When Livingston was designated as Scotland’s 4th new town development in 1962, thoughts turned in church circles to the opportunity which presented itself in a completely new large town settlement in central Scotland.
In 1963 the Scottish Council of Churches Annual Conference in St. Andrews recommended that the planned new town should not have a traditional denominational pattern of church presence but instead should grasp the opportunity to explore new forms of different denominations worshipping together. The following year the All Britain Churches Conference held in Nottingham recommended that as many as possible of the mainstream denominations should work together in Livingston as an area of ecumenical experiment.
Following these recommendations, the Presbytery of West Lothian persuaded the Church of Scotland to call together representatives of the main line protestant denominations in Scotland and eventually agreement was reached between the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Congregational Union of Scotland and the Church of Scotland, followed later by the Methodist Church, to treat Livingston as an area of ecumenical experiment and to share buildings, worship and services.
So, history was made on 6 January 1966 when in Kirk of Calder, Mid Calder, the Livingston Ecumenical Experiment was introduced with the induction/installation of Rev. James Maitland, a Church of Scotland minister, and the Rev. Brian Hardy, an Episcopal Priest, to the new charge, by presbytery and Bishop functioning together for the first time in the history of our country.
The first service was held in Riverside Primary School on 8 May 1966 and services continued to be held there alongside services of the Roman Catholic faith, until the opening of St. Columba’s Church in Craigshill in 1969. The original team ministry comprised Rev. Jim Maitland, Rev. Brian Hardy, Rev. Hamish Smith (Congregational Church) and Mr Max Cruikshank who was a youth & community worker.
Very much a pioneering ministry, much of the team’s time was spent helping new residents settle in this new alien environment and assisting in the establishment of support groups and organisations to help create a sense of community. Many of these groups are still in existence today.
A second church building, St. Paul’s in Ladywell, was opened in 1972 to serve the established areas of north Howden and Ladywell as well as new housing areas being developed in Knightsridge. This was followed by a third building, serving the areas of Dedridge and Murieston – a building which was also designed for community use housing a library and a variety of useable space for community groups and church groups working together. The building was named The Lanthorn – an old Scottish term for a shining light. The core of the building had a worship area shared by the churches of the ecumenical experiment but also with our brothers & sisters in the Roman Catholic community.
In 1984 the decision was taken that the experiment had ‘come of age’ and needed to be recognised as a more established church presence in the town. The word experiment was duly dropped and the churches became known as the Livingston Ecumenical Parish.
We continued our outreach to new and developing areas by planting new church extensions in Knightsridge (at the Mosswood Centre) and in Carmondean (ultimately as part of the Nether Dechmont Community Complex).
A major change to our status during the 90’s took place when the Church of Scotland decided to designate the area of Livingston Ecumenical as one parish as opposed to the three which had been in place since the early days. Our experiment turned parish has survived many twists and turns in its short life. However, in keeping with national trends the number of people attending services were declining and it was becoming less and less viable to maintain what were by now six different worship centres. Eventually the parish undertook a root and branch review of all the options for providing a church presence in Livingston.
After a great deal of deliberation, consultation and prayer, the parish agreed in 2012 to come together as one worshipping congregation. This allowed our team ministry to concentrate on providing a variety of Sunday worship in one centre while continuing to offer worship in other locations throughout the town on a regular basis.
We have over 50 years, through God’s Grace, sought to bring the Good News to Livingston in many different ways to many different people. We face many challenges, however, we have been blessed with an abundance of good people – clergy and laity – who have shaped our life together and who have laid a strong and unique foundation for the future. We are very much a congregation that is different by design.