Rebuilding Ancient Ruins

‘And Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham. He called them by the names which his father had called them.’ Genesis 26:18

I love nothing more than the story of an ancient well, hidden and buried for centuries. It has an “Indiana Jones-like” quality to it. Does the water source still run underground? Can it be found and re-dug? Can that which once provided refreshment, comfort and even healing be made to flow again? These are the questions that have filled my mind since I was made known that the Church of Scotland was putting Whitekirk in East Lothian up for sale.

Whitekirk, despite its small size (and the fact that the church is not white but red!) has an amazing and outsized history. Begun in 1297, it was built by the Countess “Black Agnes” of Dunbar to give thanks for the healing she found in the waters of a holy well there. The well itself dates back at least to the 8th century AD and is legendarily connected to St. Baldred, a traveling missionary from Holy Island, Lindisfarne who spread the Gospel to East Lothian and became known as “the Apostle to the Lothians.” This holy well and its church became the focus of a medieval pilgrimage that attracted hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from across Europe. They came for a drink of the healing waters and to worship and pray in Whitekirk’s sanctuary. Future popes and Scottish kings passed through its doors; pirates, thieves and English Roundheads raided its riches. It even served as a stop on the Camino de Santiago de Compostella on the axis from St. Andrews to Spain.

The Reformation in Scotland put a stop to the pilgrimages of the Middle Ages and the holy well was finally buried and lost in 1815. But the power and healing beauty of Whitekirk remained. In 2021, the Church of Scotland made the decision to sell the property after watching the local parish dwindle and decline to a point where it was no longer financially viable. This is where we may come in to see a new chapter of Whitekirk’s history written!

We, the missional community of East Mountain UK, Discovery Church Dunbar and 24-7 Prayer Scotland, are in discussions with a new charity called the Whitekirk New Life Trust to see the church purchased and renewed as a centre of prayer, worship, the arts and pilgrimage. The New Life Trust is currently in financial discussions with the Church of Scotland and has approached our three groups to help shape how this property will continue as a place of Christian worship in our day. Imagine the possibilities with us!

What would it look like to see the vibrant history of Whitekirk renewed? What kind of impact could a centre of 24/7 prayer in East Lothian have? What healing and refuge could 21st century wanderers, seekers and Gore-Tex clad pilgrims find again at Whitekirk? What if we could find and re-dig the ancient well and see its waters flow once more (both physically and spiritually)? Like Issac in Genesis 26, we are standing on ground that our father’s have found sacred and healing. The ancient name of Whitekirk was Hamer (hay-mur), which meant a place of safety, of refuge and of “home.” What if we and others can call dwell in this place once again and call it by this comforting and healing name? Dream with us! Pray with us!

Chris Furr leads a small missional community called East Mountain UK in East Lothian where he resides with his wife and 3 children. Originally from North Carolina, USA, the Furrs have spent years living in Germany, France and now Scotland. Their family motto is “Taking the Adventure that Aslan sends.” Chris considers himself an artist, a limping pilgrim and a lover of overgrown ruins, half-buried history and Celtic Christianity. With a hobbit-like appreciation of cosy armchair spaces and steaming cuppas, he has been deeply impacted by books like “Red Moon Rising” and “Dirty Glory.”

In Our Day

Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.
‘ Habbakkuk 3:2

I have been on a number of wee pilgrimages recently and it has been stirring my heart.
In simply visiting friends or taking a work retreat I have somewhat unwittingly ended up in places of ancient, rich spiritual history where the Church once flourished and helped the land and the people around to flourish as well.
From Sannox, Isle of Arran to Whitekirk in East Lothian to wee Pittenweem in Fife, there is a sense that God is uncovering, revealing this richness that has been somewhat hidden and largely forgotten for a very long time.
Reading the stories of what God did in the land and the people in these places through the faithful, courageous prayer and service of monastic communities and men and women completely abandoned to His purposes has caused me to “stand in awe”. And a cry is forming within my heart of “Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known.”

My church community here in Dunbar, Discovery, has been looking at Jeremiah 6:16 lately, exploring what it looks like in our lives to “stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and find rest for our souls“.
As part of this we have taken a couple of local pilgrimage walks, one of these being a day on Holy Island of Lindisfarne. We had some time on our own so I sat in one my most favourite spots on earth – the rocks on St Cuthbert’s Island where I can listen to the seals sing and speak to them as they bob gently in the sea, their silver faces filled with friendly curiosity.
I reflected on how pilgrims still flock to Holy Island though there is no longer a large, thriving monastic community to welcome them. There is still a deep peace on the island, something that prompts reflection, stirs a hunger in the soul and draws seekers.
For decades, faithful monks facilitated the presence of God and a meeting place between God and those seeking. The fruit of that faithful, sacrificial, loving cultivation can still be felt today, hundreds of years later.
My heart swelled with longing to be one who cultivates in the same way as these saints gone before, that the seeds of prayer, hospitality, justice and mercy, creativity, learning and mission that I plant would grow and still be providing a place of rest and nourishment for weary pilgrims hundreds of years later.

My prayer that morning was, “God, renew in me that heart for and faithfulness in prayer… Renew in me, restore in me, rebuild in me first.

Revival begins in us first.

The famous travelling evangelist Rodney (Gipsy) Smith was known for stopping just outside the town he was about to preach in, drawing a circle on the ground and kneeling within it. “Go home. Lock yourself in your room. Kneel down in the middle of the floor, and with a piece of chalk draw a circle around yourself. There, on your knees, pray fervently and brokenly that God would start a revival within that chalk circle,” he said when asked how revival starts.

So as I find myself praying “Repeat them in our day,Lord,
in our time make them known
“, I am adding, “within this circle first.