ORR SQUARE CHURCH (1843-1994)
A sketch of a still rural Paisley (circa 1825) looking North from about Saucelhill shows only three ecclesiastical buildings. In a very short space of time, that view was to be very different: a disrupted Church of Scotland was to ensure that – in organisation, landscape and attitude.
The demand for Paisley’s silks and muslins in the eighteenth century led to a rapid growth of population and the building of a “new town” on the east of the Cart and, as well, an expansion into George Street and the west of the Burgh. New Churches were required to meet the needs of the populace but the Disruption of the Church of Scotland in 1843 brought massive change, including the birth of Orr Square or as it was then known, the Free High. Rev. John McNaughtan, for eleven years the minister of High Kirk of Paisley, “came out” in 1843 with a large following of elders and members and built the Free Kirk. This exodus was over the right to give elders and members a say in the choice of their minister.
This right was conceded thirty years later but by then it was too late, as the Free High and many others were well-established.
The first five years of the Free High witnessed a wave of enthusiasm and life, growing to a membership of 955. The first person baptised was Margaret Chalmers Jamieson and within the first five years, the Church witnessed 340 baptisms (more than one per week!). It had 762 scholars in a Sabbath School with 92 teachers in three areas of the town. It offered both day and an evening school for reading, writing, grammar, arithmetic and geography with about 100 pupils.
All of this was financed by convenants and offerings of the congregation that was itself divided into districts, each with an elder, a deacon and a lady visitor.
When Paisley was built up further eastward from Garthland, a Free Church, Sherwood, was built and many of the office bearers and members left to support the new church. When the minister of the day had complaints about this, his answer was: “A mother should be jealous of her daughter”.
Orr Square had a church tower, prominent and graceful; for a hundred and fifty years a landmark in Paisley and a witness to the purpose of spreading the Gospel for miles around. As a church, it was built to be spacious and pleasing, with as much room for increase as any congregation could wish. Its pulpit was distinctive and handsome, from which it is recorded that a former minister “charmed thousands”.
In 1895 the famous American evangelists Moody and Sankey preached and sang the Gospel to crowds. The office-bearers of old created ample, well-built halls beside the church and in time created a Mission Hall in Storie Street more than sufficient to meet congregational needs. The church manse was an old house and rather big, but convenient and comfortable. These formed the visible inheritance, none of them striven for or paid for by the members of the later years of the twentieth century, but the upkeep of all of them was to be their lot.
Most churches begin every new year with a need to raise funds. Orr Square had a substantial bequest of one of its benefactors, Peter Brough. Brough had been a deacon in Orr Square in the 1840’s. He is said to have been a great evangelical and believer in education and social improvement. When he died he left his fortune for the good of the town. Notable among his bequests was one of £500 per annum to the congregation of Orr Square “to inspire and encourage them in their usefulness to the community”. That generous bequest was accepted by the forebears in the spirit in which it was given, not as a crutch to lean on, but as an inspiration to neighbourly help. The office-bearers gave substantial help in early years to Sherwood, Lylesland, St. John’s and Martyrs Memorial churches in Paisley and to surrounding churches in Renfrew, Nitshill, Elderslie, Johnstone, Beith and Lochwinnoch (all of them, of course, Free Churches).
From 1843 to 1994 Orr Square Church and its parish were served by only seven ministers (see opposite). This represents a remarkable service by a few devoted souls.
During the ministry of John Maver, the church in 1908 established a Boys’ Brigade Company, the 23rd Paisley, which met in the Storie Street halls for close on seventy years until that hall was closed. During the same ministry a Girls Guildry was created as the 1st Paisley, the oldest Paisley Company in what is now known as the Girls Brigade. A Girl Guide Company – the 21st Paisley – was established in 1921 and the church also had a Scout troop. Lively and active is a reasonable description.
Rev. Ellen McRoberts was the first lady minister in Paisley and was an Assistant at Orr Square to Benjamin Sibbald. However, Church Law of the time prevented her from being ordained as a Church of Scotland minister.
No history of Orr Square could fail to mention the contribution of Rev. Robert Morrison to the Church, Town and Gown. In his forty five years ministry in Paisley he was a friend and pastor to many during a time of reconstruction of the town centre with inevitable change for the Church. He served on Paisley Town Council and was for close on forty years a Trustee of Paisley College of Technology, now the University of Paisley, and a chaplain to Dykebar Hospital. A much-loved minister to many.
No church, however, is just about ministers, and many of the laity of the church gave their time and talents to the service of the community in the Master’s name.
The story of Orr Square is encapsulated in these words but much more could be written of the development and life of that great old Church.
PAISLEY HIGH CHURCH
From the Reformation until 1736, the Abbey was the only church in the burgh and parish of Paisley. During that year, however, the Laigh Kirk was built in New Street, followed by the High Kirk in 1754, adding a significant feature to Paisley’s skyline, especially when the steeple was erected between 1767 and 1770.
In 1872, the Town Council promoted a Bill of Parliament “to secure by legislative enacment the town’s financial affairs”. This Bill proposed to pay each of the ministers of the town’s three churches £266-13s-4d per annum, being one third of the interest of 4% on £20,000, the sum in which the churches ranked in the estate of the Burgh.
Over the intervening years, extensive repairs involving excavating, asphaltic for ventilation and dry-rot prevention, erection of light cast-iron pillars to support the balcony, new seating and pulpit, hot water heating, new ornamental ceiling, plastering of all walls, a new entrace to the north side as well as new stairs to both sides of the gallery formed the grand scheme.
Substantial refurbishment was undertaken in the final years of the century in concert with the organ installation and re-siting of the original church hall, opened in 1880, now recognised as too small to cater for the needs of an expanded congregation. After negotiation for adjoining land in Oakshaw Street, the long-awaited new church hall was built in 1913 at a cost of £2000. The Session House was used for the first time that year, and the initial suite completed with the McLachlan Hall in 1924.
The complex was eventually extended by the gift of the Hutcheson School by William Lang, in memory of his sister, Margaret, in 1935. Incandescent lighting was installed in the church in 1906 and electric lighting in 1935 and 1967. The gift of a sound system was donated anonymously in 1971.
With the cessation of hostilities in 1918, the War Memorial Committee recommended the expenditure of over £400, contribute in gratitude by the congregation, on to magnificent windows on either side of the pulpit. Designed by Oscar Paterson, FRSA, the Crucifixion window recognises the 414 men and women who served in the Great War, while the Resurrection window honours the 53 who paid the supreme sacrifice.
On certain Sundays a special effect can be witnessed. About the start of the sermon, the Crucifixion window, lit by the sun, appears to display the same intensity of light as that of the Resurrection window. Gradually, but perceptively as the sun moves, a shadow from the steeple darkens the Crucifixion window by stages, while the Resurrection window increases in brightness, until the sun shines, partly through the figure of the angel, with an intensity that almost blinds.
The other stained glass windows are in memory of Rev. Alexander Montgomerie Lang, Minister from 1875 to 1909, and Rev. John Muir, 1910 to 1947.
June 1973 saw the unveiling of the Semple window, appropriately in the presence of the Provost of Paisley as its theme is the close link between Church and Burgh. The motto of the town, incorporated in the window, referred to the preaching “The” word instead of “Thy” word. In the 1994 refurbishment this was amended.
MUSIC IN WORSHIP
The first concession to musical accompaniment of worship was made by the donation to install a harmonium, superseded by the Connoiseur, a powerful instrument at a cost of £83. It was not until the AGM of 1896 that is was agreed to install an organ, completed in 1899, by Messrs Hill and Son, London, at a cost of £1,150. The organ console was improved as part of a general refurbishment in 1923 and an electric power supply fitted in 1927. After the second World War, a virtual rebuilding of the organ was deemed necessary but not completed until 1950 at a cost of £1800. This instrument was re-dedicated in December of that year.
During preparations for one of the broadcasts from the church in the late 1970’s, a BBC engineer proffered advice on the correction of a number of faults, and as a direct result, at a cost of £3,500 a fan and motor were replaced.
CHURCH BELLS….AND ROARING TAM
Following completion of the steeple and the installation of the clock, the first bell weighing 1050 lbs was put in place in 1771 at a cost of £75. In 1820, due to, it is said, enthusiastic acknowledgement of the accession of George IV, it cracked after 49 years of service.
The new bell, financed by the Manufacturers of Causeyside, was hung, contrary to convention, to swing from north to south in order that the donors might hear it more distinctly. Weighing just under a ton it was named “Roaring Tam” after a Mr Farquharson who had been most active in raising funds.
In 1832, the first reformed Town Council contended that they had the right to have the bell rung for any meeting, even those of organisations with views opposed to the church. The Provost gave permission for it to be rung to summon a meeting of the Burgher Church, Abbey Close to discuss the formation of a youth group. As the High Kirk Session had just met for worship, the moderator ordered the bell stopped.
Using the strictest of tones, the minister protested against the action of the Provost. While the Council agreed to ascertain their rights in the matter, an interdict was granted to the minister and session restricting the ringing to the morning and evening worship and occasions of public rejoicing. This position was ultimately upheld by the Court of Session.
The bell cracked again in October 1865 while being tolled for the funeral of Lord Palmerston. Cast from the old, the replacement weighed well over a ton and was hung in 1866. December of that year saw the tongue break off and in 1871 the bell cracked again.
Paisley appeared to suffer from cracked bells, as we read of one being replaced temporarily by a repaired bell from the Cross Steeple. The bell of the High Kirk was restored by James Duff of Greenock in 1872.
The High Kirk has been generously endowed during its 237 years. Communion Cups were gifted as the congregation grew. In 1758, silver cups were presented by Bailies Matthew and William Reid, Town Clerk Alexander Skeoch, and Charles Simpson, a local lawyer. In 1872, a further two silver cups were gifted by Robert Brown in response to a change in Communion distribution to cover the entire church area, and in 1879, a similar donation was made by James Craig to mark the renovation. Another two silver cups were gifted by James Weir in 1927, as were two platters by William Lang. Two silver flagons were the offerings of Mrs McKenzie of Milliken in 1891 and of Thomas Little in 1966, while plates on which bread was first served in cubes for Communion were the bequest of Miss Walker in 1900. A similar gift from Mrs Marie Hamilton in memory of her father and brother, both elders, was made in 1983. Ladles and Communion linen were presented by the Allison family in 1947.
The Communion Table was gifted by Mr John McLachlan of Saucel Bank in 1901 and the matching chairs by his wife and nieces in his memory in 1922. The Misses Begg were also instrumental in having the organ console refurbished and the chancel extended in their uncle’s memory. Austrian oak hymn-boards were donated in 1931 by Revd. John Muir, it is thought, in memory of his minister father who worshipped in the High Church after his retirement and died that year. Around 1970, the offering stands were gifted by Mrs Houston in memory of her parents, Mr and Mrs Andrew, and the vestibule table was provided by the Women’s Guild.
Objections were received in 1791 from the proprietors of lairs in the churchyard about the damage being done by grazing horses. The Council duly enacted that no cattle of any kind (including horses?) be permitted in any churchyard in the Burgh and that ministers had no rights over grass in the graveyards. The churchyard was dug over and re-sown in 1884. Notification from the Council intimated that the churchyard might be closed as it was “so situated and so crowded as to be offensive and injurious to health”. Entrusting to their lair holders to defend their property, the Trustees decided to take no action. In 1909, the Town Clerk once again served notice on the Trustees to deal with the insanitary condition of the area surrounding the church.
Following the removal of the old church hall, the Town Council paved and railed the space from the gates to the new hall in 1924. With the permission of the Sherriff, some lairs and parapet walls were removed and the churchyard levelled.
The controversies surrounding the Disruption found the minister throw in his lot with the Free Church party, severing his connection with the High Kirk on 23 May 1843. Such was his popularity that many of his flock went with him, the precentor being the sole church official left. In his final sermon, Rev. John McNaughtan said, “I am not going to take farewell of the congregation for they are coming with me; neither am I taking farewell of the walls of the church, for these will hereafter be occupied by the owls, the bats and the spiders.”
On the Sunday following the Disruption, only fifty or so members were present and through a misunderstanding with the Presbytery – one can well imagine why – no clergyman was present. The next Sunday, however, saw the Abbey minister preach at two services to around 800 souls. The status of the Established Church was uncertain and in July 1843, the Council suggested that the three town charges be united – a suggestion immediately rejected by the Presbytery. By September, the Town Council were apprised of the decision by the Solicitor General that the charges were to remain and the stipends paid.
As the Council had effectively permitted the congregation to choose its minister in 1832, the issues of 1843 would appear to have been less significant for the High Kirk than for other congregations.
Membership had risen to almost 1,200 by the Disruption in 1843 and had returned to that level by 1860. Rising to well over 1,300 by the turn of the century to 1,600 b the mid 1920’s to 1,800 by the late 1930’s, a peak of 1,861 was reached in the immediate post-war years. Purging of the roll was obviously practiced more rigorously in the nineteenth than in the twentieth century. Within twenty years it had fallen to 1,150 to 800 by the early 1980’s and 560 at the time of union. Communion attendances pre-war were close to 70%. It is reported that in one year 90% of the congregation took Communion at least once and in 1926, 1,331 people, 80% of the roll, were present at a single diet of Communion. From 1950, even with decreasing roll, the proportion taking Communion fell to around 65%.
By 1986, the High had joined the Wynd Centre and that proved to be the catalyst for initiating discussions on the “way forward” in late 1987. Three years and more of intense activity by the Joint Strategy Committee, acceptance by congregations and courts of the individual churches of the Basis and Plan of Union led to the union in 1991.
WILLIAM ADAMS TRUST
In March 1903, notification was received from New Zealand that a native of Paisley, William Adams, had died on 15 January and had left about £55,000 from which his relatives were to enjoy the income while they lived. On their deaths the capital was to revert to the Kirk Session as the Trustees and the income from that money applied to the “maintenance, clothing and benefit of orphan children of High Church members”.
The scope of the Trust was extended over the years, most notably by the cy-pres scheme of the late 1960’s, to accommodate varying degrees the young and not-so-young of the congregation<
Adams House in Elderslie was so named in recognition of the Trust’s contribution of £300,000 towards establishment costs. Consideration was given in 1956 to a permanent recognition of William Adams, but the Trust was at that time deemed to be sufficient memorial. A picture of William Adams was later hung in the Session House.
SCHOOL WYND CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH (1794-1991)
In 1736 there was only one Church in Paisley – the Abbey. During that year, however, the Laigh Kirk was built in New Street, followed by the High Kirk in 1754 and the Middle Church in 1781. This increase in places of worship reflected the increase in population of Paisley, from about two thousand in 1700 to over fifty thousand in the 1840’s.
School Wynd Congregational Church was founded at the close of the eighteenth century. The rise of dissenting churches during this period forms an interesting development; numerous factors contributing to this breakaway from the Presbyterian Church. Many found the type of preaching (Moderatism) unacceptable, as well as attitudes to missionary work. The action of Presbyterian church courts caused members, and ministers, of Presbyterian churches to seek elsewhere the liberty denied them in their own denomination. In addition, the French Revolution influenced the thinking of some church members during that period. Some of the political radicals in Paisley were attracted to the Independent churches with their democratic policy. Others also exerted an influence; the liberal views of the Rev. John Witherspoon of the Laigh Kirk and the Rev. John Snodgrass of the Middle Church held sway with some of the original members of the School Wynd Church. James Haldane, one of two brothers who were instrumental in establishing the Congregational movement in Scotland, visited Paisley in 1797. The Haldanite revival was the main force behind the formation of fourteen Congregational churches in Scotland by the close of the eighteenth century. It must be acknowledged that many of the dissenters had in spirit and in practice embraced the principles of Congregationalism almost unconsciously.
Historians relate that by the middle of the eighteenth century Independent churches were formed in Paisley. There is reference to the Abbey Close Independent Church, established by David Dale, founder of the New Lanark mills. The consensus of research findings indicates that the Congregational Church met originally in the Tabernacle, a building on the south bank of the canal near the West Relief Church (Castlehead). The Tabernacle is said to have been originally built for a congregation connected with the Old Scots Independents.
The first minister of the Congregational Church was John Young, ordained in 1801. The congregation moved from the Tabernacle to a new building in Old Sneddon in 1834 during the ministry of Rev. Robert MacLachlan who remained with the congregation for twenty nine years. By 1885, the expansion of the railway resulted in the congregation having to move to the School Wynd site in 1887, at which time the minister was Rev. William Challice who served until 1897, he being the eighth minister.
School Wynd Congregational Church was celebrated in February 1896, by which time the church roll was nearly three hundred, with over two hundred in Bible Class. The life of the congregation continued to be built up in the next hundred years; a pipe organ was installed in 1900, the Monthly Letter was started in 1902, a Scout Troop was formed in 1915, and the former Ladies’ Work Party was renamed the Women’s Union in 1929. The Autumn Conference of the Union was held School Wynd Church in 1921.
During its history of nearly two centuries, the congregation was served by seventeen ministers. Rev. William J Dickson was inducted to the charge in 1898 and was pastor for fifteen years. During the time of the First World War, Rev. W M Cownie was minister, and he also served for two periods as Chaplain with the YMCA in France. The Rev. Isaac H Clyde ministered for two years from 1919. In 1922 Rev. James R McPhail started a long and devoted ministry, ending with his death in 1943. For the next fourteen years, Rev. T Hall Bisset faithfully served the congregation, followed by Rev. Sidney Bindeman for four years. Rev. J Ernest Cairnduff was inducted to the pastorate in 1964 and ministered to the congregation until 1972 when he left to join the staff of Christian Aid. Rev. John R Smith came to School Wynd for the first time when he was ordained and inducted in 1973. He was minister until 1982, at which time he was appointed World Mission Secretary of the Congregational Union of Scotland. Rev. Jack W Dyce served for two years to 1985 and in 1986 Rev. John Smith was warmly received when he returned to the School Wynd charge.
In 1980 the New Street EU Congregational Church united with the School Wynd Church. That former church was established in 1845, and nine ministers served during that period.
WILLIAM R HOGG.
ST JOHN’S CHURCH (1843-1991)
The history of St. John’s Church begins in 1843 with the Disruption. A new congregation was formed from members of the North and Middle Parish Churches who wished to follow Free Church Principles. During the first 18 months worship was held in the Exchange Rooms and the Gaelic Chapel in Oakshaw Street. In November 1844 the Free Middle Church was opened for public worship in School Wynd. The Church seated between 900 and 1,000. This was much smaller than the present structure. It had the distinction of being the first Free Church to be built in Paisley. Rev. Alexander Forrester, DD, was the first minister. Although he seems to have been an able man, he was not very successful in his Paisley ministry and the membership drifted away.
He resigned in September 1848 emigrating to Nova Scotia where he was more successful.
Rev. William Fraser, LLD, was ordained in 1849. His was a famous ministry giving notable service to the Church for 30 years until his death in 1879. The Church prospered during his ministry with a large increase in the congregation from 160 to 800. He received the Honorary Degree of LLD from Glasgow University in recognition of his eminent service and outstanding ability. In 1854 a piece of ground at Underwood Road was presented by Mr. James Pollock on which the manse was built. In 1862 it was declared that the condition of the Church building was faulty and it was decided to re-model the Church on the same site. The buttresses were added along with an additional bay to the front and the apse to the rear. At the same time a hall was built behind the church providing accommodation for 200 persons with a vestry at the east end and a library to the west. The new Church, was opened in 1863. This is the Church built in the Gothic revival style that we know today. It was designed by James Salmond & Son Architects and in 1985 was listed as Category B. One noticeable piece of work that Dr. Fraser undertook in the new Hall was the Bible Institute, a class for men from different denominations which frequently filled the hall to capacity.
Not only did Dr. Fraser preside over the new buildings for his congregation but he contributed to the life of the town. He resuscitated the Paisley Philosophical Society and proposed the building of the Free Library and Museum in 1866. Sir Peter Coats authorised and donated these magnificent buildings to the people of Paisley in 1867. In August 1879 while Dr. Fraser was in poor health a public testimony from all classes of the community amounting to two thousand guineas was presented to him by Mr. Thomas Coats in the Manse. He died a month later aged 62. He had been the outstanding personality in the town. At his funeral besides those who crowded the church, there were hundreds of spectators in School Wynd and at the Cross, They also congregated along the whole route to Woodside Cemetery. Over 500 mourners followed the hearse. Dr. Fraser was succeeded by Rev. William Macloy in 1881 but he resigned the same year.
The next long serving minister was Rev. J. Renny Caird, MA from Campbeltown. His successful ministry lasted 25 years from 1882 – 1907. In 1883 a new manse was purchased at High Calside. During this time the congregation carried out excellent Home Mission work with the Sneddon Mission as its base. In 1895 the Thomas Muir Memorial Hall, known as the Mission Hall, was built in North Street off Love Street and became a centre of support for the people living in the North of Paisley. It was gifted by Mr. John Muir and Mr. Roger Muir in memory of their brother Thomas all of whom were Elders in the church. In 1900 the first Union took place when the Free Churches and the United Presbyterian Churches joined together changing from the Free Middle Church to the United Free Middle Church. The Quarterly Review was introduced at this time providing a record of congregational activities. A full copy of this important source of Church history is held in the Paisley Museum and near complete sets are available for viewing at Oakshaw Trinity Church. The 14thPaisley Boys’ Brigade Company was formed in 1900 by Mr. John H. Watson and met in the Muir Memorial Hall. Although Mr. Caird was much admired as a preacher, he was perhaps a trifle too outspoken and not inclined to suffer fools or persons who disagreed with him, gladly. Although the congregation dwindled many stood by him. He did not bear any animosity towards those who left the fold. However on one occasion he said, “Well, I never signed a disjunction certificate with greater pleasure in my life”.
His retirement to Dunoon in June 1906 was short as he passed away in March 1907.
Rev. John Macaskill was the next minister. Although he spent only 9 years (1907 – 1916) with the congregation, significant changes took place over this period. In 1908 electric lighting was installed and the fine pipe organ was built by Messrs Norman & Beard. It was during this time that the congregation became especially interested in Foreign Mission as several of Rev. Macaskill’s family were missionaries and the congregation could feel personally involved. Another important addition in 1914 was the erection of a brass tablet as a memorial to former and future ministers. The tablet was unveiled by Dr. Fraser’s son Sir Matthew P. Fraser , K.C., Sheriff of Chancery who was deeply affected by the warmth of the memory of his father’s people. Mr. Macaskill brought a warm humanity that was all the more extraordinary because he was brought up in all the severities of the Highland Church. He was gentle and kindly. Although not really strong enough for such arduous duties, he would remain out late on Saturday nights to help drunken men home. He would not be dissuaded when others tried to prevent him doing such work. In 1910 Mr. Macaskill’s health gave way and the congregation sent him to Algiers for a rest and a successful recovery. In 1915 Mr. Macaskill felt the call to go to France to help with the work of the Y.M.C.A.
Although it is doubtful whether his frail physique was really fit for such a service he spent three successful months there. Writing from the Convalescent Depot at Havre, the Director, after thanking the congregation for their gifts of money and comforts, said “But the greatest contribution your congregation has made was the time your minister spent in our midst”. In 1916 Mr. Macaskill was called to Wallace Green Church, Berwick-on-Tweed where he died in March 1919, when the congregation and the townsfolk mourned as we did, the loss of a true man of God.
Rev. Macaskill’s successor in June 1916 was Rev. Oliver Russell, MA, of Peebles who spent a happy and fruitful 9 years with the congregation. He introduced the Children’s League of Worship in 1917, when children attending church received a small picture to be placed in an album. This was replaced with a stamp on a card. The League of Worship continued for over 60 years. During this year it was decided to use unfermented wine at communion and the common cup was replaced by the individual cup. It was decided that new halls were required and a fund for this purpose was created in 1918. In 1919 the 11th Paisley Guide Company was formed and five years later their colours were dedicated. Another important innovation was the introduction of the Freewill Offering Scheme in 1921, a boon to the Church Treasurer allowing him to budget with reasonable accuracy. During this year a War Memorial Plaque was commissioned to honour those church members who gave their lives in the Great War. Mr. Russell gave an impression of happiness and vigour. Although he had experienced the ordeal of war he faced life with a smile and boldly went forth to conquer. He was untiring in visiting his people and organisations bringing encouragement and cheerfulness wherever he went. Mr. Russell was inducted to St. Stephen’s Church, Edinburgh in April1925.
On 22nd September 1925 the much esteemed Rev. John Mackinnon M.A. from Inverness was inducted to remain for 31 years, even though he was reluctant to leave the Highlands.
He served in the ranks in France during the war, electing not to accept a Commission.
1929 was a momentous year, the new Halls being opened. The Building fund was inaugurated in 1916 and had realised £8,790 with only a shortfall of £370. In his complementary remarks Colonel W.F. Dobbie included “The new halls provided scope for developing their agencies and would help the Church take an even more important part in the Christian life of the community”. This was the year of the Union of Churches. The Church of Scotland united with the United Free Church. At this time the Church changed its name from THE UNITED FREE CHURCH to St. JOHN’S CHURCH.
In 1932 The Woman’s Guild replaced the Women’s Work Party and the Girls’ Auxiliary. The Communion Roll in 1943 numbered 1,072 members, there were 50 Elders and 46 Deacons. The Men’s Club was formed that year. The congregation was much more scattered and the coming of the motor car was a great help to the minister in visiting his congregation. He never spared himself in this respect or in any other. He also set an example of service, giving long hours to Civil Defence work. Sadly after the disaster at Woodside when nearly one hundred people were killed their bodies were taken to the St. John’s Hall for identification. St. John’s Dramatic Club had a tremendous achievement in 1949 with their production of “Wind Along the Waste” by T. M. Watson. They came first out of 478 entries to win the Scottish Community Drama Festival. They represented Scotland in London but were unsuccessful mainly due to the play being about life in the East End of Glasgow and the judges having difficulty with the dialect. In 1950 the large platform in front of the organ was built. This accommodated the new alter, organ console, communion table, lectern and font all in light oak.
Due to his great reputation Rev. Mackinnon was invited to take the pulpit of the Scots Church in Sydney, Australia for 6 months. He carried out this task with honour in 1948.
The centenary of the church occurred during this ministry. With great regret and much appreciation of his worth, the congregation paid tribute to him on his death in 1958.
Rev. Arthur H. Gray, MA was inducted in 1957. From 1935 – 1950 Mr. Gray was a much loved minister in St. Francis-in-the-East Church in Bridgeton one of the poorest areas in Glasgow, especially during the depression. It is there in 1937 that he had the vision to open a centre for young people in this area of mass unemployment. In 1942 Church House was opened. The story told in Sally Magnusson’s booklet ‘A Shout In the Street‘.
He wasn’t long at St. John’s when he took part in a number of “Late Call” programmes on Television. In 1960 the Diamond Jubilee of the Boys’ Brigade Company was celebrated. Eight of the original members attended. The company won the prestigious Paisley Battalion Scripture Knowledge Trophy three years running from 1968. The Captain at that time, Frank Scott ensured that all boys attended Sunday morning Bible Class at 10 a.m. in the Muir Memorial Hall. “No Bible Class no football on Saturday!”.
In 1964, it was decided that the Church should have a Congregational Board, to carry out the financial administration of the Church in place of the Deacons’ Court. This gave an opportunity for women to serve in a church court. In February 1965, members were elected to the Board, a major step forward in the history of the church. Also in this year the 8 O’Clock club was formed. The Woman’s Guild approached a small group of young mothers to entertain them for an evening. This was very successful and the new club was formed to give the women of the church a social evening once a month. Rev. Arthur Gray resigned in January 1966 to take up his charge in Pollockshields-Titwood Church. During his 9 years at St. John’s he had presided over many important changes and successful activities. His Youth Club on a Sunday evening was very successful with the Lower Hall filled to capacity.
Rev. A.(Sandy) J. Geddes, MA,BD was inducted in November 1967.
The Choir wore robes for the first time at the Christmas Service in 1968.
Several notable anniversaries took place during his ministry. November 1969 saw the 125th Anniversary of St. John‘s. February 1970 marked the Golden Jubilee of the Girl Guides. In October 1972 there was the 40thBirthday Party of the Woman’s Guild. In 1975 the Boys’ Brigade Company celebrated their 75th Anniversary. The Company was presented with its own Colours by Mrs. Nan Ritchie, and they were laid up in the Chancel area with the Guide Colours. The Pipe Band was re-established in 1978. September 1979 saw the Golden Jubilee of the Halls, celebrating a time of triumph, joy and thanksgiving.
Alterations were made to the buildings. In 1969 the South Hall was dedicated (later to become the first stage of the Wynd Centre). In February 1974, the Loggia, a covered passageway between the Church, the Main Hall entrance and the South Hall was completed. The Quarterly Review, first published in1900, reached its 278th edition in June 1969. It was replaced by a new monthly magazine “Contact” until May 1976 when it was later produced Quarterly until its last publication in 1991.
In 1975 after much discussion the Thomas Muir Memorial Hall was sold after 80 years of service to the community. The Mission Sunday School and the Boys’ Brigade Company moved to School Wynd. The YMCA transferred to the headquarters in New Street where there was a Chapel for their meetings and a gymnasium for football training. Sadly in 1975 the St. John’s Branch folded, ending a long history of Church Branches in Paisley.
New ventures included Garden Fetes in the manse grounds at Thornly Park, Christmas Fayres, the Sunday Café after the Church service. Mr. Geddes held a Vestry Hour on Thursday evenings. The ever successful Dramatic Club reached the National Finals of the Scottish Community Drama Association at Stirling in 1967 with their production of “Sabrina Fair“ by Samuel Taylor. In 1973 they were invited to take their production, Andre O’Bays “Noah” to the Edinburgh Festival.
Our Missionary Partners were Dr. Janet Duncan in Kalimpong and Miss Margaret Millar in Zambia. Mr. Geddes was involved with home mission when in conjunction with the Salvation Army he led a group of St.John’s members in seeking out homeless men and women who had found shelter in derelict Paisley tenements. As bread, soup and a word of comfort was brought to them the shout of “Captain’s Boys” went up to let them know it was safe to reply. This sorry state of affairs was greatly improved with the opening of the Paisley Christian Action Centre in the former Middle Church. This provided support with accommodation, food and clothing for our homeless. Along with other churches, members of St. John’s, were involved in a number of ways, including an early rise to make much appreciated cooked breakfasts.
In November 1979, Rev. Sandy Geddes moved to Langstane Church in his native Aberdeen after an eventful 13 years ministry. Dr. Arthur H. Gray became “Locum”.
In October 1980, Rev. Ian S. Currie, BD was inducted, the tenth minister in 138 years.
At his interview Mr. Currie was impressed with the forward thinking of St. John’s Kirk Session and their vision to convert the South Halls into a centre for the community. The money from the sale of the Thomas Muir Memorial Hall to form the base of future funding requirements. In 1982 a committee was formed along with members of Orr Square Church and the School Wynd Congregational Church with a view to form a partnership in this project. In February 1983, the three congregations gave their overwhelming support for the project. In September 1984 the new Wynd Centre was opened by Rev. Canon Kenyan Wright. It became a registered Scottish Charity and a Company Limited by Guarantee under the control of a Board of Directors elected from the membership of the three congregations. In 1985, the High Church congregation joined in the running of the Wynd Centre. The Golden Jubilee of the Woman’s Guild was celebrated in 1982. This was marked by the Guild commissioning a splendid Pulpit Fall incorporating the Golden Eagle of St. John and the Chinese philosophical symbol the Yin – Yang, one half of which is the Paisley pattern. The Pulpit Fall is complemented by a table runner and Bible markers donated by the family of the late Robert Boyd.
In 1988 another beautiful Pulpit Fall was gifted to the church by the Brown family from Canada. This was specially designed for Communion, Wedding and Baptismal services. In silver and white, it represents living water flowing into a communion cup where it turns into the blood of Christ. The cup also refers to St. John the Evangelist who was given a poisoned chalice. On drinking from it, the poison became a serpent – to be seen on the rod below the cup – which slithered away. Matching Bible Markers were gifted by Mrs. Dorothy MacLeod in memory of her husband Peter.
In 1981 the Girl Guides received a new Queen’s Colour to be laid up in the Church. In December 1988, the 8 O’Clock Club celebrated its 21st Birthday. After a lapse of several years the Boys’ Brigade had a Pipe Band which led the parade from the Muir Memorial Hall in North Street to the Church in celebration of the Company’s 90th Birthday. In 1990 Mr. Currie arranged a visit to the Holy Land. The links with Rev. Margaret Miller were maintained with a visit of two of her Deaconesses from Zambia in 1983. In 1990 she moved from Kwacha East to the north west region of Zambia to start building a new church, again in a sparsely populated area. The continuing support of the church was much appreciated. In 1984 the first lady elders were ordained to the Kirk Session.
The four churches on the hill having worked together for 3 years to ensure the success of the Wynd Centre now looked at the possibility of becoming one united Church. In 1987 a Joint Strategy Committee was created to form a draft Basis and Plan of Union. In May 1990 each of the four congregations voted on the proposal for a Union. School Wynd Congregational Church, the High Church and St. John’s Church voted to unite, but Orr Square Church voted against the Union ( later to join in 1994). In May 1991 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland approved the Union, the new Church to be called Oakshaw Trinity Church. In August 1991 there was a service of Union in the High Church and in September 1991 the first service of Oakshaw Trinity Church was held in the St. John’s building. The congregation worshipped there until major refurbishment of the High Church building was completed and re-opened by HRH Princess Anne in 1994.
This was not to be the end of the St. John’s Church buildings as in June 2001 HRH Princess Anne reopened the building as the extension to the Wynd Centre. Externally every damaged piece of masonry was replaced and internally there was a complete redesign of the building including an additional floor incorporating a 200 seat auditorium. The project cost £2.7 million and was fully funded. Those members and ministers who looked after their church since 1843 would take great heart in what has been achieved and seeing their buildings being used seven days a week by such a large number of community groups in Paisley and beyond. As Mr. John G. Stewart, the first chairman of the Wynd Centre stated on many occasions “the task ahead is never as great as the power behind us”.
In 1997 Rev. Ian Currie was presented with a MBE at Buckingham Palace for his work as Chairman of Victim Support Scotland. He left Oakshaw Trinity in June 2005, after 25 years service, to take up his charge in Rothesay where he was central in creating a union of four churches in the formation of The United Church of Bute.
The Guild, the Men’s Club, the 14th Paisley Boys’ Brigade Company, the 11th Paisley Guide Company and Brownies, the Drama Group (now Trinity Theatre Group) and the 8 O’Clock Club still meet regularly as organisations within Oakshaw Trinity Church.
This short history of St. John’s Church mentions briefly the work of its ministers through the years. It doesn’t tell in detail the devotion to duty and faithful service of individual members of the congregation, the leadership of the Kirk Session, Deacon’s Court, Woman’s Guild, Congregational Board, Sunday School teachers and the many other organisations covering all ages. The excellent music provided by the choirs and organists. The support to their husbands and the organisations given by the “Ladies of the Manse“. Add to this those who gave to the Church for its adornment and have undertaken the task of raising and gifting money. They have all in their own way, with their faith to guide them, ensured the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom in his town of Paisley.
Agnes Manwell / Frank Scott