The Church of Scotland will close two-thirds of its churches on Shetland under plans to meet the “challenges” of ministry in the 21st century.
The Kirk has announced it will shut 20 of its 31 buildings throughout Shetland to secure a sustainable future for the congregation on the isles.
Church bosses acknowledged it was a difficult decision to make but said it also presented “exciting” opportunities as it examines new ways of working in the area.
Reverend Ian Murray, interim minister for the north-east, said: “Shetland Presbytery has been helping Church of Scotland congregations collaborate to meet the challenges of ministry and mission in the 21st century.
“The presbytery has a legacy of many more church buildings than they need and has faced some difficult choices on which buildings should be retained and which should be let go,” he said.
“At the heart of our decision-making is the desire to see a sustainable future for the Church of Scotland, its mission and pastoral care for the whole of Shetland.”
It is understood the issue came to a head following the retirement of two of the islands’ five ministers.
Congregations are believed to have known for a long time that having 31 buildings – many of them old, Victorian premises which can be costly to repair – was too much for the size of the islands’ congregation.
The locations of the buildings earmarked for closure will not be revealed until all the local congregations have been informed.
Mr Murray added: “We have now identified 11 churches to retain out of 31 buildings throughout Shetland and we will work with our congregations as we move towards a new model of ministry which will possibly result in a single parish and the formation of a new Presbytery of Aberdeen and Shetland.
“These are both challenging but exciting times in Shetland as we explore a new model of ministry, which may in future years, provide an example to the national Church.“