The Gospel, of Jesus Christ, the Son of God first came to the people of Strathbrock in the late 7th Century. It was possibly preached by St Cuthbert himself, the apostle to the Lothians when this area was still part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. Whoever was the first evangeliser of this area there is evidence of a Celtic Christian presence from that time, most evident around the church of the Celtic St Machan or Ecclesmachan just to the north of Strathbrock.
The first stone church however, was not built until the 12th century during the reign of St David I, King of Scots youngest son of King Malcolm his queen St Margaret. Dedicated to St Nicholas, the ancient parish church of Strathbrock was for 400 years the focus of Catholic life and worship. Escaping destruction at the reformation it has been a place of Presbyterian worship ever since. The modern Catholic parish’s historical link to the pre-reformation period lies in our 15th Century font given back to the Catholics of Broxburn by the Earl of Buchan in the 19th century and engraved with the words I.H.S – Jesus Hominum Salvator, i.e. Jesus Saviour of Humanity and Sta ecclesia Nicholia , the Holy Church of Nicholas.
It was not until the 19th Century that a Catholic presence can once again be detected. The industrial revolution brought a huge number of Irish labourers into the area for work. Work in the canals, railways, mines and most importantly for this area, Shale-oil. Holy Mass was once more celebrated in 1860 and the Broxburn Mission established in 1862. (Broxburn or the ‘Stream of the Badger’ is one of two small towns in Strathbrock which along with three villages make up the present parish) The community first met for Mass in a ‘miserable thatched cabin’, however thanks to the generosity of the Countess of Buchan as Chapel-School was built in 1868 and again thanks to the Countess’ support the present church was begun in 1880 and completed for worship in 1881.
Church buildings are, of course, only an outward sign of the living community which occupy them. That community was not at all wealthy and in 1883 a conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society (a charity founded in France for the care of the poor) was established to take care of the needs of Irish immigrants coming into this area as shale miners. No doubt the need to care for widows and orphans created by poor working conditions as well as the unemployment caused by injury led to the setting up of the Broxburn SVP. Today, although very different from the late 19th century, Strathbrock is witnessing a second wave of emigration this time from Poland, the home country of the patron (along with St Nicholas) of the present day church St John Cantius or John of Kanty, a town just outside of Krakow. They are most welcome and from time to time we have arranged Mass in Polish to help them settle in.
The 21st century is a time of rapid technological change … external threat … little moral certainty… family and social disintegration … coupled with a lack of coherent vision of who we are as a nation or people and profound uncertainty as to where we are going. All of which leaves us feeling as if we are starring in to the abyss. Faced with ‘the nothing’ we cling to what appears certain: bricks and mortar, money and possessions, pleasure however fleeting or harmful.
Faced with nihilism we all too easily turn to hedonism an experience which only brings the illusion of certainty. It is a mirage in a desert without values, a pathway into the abyss not from it: ‘What’ says Jesus ‘does it gain us if we gain the whole world and lose our very selves.’
Many, even the vast majority, still say they believe in God or at least in some sort of spiritual value but don’t know how to relate to Him or it in any real way. They distrust religious institutions – as they distrust all institutions – but don’t know what to replace organized religion with. We would contend that if in fact it is impossible to do so as being part of a people is essential to how we know God and to be part of a people takes order and organization. As Christians we believe that our individual and community alienation from God (who alone is changeless, who alone is trustworthy and who alone knows the ‘make up’ of the human heart) is and always has been the source of the human predicament. We believe, with St Augustine, that human beings are made to know and love God and that without God we lose what is essential to our human nature; ‘You have made us for yourself and our heart is restless till it finds its rest in you’. Only in relation to God do we know or can we know peace. Only in relationship with God can we face the abyss with confidence.
Christ began building his Church in Strathbrock over 1300 years ago and despite the secularism of the present age he remains true to his word. He continues to build his Church wherever and whenever women and men acknowledge him as their Lord and Saviour, as Christ the Son of the living God. In 2012 years we will celebrate the 150 anniversary of the founding of the Broxburn Mission. We celebrate it in quite different circumstances from the centenary in 1962. The World has changed and the Church has changed but the human heart remains in the same need of love that it did then or in 1862 or in the 12th century or in the 7th century and it is still the person and actions of the Carpenter from Nazareth in the 1st century that give meaning and purpose to human life.
So the Catholic community will continue to gather round Christ day by day and Sunday by Sunday as he comes to us in his Word and in the sacrament of his Body and Blood. As we celebrate the mystery of Christ’s real presence we know ourselves to be loved and valued by God yet acknowledging that we are ever in need of his mercy, healing and forgiveness.