Town churches united

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The-Old-Kirk-1825THE Christmas 2010 edition of Helensburgh's West Kirk magazine announced that St Columba Church and its halls were surplus to town Church of Scotland requirements — the first public announcement of the latest change in local church history.

A long drawn out process of consultations and planning on church union was completed in the summer of 2011, and St Andrew's Kirk was chosen as the name of the new church.

The respective ministers, the Rev George Vidits of St Columba and the Rev David Clark of the West Kirk, now have a shared ministry, and they were inducted to the charge at a service in the West Kirk on Wednesday August 17 at 7pm.The 550-strong St Columba congregation has moved to the renamed West Kirk, and St Columba will be sold once it is deemed surplus to requirements.

St Andrew's Kirk auxiliary minister the Rev Tina Kemp said: "The union seals a strong working relationship between the two congregations over the past years, and will create a new and vibrant church in the heart of the town.

"The event marked the culmination of many months of prayer, hard work and careful planning — and the start of a new phase of worship, witness and service as part of the Church of Scotland in Helensburgh."

A new logo to reflect the name and ethos of St Andrew’s Kirk is being developed.

Each church held its own final act of worship on Sunday August 14, concluding the lives of the current congregations, celebrating much that had been special and recognising the distinguished contribution of members and office-bearers who have now retired.

Helensburgh’s first church was The Tabernacle, built at the corner of West Princes Street and James Street in 1802, the year the burgh gained its charter. It served for nearly 50 years, but was rebuilt in 1851 and again in 1884, and is now the United Reformed Church.

The burgh’s second church (pictured above), built in 1825, was The Kirk in the Square, on the site of what was later the West Free Church, then St Andrew’s Church and now the West Kirk — although its name will change again.

In 1846 the United Secession Church, later the United Presbyterian Church and now St Columba, was dedicated.

Mrs Margaret Bell, widow of the town’s first Provost, Henry Bell, was a founder member of the Seceeders congregation in Helensburgh, which first met in her Baths (later Queen’s) Hotel and then in the theatre at the corner of Sinclair Street and East Princes Street where the Municipal Buildings now stand.

Their first church at 2 West King Street was a large hall known as the Wee Kirk, and it became the church hall when St Columba Church was built in 1861. According to the 1894 local history book ‘The Story of Helensburgh’, the reason for building the new church was because the congregation grew so quickly under the ministry of the Rev Dr David Duff.

Helensburgh Parish Church on the seafront, of which only the tower remains today, was built in 1847, with Park Church, at first called the East Free Church, at the corner of East King Street and Charlotte Street following in 1862.

St Bride’s Church at the corner of West King Street and John Street followed in 1878, replacing an iron building called the West Parish Church. The minister of both was the Rev John Baird, father of TV inventor John Logie Baird.

In 1929 the United Free Church and the Church of Scotland united, at which point the West United Free Church became St Andrew’s, the West Parish Church became St Bride’s, and the other churches became simply the Old Parish Church, Park Church and St Columba Church.

By the 1950s congregations were becoming smaller, and in 1956 the Old Parish Church united with St Andrew’s to become Old and St Andrew’s.

After a time as a hostel for sailors, the main part of the Old Parish Church was demolished in 1982 to be replaced by a block of flats, with the tower containing the town clocks being retained and put to use as the tourist information centre.

The next union came in 1981 when St Bride’s united with Old and St Andrew’s. St Bride’s was demolished to be replaced by the new burgh library and a large block of flats, and the enlarged congregation in Colquhoun Square chose the new name of the West Kirk.

Now, after years of delicate negotiation, Helensburgh is left with two Church of Scotland churches, Park in the east and St Andrew's in the west.

  • The West Kirk compiled a series of broadcasts from the church over the past 30 years, which included appearances on Songs of Praise, Highway, Radio 4 and Radio 2. These have been digitised and the CDs and DVDs can be borrowed from the St Andrew"s Kirk office.