Guns in church

02 November 2006


“SOME THOUGHTFUL people are quite shocked when they come into a church and find half of it given to a museum about guns,” says Canon John Higgins about St John’s, Eastriggs, in Glasgow & Galloway diocese. “But that is what this church is about, and it does open up discussions.”

The church was built in 1915 in the complex of “the biggest munitions factory in Europe”, where nitroglycerine was pumped through pipes from Annan to be mixed with gun cotton and packed into shells and torpedoes by women who had to be stripped of every bit of metal from shoe buttons to hair grips, to reduce any risk of a spark.

It was dangerous work, and the factory site was huge, to enable each building to be half a mile from the next, so that an explosion in one would not ignite the others. Amazingly it was not seriously bombed in World War II, and its work goes on. And it was for these workers that St John’s was built.

For some years, it had no incumbent, and the congregation dwindled, but now it is on the up again. The Rector, the Revd Martin Callaghan, has trebled the congregation, says Canon Higgins who, semi-retired, is an NS assistant priest.

Though the church was well-built, it needs money for refurbishment; so Mr Callaghan invited a new heritage group to locate the munitions museum in the nave and aisles, while the congregation worships in the chancel and sanctuary. There is still room for it to spread into the nave for weddings and funerals.

It is working very well. They are now planning a joint flower festival with the museum, to take place in July, with flower arrangements based on World War I songs, like “Roses of Picardy”. And the festival will culminate in a community-wide “Songs of Praise”.


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