The History of the Stornoway Free Church (Continuing) Building and Congregation.
The opening of the new building was an unforgettable milestone in the life of the Stornoway Free Church (Continuing) congregation, and we can only marvel at Godís grace and mercy for allowing us to make it all possible. We owe a deep and sincere debt of gratitude to the congregation for their unity and purpose in the early days.
This was indeed a most challenging venture, and one fraught with difficulties. We experienced testing times indeed, and now perhaps we should take a little time to pause for reflection, and to consider a brief account of the events that culminate in this meeting this evening. We give thanks to God for His care, His guidance and the multitude of ways in which He has met our every need. He has never let us down.
In February 1999, the small group, Stornoway Reformed Fellowship, commenced worship services at the Newton Community Rooms, Seaforth Road. The small group grew, and by June of that year, four short months, the meeting room became severely overcrowded, particularly for Sabbath services, and it was obvious that larger premises were most essential. Approach was made to the Council seeking a long term Sabbath Let of the Town Hall, and this led to the first Sabbath services being conducted there on the last Sabbath of July 1999. So the congregation moved to what was to become its second home, and there we remained until April 2004, almost 5 years. On the 23rd July 1999, a congregational meeting was held and it was agreed that the Stornoway Reformed Fellowship be dissolved. The Stornoway Relief Free Church was then duly constituted and as such, would adhere to the historic constitution, Law and Practice of the Free Church of Scotland.
A Kirk Session was formed, with Rev. Maurice Roberts appointed as Interim Moderator, and Donald MacKay, Ian MacLennan and the late Donald Finlayson, all former elders, proposed as Elders, with Callum MacLean, and Donald Maclean proposed as Deacons. We were now firmly formed as a congregation, and at least for Sabbath Services we were able to accommodate our people in the comfortable surroundings of the Town Hall.
In August of that year the congregation held their first communion, celebrating the Lordís Supper in the Town Hall. This was a most marvellous communion season, and one that filled us with great hopes for the future.
Meantime we had continued holding our midweek prayer meeting at Seaforth Road, and with growing numbers the Deaconís Court required to find a venue that would accommodate the midweek prayer meeting. After much deliberation and enquiries, the Lews Castle School Annex Hall at Robertson Road became available. We gratefully commenced our weekly prayer meeting there on 30th September 1999, and there we remained until September 2003, when due to serious structural faults we very sadly, had to vacate those premises. One of the brethren, who the Lord subsequently called Home referred to that little humble hall as ďOur BethelĒ and we feel certain that others would add their Amen to that expression since many experienced the Lordís Blessing there. After Robertson Road, we were grateful to find accommodation in the Nicolson Institute Lecture Theatre, which we occupied until April of this year, when on the 8th. April, 2004 we held our first prayer meeting in the new church. The first marriage took place on 9th. April and the first Sabbath service on 11th. April 2004.
Returning again to 1999, we now refer to yet another wondrous and remarkable event in Godís Providence. At an Emergency meeting of the Deacons Court held on 21st October 1999, we were informed that an area of land, owned by Mr. Angus MacDonald and located at No. 1 North Street, Sandwick, had been gifted to the congregation for the purposes of building a church and providing a car park. This was a most remarkable event, and one that the court received with a spirit of grateful indebtedness, at the same time marvelling at the extent of the Lordís most gracious goodness to us as a congregation.
In due course and following advice, preparations were made to apply for Outline Planning Permission involving a church and car park, and on 18th March 2000 the application was lodged. This action initiated a spate of protests, and proved to be a time for testing our resolve and dedication. After several meetings with planners, the Council awarded Outline Planning Permission on 18th. April 2001. At last we could now concentrate on design and specification, and the congregation acknowledge the tremendous amount of work done by John Angus Gillies, Deacon, in undertaking this most exacting task..
Following the General Assembly of May 2000, there was a further change in title to The Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), and the congregation became known as the congregation of the Stornoway Free Church (Continuing) .
The generosity of the congregation was outstanding, and congregational finances were sound. In addition the congregation had grown significantly, and our thoughts were directed towards the possibility of seeking a Pastor but this could not be done until we could provide a Manse. After due search, and many property viewings, the Deacons Court concluded that 20 Melbost offered the best potential, and so the property was purchased.
After the August communions, Rev. David Murray was called as our minister, and on 9th. November 2000 was inducted to the charge.
Over the next 2 years we had bursts of intense activity, all of which a proposed building programme demands, and this included regulatory formalities, land transfer, appointment of congregational trustees, and a host of other issues, all of which required minute application. Yes, we also had set backs. But we took heart from the text we find in
Nehemiah Ch. 2 v20-ďThe God of Heaven, He will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and buildĒ. And so the new church building plan was steadily taking shape and in due course Building Estimates were sought from five contractors, the local firm Calmax Construction subsequently being awarded contract.
Meantime, an approach had been made to the Bank of Scotland, and we were delighted to find that they were willing to offer a loan of £144,000. However, we were £36,000, short of the level of finance required, a shortfall which would require to be overcome in 3 months.
At a congregational meeting held on 18th December 2002, the treasurer illustrated to the congregation the state of finances, and it was agreed that a weekly Building Fund collection be initiated, commencing the following Sabbath. By the end of December, 2 Sabbath collections later, collections and donations amounted to £19,391. By the second Sabbath in January 2003, the fund stood at £37,700, having already exceeded the required amount. The weekly collections were then suspended on the Sabbath before the February communions 2003, and at a Deacons Court conducted on 7th. April 2003, the treasurer declared that the fund now stood at £55,466. This was a truly remarkable achievement.
On 17th. March 2003, contracts were signed with Calmax Construction and work commenced in April of that year. Subsequent events verified that this was a wise choice, and throughout the contract the entire firm, from the Directors to the apprentices, displayed consideration, co-operation, efficiency, and tact. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to work with them.
The pulpit was designed by a member of the congregation, and masterfully constructed in shape and detail by the family firm of Torquil and Gil MacLeod of the Joiners Bench
Many in the congregation committed themselves wholeheartedly to the construction, varnishing, and assembling of the pews. Associated with the congregation were 3 highly talented and energetic joiners without whom this task would have been extremely difficult. We also had the benefit of 2 excellent painters who put the finishing touches to the pews and pulpit. The ladies undertook the cleaning of the building after the internal joiner work had been completed, and we thank them for their encouragement, enthusiasm and thoroughness.
We must continue in earnest prayer. There is still much to be done in the Lordís service.
ďFor now have I chosen and sanctified this house, that my name may be there forever: and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually.Ē (2nd. Chronicles ch 7 v16)