A Perthshire congregation will finally return to their church this weekend, more than four months after the building was trashed by vandals.
Reverend Mairi Perkins was left in tears when she arrived at Blackford Parish Church for Sunday morning service in February and was greeted with a scene of utter devastation.
A pulpit was tipped over, carpets were ripped up and an organ was damaged during the night-time raid. Bibles were also thrown about and several items, including valuable handbells, were missing.
Next week, Andrew Park, 34, will be sentenced for his role in the crime.
He forced a seven-year-old child to crawl into the building through an underground tunnel to open a trapdoor.
Park, from Aberuthven, then ransacked the building and made off with thousands of pounds worth of goods.
The 19th century building was closed indefinitely while congregation members set about on an extensive programme of repairs.
But a planned re-opening was further delayed because of asbestos which was left exposed after the break-in. A specialist team had to be drafted in to remove the potentially hazardous material.
Now, after 18 weeks, the church is finally ready to re-open and the first service since the raid will be held on Sunday morning.
Rev Perkins, who took up the post at Blackford just months before the building was attacked, said: “I think everyone is delighted to get back to the church.
“It has obviously been a very difficult time.”
The church is not entirely back to normal. The broken font has been taken away to a specialist stone mason for repairs, while parts of the organ are still being fixed.
“It was very upsetting to see the church the way it was,” she said. “But it was so great the way that everyone rallied together. There was such kindness shown by fellow churches around Scotland, it was really quite touching.”
She said: “People came out day after day to roll up their sleeves and help with the work.
“It has been a real challenge for us all.”
The congregation has been meeting at temporary accommodation at the nearby primary school.
“It was fine, but I think some of us found the small chairs there quite uncomfortable,” she said.
“It will be great to see everyone back on Sunday. We’re looking forward to moving on. The past is the past and we forgive those who were responsible.”
The service, which coincides with Blackford Gala Day, begins at 11.30am.