WHEN I was a girl, above the ice cream shop at 48 High Street, Cockenzie, Easter Sunday meant new summer dresses, scratchy Easter bonnets and white ankle socks.

Scrubbed and polished, ignoring the bells ringing out in the Old Kirk next door, we’d clamber into the ice cream van and head up to St Gabriel’s Catholic Church in Prestonpans. As usual, we’d be late.

The challenge of the abstinence from sweets for the six weeks of Lent combined with Good Friday fasting made us dizzy and delirious through the interminable sermon. The reward? Bellies full of chocolate Easter eggs gorged from the minute we left the church until we climaxed in a hyper sugar rush.

We weren’t the only families that attended church regularly. In every town, there were a fistful of churches to choose from: Church of Scotland, Presbyterian, Free Church, Episcopal, Methodist to name a few, as well as private chapels, monasteries and convents. If that wasn’t enough, the ‘Sally Army’ took to the streets banging their tambourines, preaching their version of the truth to anyone who would stop to listen.

Sunday worship was the norm, mostly Christian, under one brand or another.

Today, by contrast, almost 60 per cent of the population identify as ‘non-religious’; many churches in our towns are empty or abandoned.

Turning their backs on ‘talk-down’ religion where sermons, threats and rules governed the Faith, today many people are not interested at all or turn to humanism or lifestyle to steer their lives. Many old buildings have also been repurposed, converted into flats or business spaces. Others are used for music events like the Lammermuir Festival, or spaces for children’s and young people’s training.

The Wesleyan Methodist Church in Dunbar is restyled as ‘the Harbour Chapel’, wedding venue and events space. Is that not what a church always was, a communal space to gather? Is this just a new ‘religion’ but under the same roof?