‘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.”