CHURCH of Scotland congregations are being "driven to the wall" by rising insurance premiums in the wake of unprecedented thefts from their historic properties.

The final day of the General Assembly of the Kirk's 1000 leaders heard some churches face massive insurance premiums even when there are only a few dozen parishioners.

Churchgoers across the country were told to give more donations, consider selling property and find more economic ways to house their ministers as upkeep of outdated manses also exacerbate budgets.

It comes as costs for the ageing buildings – regularly ransacked for metals for black market resale – threaten funds needed for day-to-day running of parishes.

The problem is thought to affect a significant percentage of the 2500-plus premises across Scotland that can be valued at millions of pounds each.

A plea from the Presbytery of Dumfries and Kirkcudbright said the need to address the accommodation situation is "clear and urgent".

The Rev Val Ott, of Borgue linked with Gatehouse of Fleet, said her area has been badly hit. "Small rural congregations in the presbytery are being driven to the wall financially by the greatly increased insurance premiums now being required for church buildings after the insurance revaluation that was completed a few years ago.

"The general problem can be reflected in the situation of my own charge, which links a town congregation of around 300 members and eight miles away a village congregation of 46 members.

"The church building used by the 300 members of the town congregation was given an insurance evaluation of £2.25 million but village congregation's was valued at £4m."

Only subsidies can keep the upkeep the smaller congregation afloat, she said. "The increases in insurance costs have had the severest impact on rural congregations, worshipping typically in massive Victorian buildings erected to serve large farming communities that no longer exist," she added.

"What we are concerned about is the way the burden of insurance is falling disproportionately on the smallest and poorest congregations."

The Kirk has its own insurance scheme, but as it is underwritten by larger firms, premiums are still high and now new ways of covering buildings – which include 1399 churches, 227 church halls and 857 manses – are to be considered.

James Jack, chairman of the General Trustees committee, which oversees finances and runs the Kirk's insurance firm, said a revaluation of properties' worth may in some cases produce shocking results, but often buildings had been underinsured.

He said: "We would recommend additional fundraising in congregations, or in groups of congregations or in presbytery.

"Over the past two years, there has been a significant increase in the incidence of theft of metals, especially lead and copper, from all types of public building, including churches.

"In keeping with the com-pany's stated objective to enhance cover under the scheme and after intensive and lengthy negotiations with the principal re-insurers, the company has been able to offer, as part of the standard policy and at no extra cost, cover up to £25,000 against theft of non-ferrous metal and consequent damage as part of its theft damage to buildings cover."

He urged congregations not to abandon the Kirk insurance scheme.

The assembly agreed to look at news ways of obtaining insurance for its buildings.