. The answer given to this was that the youth organizations require the space we have and use it to the full, they would be unduly hampered by a reduction in size. Also some occasional events such as ceilidhs and concerts have required all the space we have which although adequate is fairly modest. Although it is true that some congregations manage with less space than we have, many have a great deal more space.

It was also reported that some felt that since they neither lived in Ashgill nor used Rorison themselves the cost of the renovation should be borne by those who did live in Ashgill and did use the building. The answer to this is that every member of the congregation has an equal responsibility for the work of the congregation regardless of where they live or their particular involvement in its life and worship. What we give is for the common good not just for individual benefit.

Yet another question was “Is it right that the church organizations should drive the project?” The answer given was “The project is firmly under the control of the Kirk Session who recognise that it is only sensible to be guided by those who are in the best position to understand the value of the premises”. It was also implied that since youth organizations are declining it was not worth spending a lot of money on a building for them when they may not exist in a few years time. To have adopted that philosophy would be tantamount to planning for decline rather than doing all we can to reverse it. At that point our own uniformed organizations were in fact thriving and showing little sign of declining. It was further suggested that the uniformed organizations might use the local community halls rather than have the burden of providing accommodation placed on the shoulders of the congregation. This is a sensible option which congregations ought to pursue as far as possible. There is no point in congregations having to spend money on buildings when appropriate accommodation is already available in the community at an economic rate. In our own parish however, the community halls are already so fully used that such an option is ruled out on that account alone apart from the question of the suitability of the accommodation.

Aiming for the Project

A particularly notable even amazing feature of the project is that in spite of scepticism on the part of a number of members, many calls to abandon the project, a number of heated exchanges (I confess I am not guiltless in this respect) and private misgivings on the part of some elders, at no time did the Kirk Session deviate from an official position of unanimous support for the project in its entirety. Less than two months after it first became evident that there was opposition to the project, on 29 August 2001, the Session was given a fresh opportunity to modify or even depart altogether from the project but the decision was again unanimous “aim for the project”. In the latter half of 2004 by which time we felt we had exhausted the grant application process and it seemed that the total amount we would have to spend on the project fell short of the total required, the Session agreed to the work being done in two stages. The first would include reslating of the roof, the creation of the new sanctuary in the area affected by dry rot and new toilets. It was decided that a fresh appeal should be made to the congregation for support and that prior to that another congregational meeting should be held to bring members up to date on the project. At this time there was also a revisiting of the discussion about the relative merits of a new building as opposed to renovation even within the Renovation Committee. This congregational meeting was held on 23 January 2005 and was chaired by David Alexander at that time convener of the Presbytery’s Parish Planning Committee. Also present was Robin Marwick the Presbytery’s Property consultant who had carried out the Presbytery’s five-yearly professional survey a couple of months previously. In his summing up Mr. Alexander concluded that there was general agreement amongst the congregation of the need for a church presence in Ashgill but that the question of renovation versus a new building was unresolved and required further discussion and decision by the Session. The Session met two days later and having discussed the issues arising from the meeting it was once again unanimously agreed to proceed with the project without amendment. The reasons given were: (a) a new building of adequate size would not be affordable (b) Being a listed building there is no guarantee that permission would be given for its demolition. (c) The long period of time involved in the erection of a new building would be disastrous for the youth organizations. (d) A strong desire on the part of some members of the church and community to retain at least the familiar facade of the Rorison building.

Presbytery endorsement

The project had a significant influence on the retaining of our status as an independent congregation. Larkhall was one of the first areas the Presbytery considered under a new strategy to decide in advance what should happen to a congregation in the event of a vacancy occurring – should it be united or linked with another congregation or congregations or allowed to retain its present status? The report on the Larkhall area churches was given at the Presbytery meeting on 3 September 2002 our congregation having been cited to appear in our interests. The report stated that it was the aim of the Presbytery to reduce the number of charges in Larkhall from the present three to one when all three become vacant. Dalserf on the other hand was to be given full status in the event of a vacancy the following three reasons being given to support the decision: (1) New growth indicated by 44 new members by profession of faith over a ten year period (2) the strength of our youth organizations (3) our “ambitious” plans for Rorison.

On 28 October 2004 the five-yearly survey of church buildings was carried out by Robin Marwick the Presbytery’s Property Consultant. The survey identified £259,600 of work on Rorison, £189,000 of which represented work which was considered “urgent” and another £45,000 “essential”. Some of this is work which we had not included in the project, on the other hand some items included in the project did not feature in the survey! One thing was clear from this however, we were not being extravagant on the basis of the amount of money involved in the project. If we had not already been considering the condition of Rorison and acting upon it, faced with the survey report we would have been compelled to consider doing so or taking other measures such demolishing and rebuilding or dispensing with the use of the building altogether. Whatever we would have decided would almost certainly have caused a great deal of controversy and concern even panic. Mr. Marwick referred to the report as a “wake up call to the congregation”. The wake up call had really been given four and a half years earlier by David Manson when he called attention to the condition of Rorison and started the process which led to the renovation project. What the report did was to reinforce the necessity for major work on Rorison. In the providence of God the Rorison Renovation Project anticipated the Presbytery survey by three or four years so instead of panicking and wondering how we were going to answer the Presbytery regarding our addressing of the problem we were able simply to refer to the Rorison Renovation Project and the funding arrangements already in hand since most of the work was already included in the project.

Further endorsement of as well as financial help for the project was provided in 2006 when the Presbytery agreed to give us relief of £10,000 of our allocation to central funds provided the money was used directly for the Rorison project. In 2008 we were surprisingly given relief for another £10,000.

Rising to the challenge

The project was officially launched at the Sunday service in Dalserf on 25 November 2001 this was followed by a congregational lunch in Rorison.

It was only from the beginning of 2002 that the pledge campaign was seriously begun although the Session had agreed in September 2001 that “pledges could now be received the congregation having been well informed of the project”. Only 43 members made pledges but about the same number again took special envelopes which allowed for regular contributions on a more flexible basis. Disappointment has been expressed from the start, that more of the congregation did not commit themselves to contributing to the project. While the income from pledges certainly falls short of the amount initially hoped for, to put the matter in perspective an average of £23,000 has been generated by the congregation each year 2002 to 2006. That includes tax rebates but excludes interest and also the £20,000 from the Marion Walker Fund. As I have pointed out on one or two occasions a glance through the Church of Scotland Yearbook reveals that the amount we had been raising for the Rorison project over these years was more than the total ordinary income of some congregations larger than Dalserf ! In a letter to the General Trustees on 5 April 2002 seeking any grants that were available we estimated that we ourselves expected to be in a position to contribute £127,000 towards the project made up as follows:- pledges to the value of £74,000 (including gift aid); £20,000 from fund-raising; £14,500 in miscellaneous donations and other sources and £18,500 from the Marion Walker Fund. As at 31 March 2007 we were in fact able to contribute £159,495 to the project apart from any “outside” help.

The General Trustees who sent representatives to meet with us on several occasions were pleased with the project and indicated initially that we could expect £18,000 over 3 years (£6,000 per annum) plus a loan of up to £100,000. By June 2005 the grant had been increased to £10,000 per annum plus an additional £10,000 from a new source recently become available – the Alex and Margaret Todd Bequest.

Help from the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton

The committee had been concerned that while the car park at Rorison was sufficient to accommodate the number of cars present for all the normal weekly activities held in Rorison it was inadequate to cope with the number of cars present for special events such as concerts when there could be problems with congestion in Tinto View Road. It had been suggested that we contact the Duke of Hamilton, Scotland’s premier duke, whose Estate we understood the field adjacent to Rorison was part of. This suggestion was made as early as August 2002 but never followed through. By a strange coincidence contact was made directly from their Graces to us. One Saturday morning in June 2005 I received a phone call from the Duchess of Hamilton “out of the blue” regarding an entirely unrelated matter. She was very open and friendly which made it easy for me at the end of the conversation to raise the subject of the renovation of Rorison and the need for an extension to the car park involving either the use or the purchase of part of the field. She asked me to send drawings and details of the request and she would do what she could. Her final comment was to indicate that she and her husband would like to visit our parish sometime. “Sometime” arrived before anything was sent. I received a phone call from the Duke’s secretary to say that the Duke and Duchess were going to be on holiday in Peebles and wished to pay us a visit on the following Thursday. I immediately sent them a drawing and also a copy of “A Short Historical account of Dalserf Parish Church”. They spent about an hour at the manse and then had a look with David Manson and me at the piece of ground under discussion at Rorison. I took them down to see Dalserf Church before they left. The Duchess after some investigation informed us that the field does not in fact belong to the Hamilton and Kinneil Estate owned by the Duke but to the Estate owned by his brother, both offices being based at Lennoxlove. Nevertheless, the Duchess negotiated on our behalf and secured for us the (hopefully permanent) use of the section of the field adjacent to the car park as requested. Due to loss of land and therefore revenue there was a small annual cost involved which the Duchess herself offered to donate as a contribution to Dalserf Church each year.

The work begins at last

A whole assortment of reasons combined to prevent the project actually starting until May 2005 the main one being the necessity to wait until grants have been confirmed before beginning any work. The greatest delay in this regard was caused by the application for lottery funding which has been allowed to congregations since 2003. There are two sources of lottery funding – the Heritage Lottery Fund/Historic Scotland and the Community fund. This is a controversial matter. A number of church members feel that since the lottery itself is a social evil the General Assembly was inconsistent in permitting congregations to seek lottery based funding. The issue was discussed by the Session and put to the vote on 2 April 2003. There were eighteen elders present, twelve voted for and six against applying. The onerous task of preparing the application fell largely on the shoulders of David Manson although John Murray had carried out the painstaking work of gathering together a list of grant awarding bodies processing applications to them and dealing with replies.

By March 2004 we had been informed that no grant would be forthcoming from the Heritage lottery Fund/Historic Scotland and on 9 June 2004 John Murray informed the session that he felt that we had reached the end of the road with grant applications. In addition to the grants already mentioned other promises of grants were as follows:- £5000 from the Ferguson bequest, £10,000 from the Baird Trust (later reduced to £5000 for the first phase) £1000 from the Renfield Street Trust and £1350 from three other funds. We were now free to approach contractors.

All hands to the pump

A routine e-mail from the Presbytery Clerk proved to be providential in saving on the cost of the renovation. It was drawing the attention of ministers to the availability of help from Community Services – a euphemism for the employment of offenders (referred to as “Community Service helpers”) within the community as an alternative to prison. Some are unhappy with this system seeing it as a “soft option” particularly in the case of what would be regarded as fairly serious offences and consequently resent the system. Others are wary of having “criminals” around. Provided appropriate allowances are made and sensible precautions taken however I believe the church should be ready to utilise this service not just because it represents free labour but because if anyone should be open to accepting and accommodating offenders it is the church.

The demolition was started by volunteers from the church but very soon taken over by Community Services who did almost all of it. One of the “Community Service Helpers” was an experienced joiner who had been sentenced to well over 200 hours of community service although in my opinion his crime was not a particularly serious one. When he realised what we were doing he asked his supervisors if he could spend his hours on joinery work rather than labour. His supervisors were only too happy to agree and we were ecstatic because he had particular expertise in casement windows and made the windows in the new sanctuary . Another was a painter who painted all the rhones and gutters. Another squad erected a fence around the newly enlarged car park. It is fascinating to consider the kaleidoscopic array of help which has been freely offered to the project from church members and others. Admittedly in some cases the item or help did not strictly belong to the project but was for the Rorison building nevertheless. One member a company director had his firm make metal roof ventilation grills and also refurbish a large metal ventilation cap which sits on the roof of the hall. Jean McFarlane one of our dedicated lady elders made a large impressive banner to adorn the pulpit wall of the Sanctuary and also a pulpit fall from the same deep red velvet. One member purchased blinds for the kitchen toilets and sanctuary. An electrician whose mother is a member carried out some electrical work free of charge. A local skip hire firm (Lockhart) gave us three skips without charging. All the church organizations purchased vases to sit on the broad window sills of The Sanctuary. A clock, a security light and metal railings were also donated by members. A retired auctioneer has given his services for the auction every year. The project included thirty new beechwood framed upholstered chairs for The Sanctuary. The Session agreed to invite members to purchase one or more of these and the cost, around £1700, was met in this way. Local builder Sandy Barclay who was around the same time involved in building our new hall at Dalserf – Hamilton Hall, was selected as the contractor for all the work on phase one apart from the roof.

Memorial window

The smallest window in The Sanctuary is located immediately opposite the double entrance doors. From an early stage in the project the desirability of making this a stained glass window if and when funds allowed was discussed by the committee.

Dalserf congregation’s oldest member Mrs. Janet Murray, mother of John Murray convener of the Rorison Renovation Committee, died on 4 January 2007 aged one hundred and seven and three quarters. The family requested no floral tributes but invited anyone who wished to do so to give a donation to Dalserf Church. Nearly £2000 was received. This included a donation of £1000 from a friend in the USA. It was decided that this sum be divided equally between Rorison and Dalserf. At Rorison it was used to provide the stained glass window in The Sanctuary in memory of Mrs. Murray and also her son John who sadly and unexpectedly died on 24 August of the same year – an enormous loss to Dalserf Church and the Rorison Renovation Committee as well as to his wife Agnes, daughter Gillian, son in law Tim and grandson Tom. The window (depicted on front cover) echoes the image of the cross on Jean MacFarlanes banner and was created by Stephen Weir a young stained glass artist based in Glasgow. The work was divided into two phases The main items in the first phase were:- (1) Complete reslating of the whole building (the contractor being Dougan, Motherwell) (2) The restructuring of the former church officer’s house (more recently three committee rooms) along with the vestry to create the new worship area (the sanctuary), the store with a spacious loft and a small vestry cum interview room and a shower. The latter was largely to make it possible for groups such as a visiting Boys Brigade Company to use the premises for overnight accommodation. Underfloor heating was installed in the latter areas. (3) New toilets including a disabled toilet. (4) New side door and entrance ramp (5) repair of the leaded windows in the large hall and vestibule – carried out by Stephen Weir. The contractor for items (2) – (4) was local builder A. Barclay (Sandy).

Phase Two

A further grant of £10,000 from the Central Fabric Fund of the Church of Scotland along with the further relief of £10,000 on our payments to Central Funds added to over £20,000 left over from phase one enabled us to proceed with the second phase.

The main contractor for the second phase was Rosewood of Carluke. The flooring was supplied and fitted by McGarry Flooring. The second phase began with the installation of a new gas fired heating system in the two halls, toilets and corridor in the spring of 2008.

At the end of the summer work began on the two halls with the insulation of the roof space above each hall. This was a major undertaking in the case of the large hall since the panelling on the sloping part had to be removed and then replaced partly with new timber. The whole ceiling then had to be revarnished. The folding partition which for many years had not operated smoothly was carefully examined and painstakingly freed off. All the glass panels in the partition were replaced by safety glass. Six Titus Sport luminares each with four elements, replaced the ancient fragile globes in the large hall. Brightly coloured vinyl flooring was laid on the floor in both halls and in the corridor, being considered by the committee to be more practical than a timber floor. The windows in the small hall and new secondary glazing in the large hall have been put on hold pending the application of a grant in connection with the Wind Farm to be built in our parish.


Income to the project has been at least £223,500 as follows:- Pledges, donations, fund raising: £139,000, grants £42,350, remission of central church payments £20,000 , Marion Walker Fund (half) £20,500, donations for chairs £1700.

Some of this remains, almost enough to replace the windows in the small hall and the secondary glazing in the large hall (cost around £18,000). With the addition of the aforementioned grant being applied for and a further £5000 promised from the Baird Trust we would hope to fully cover the cost of the latter items and that of a number of other items also not envisaged in the project. Rather than wait until we have received this it was felt that we should proceed as soon as possible to have a formal rededication of the building.

At the beginning of “A Short Historical Account of Dalserf Parish Church” the author Andrew Cunningham quoted the following words from an old hymn used at the dedication of church buildings:-

Thy will was in the builders thought;
Thy hand unseen amidst us wrought;
Through mortal motive scheme and plan,
Thy wise eternal purpose ran.

How true these sentiments have proved to be as far as the Rorison Renovation Project is concerned. God’s hand was certainly unseen in the earlier stages otherwise there are many good folk who would have been more kindly disposed towards the project. Already however faith is being confirmed by sight as events have been proving the project to be a great blessing rather the burden which some feared it would be. That of course is the nature of faith which is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). In particular the Presbytery’s Professional survey at the end of 2004 identifying £234,000 of urgent and essential work at Rorison meant that the spending of a very large sum of money on Rorison was no longer just a choice on our part it was a pressing obligation unless we were to dispose of Rorison altogether and find ourselves with the prospect of having to produce a satisfactory replacement.

It is impossible to predict with any confidence what the future holds for a Church of Scotland congregation in these challenging and uncertain days; all we can say is that for the time being at least the Rorison Renovation Project has featured prominently in the decision to confer unrestricted status on the charge of Dalserf. Not that I believe that unrestricted status rather than the effective spreading of the gospel should be the goal of congregations but the latter goal is surely better served by the Rorison building as it is now than by the way it was before the renovation.