West Kirk celebrates — part one

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west-kirk-wHELENSBURGH'S West Kirk celebrated two anniversaries in September 2006, with a commemorative act of worship for both on Sunday September 10.

It was 50 years since the union of the Old Parish and St Andrews Churches to become Old and St Andrews, and 25 years since of the union of Old and St Andrews with St Bride's Church to become the West Kirk.

In the September edition of the church magazine Ruach, former Session Clerk Duncan McKichan reminisced about the 1956 union.

He wrote: In 1956 I was a member of the Deacons’ Court (the equivalent of the present Congregational Board) of St. Andrews Church in Helensburgh when the minister of that church, the Rev A.D.Barr, decided to retire after 32 years service to the Church of St. Andrew and the wider community of Helensburgh.

The Rev A.A.Orrock, the minister of Cardross Parish Church, was appointed Interim Moderator in the vacancy.

This event meant that the whole question of the number of Church of Scotland congregations in Helensburgh would have to be considered by the Presbytery of Dumbarton before any steps could be taken to appoint a new minister.

At that time there were five congregations in the town and it was made clear that our church would be expected to agree to a union with one of the other congregations in Helensburgh.

Indeed the Presbytery expected us to propose a union with St. Columba because it had been the practice for these two congregations to have joint services during some of the summer months.

However, after meetings and discussions, it was suggested that we would favour a union with the Old Parish Church. Such a union would make it financially attractive for the minister of that church, the Rev T.R.Allison, to retire in the interests of union and thus enable the new joint congregation to choose and appoint a new minister.

In the event this arrangement was agreed by Presbytery and by the two congregations. The date of the union was fixed as 1st September 1956 and the name of the congregation ‘Old and St. Andrews’. The first Communion service of the joint congregation was held in the Old Parish Church on September 16 1956.

A Vacancy Committee was appointed and I was selected to serve on that committee. There were a number of applicants and it was decided to send delegations from the committee to hear the most likely candidates preaching in their present churches.

I particularly remember visiting churches in East Lothian and East Kilbride and some others.

Arrangements were made for some of the candidates from far afield to come to a church near Helensburgh. It was a busy time as the Vacancy Committee usually met weekly on a Monday to hear reports from the various visiting delegations.

At one of these meetings a glowing report was received from the delegation which had heard a minister in Arbroath, the Rev John Henry Dutch.

In the light of this report it was decided that the whole committee should have an opportunity to hear Mr Dutch, and it was arranged that he would conduct an evening service in Garelochhead Church. After the service the committee was able to meet Mr Dutch and it soon became very clear that we had found our man!

The committee was, so far as I can remember, unanimous in recommending Mr Dutch as its choice as the first minister of Old and St. Andrews Church. Arrangements were then made for Mr Dutch to preach before the congregation and thereafter for an election of the new minister to be held on December 17 1956.

The result of the election was decisive — for Mr. Dutch 460, against 25.

Mr Dutch was duly inducted on February 5 1957. I did not imagine then that I would be involved in two further vacancies in 1969 and 1973.

Footnote: A decision had to be made as to the long-term home of the new congregation. ‘The Kirk in the Square’ was chosen and it was agreed that it should undergo some internal reordering and restoration.

When it was closed to allow this to happen, the Old Parish Church (at the pier) continued in use. Later it was converted into a social centre for naval personnel, prior to being demolished (apart from the tower) to make way for the building of flats.

A new manse was acquired for the Dutch family. The St. Andrews manse was sold (now Argyle Lodge Nursing Home) and a more modest property — still the manse today — was purchased in Campbell Street.

The Old Parish manse in Charlotte Street was sold and a smaller house provided for Mr Allison and his family as part of the union settlement.