THE hand of friendship has been extended from the Church of Scotland to the Catholic Church after a fire ruined a place of worship.

St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Old Kilpatrick, West Dunbartonshire, went up in flames last Monday after a fire took hold in a bin area at the back of the building.

When he heard about it the next day, Old Kilpatrick Bowling Parish Church locum minister Rev John Harris immediately phoned his session clerk and interim moderator to make an offer of their church to local parishioners for as long as they needed it.

“We put it to the kirk session. I have been on the receiving end of bigotry from both sides over the years. I put the question to them, ‘Will you accept?’ and it was unanimous, enthusiastic and warm. That really was record breaking in the west of Scotland in my view,” said Rev Harris.

About 200 parishioners of St Patrick’s attended mass at Old Kilpatrick Bowling Parish Church yesterday, along with Archbishop Philip Tartaglia. They can worship there every Sunday for as long as needed.

“I was there, spoke to the congregation, welcomed them and was warmly received by them,” added Rev Harris. “The thanks of the archbishop was warmly expressed, which I took back to the congregation.”

A minister since 1967, he was pleased at the quick response from the local community to come to the aid of St Patrick’s.

“I’ve always said that church unity is not an optional interest, it is a gospel imperative. If you look at all the wars and the way religion is getting blamed today, church unity is an essential. We have no message for the world if we continue to stay divided,” he said.

Parish priest, Father William McGinley said his congregations was delighted with the offer from the Church of Scotland.

“They made everything as easy as possible and offered us the church for as long as we need it,” he said. “I am overwhelmed with the love and the fraternal aspect of the ecumenism involved, and so are all the parishioners.

“Our hopes are high but it will be a while before we see what the future holds for the church, hopefully it can be re-established. In the meantime the presence of the church will be there in the presbytery.”

Father McGinley had to move out of his home next to the church until Friday, when it was reconnected with electricity.

“We just hope the damage in the church can be repaired,” he said.