The congregation which now meets at Canonmills was formed in 1810 with only 17 members under the leadership of Rev. Dr. William Innes and their first meeting place was in Laing’s Academy in East Thistle Street. They had come together to express their commitment to belivers’ baptism but, with an open mindedness remarkable for their time – the Constitution of the new fellowship accepted profession of faith in Jesus Christ as the ONLY requirement for full membership. This remains so today.
The young church continued to meet in East Thistle Street until 1813 when they moved to Elder Street. There, the preaching of Dr. Innes attracted large congregations and the membership increased until, early in 1856, the church meeting decided that the time had come ot seek a “new and larger place of worship”.
The church in Dublin Street was built on the site of a carpenter’s workhop. The fine new sacntuary with its two halls was completed in the summer of 1858. It became well-known through the years as a centre for work among young people. Its pulpit was blessed with gifted preachers, and the congregation earned a reputation far beyond Scotland for its liberal views, its open membership, and its attempts to relate the whole of life to the Christian Faith. In 1987, after much heart-searching, the decision was taken to move to Canonmills. The building which had served us well for 130 years required major structural repairs. It was not felt possible to justify the huge financial outlay demanded for an old-fashioned, uneconomic, and inflexible Victorian building.
The building at Canonmills is actually older! A plaque on the wall records that it originally housed a Primary School which was attended by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1857. It had belonged to Dublin Street Baptist Church since 1855 when it was purchased as a ‘mission station’ and had quickly established itself in the area due to the many organisations which made use of the building; not least the 46th Edinburgh Company, the Boys’ Brigade which was launched there in 1903 and continued until 1919. In October 1923, the company was reborn under the captaincy of Tom Curr, the noted artist, and became the largest company in the Edinburgh Battalion. It was disbanded in 1988.
On 15th October, 1988, Canonmills Hall became Canonmills Baptist Church when the congregation moved to its fourth home. This area has historic associations for Baptists for, not a stone’s throw from the front door, runs the stretch of the Water of Leith where, more than two centuries ago, services for believers’ baptism were held. Today, candidates for baptism at Canonmills are spared this chilly ordeal! A baptistery was installed under the main floor when the building was extended and refurbished and this is now used for the moving service which is such an unique feature of the life of a Baptist Church.
While our history and the importance of of believers’ baptism as one way for those joining Canonmills to express their commitment remains, we tend now to call ourselves, simply, Canonmills Church or, more often, the Canonmills Family. This is because, central to what we wish to be is a welcoming people, open to ALL whom we encounter.
The Canonmills Family is made up of folk with widely differing backgrounds of liberal and inclusive beliefs, and is open to members of any Christian tradition – or none. With an unique history extending over two centuries, the Family at Canonmills is unusual in that it has a Corporate Ministry – a ministry in which each member shares. However, as you will see from our Calendar of Worship, distinguished preachers from many branches of the Christian church deeply enrich our worship.
Church Membership and the Communion Table are open to all. It is Jesus’ Church and His Table. The invitation is from Him. Ours is simply the privilege of making people welcome in His name.