East Kilbride is one of the oldest villages in Scotland with historical associations dating back to the 12th century. The derivation of the name, St Bride or Bridget, indicates Celtic origins and ever since the middle ages there have been places of worship in East Kilbride.
In 1947, in the aftermath of World War II, East Kilbride was designated the first of the new towns to be built in Scotland. Since then the village population of 2,400 people has grown to today’s population of around 100,000. East Kilbride’s population is drawn mainly from the Glasgow area, but has also attracted people from further afield to meet the demands of modern industry both in east Kilbride itself and in the Glasgow and Lanarkshire areas.
Below is a short history of East Kilbride Free Church.
Although the present Free Church in East Kilbride owes its origins to the missionary efforts of a number of local individuals in the 1950’s, it would be a mistake to think that the village was untouched by the turbulent events of the Disruption. On the 29th June 1843, about a month after the fateful Assembly, a meeting of the newly-constituted Free Presbytery of Hamilton agreed to admit the Reverend Henry Wellwood Moncreiff, minister of the Parish of Kilbryde (the Old Parish), and three of his elders to their number. On the 9th of July the first Sunday service was conducted in a barn made of spale at Patthorn and a Kirk Session constituted. Two years later, on the 13th of April 1845, the first worship took place in the newly–built church in what is now Maxwell Drive. This church building is now used by a Baptist congregation, the Moncreiff Parish name having been transferred to the new building in Calderwood.
In 1852 and 1876 the church absorbed members of some of the smaller Secession Churches which had not already joined the United Presbyterians (the West kirk). After the acrimonious Union controversy of 1900, the church became East Kilbride East united Free and in 1929 joined the Establishment as Moncrieff parish, taking the name of its first minister.
The Early Years
Towards the end of 1957 the Glasgow Presbytery Evangelism Committee on Church Extension had brought together a group of young people willing to do house to house visitation in allocated city areas. The Rev. Donald Gibson had been instrumental in evangelism work in the East Kilbride area, and afternoon services were planned.
The first service in November 1957 was held in the YMCA Hall, West Mains. The service was conducted by Rev. Donald Gibson and the praise was lead by Mr Alex Finlayson. Those who attended that first service were Mr and Mrs Alex Finlayson and their daughter Elizabeth, Mr and Mrs Donald MacDonald and their daughter Mary, Miss Lamont, and Mr Angus Shaw. In December of 1957, the Glasgow Presbytery decided that there was a need for the evangelistic work being undertaken in various areas to be supervised by existing kirk sessions. Govanhill was to have oversight of the new mission in East Kilbride.
The services in the town continued in the YMCA Hall. The building had been constructed during the war and, being a wooden hut, had deteriorated badly over the years. The amenities were fairly basic. There was a wooden table for the preacher and for the congregation wooden benches which were moveable – a convenient feature since the rain came through the roof on occasions. However the numbers increased and so did the families. There were requests for Baptism, and on the 12th April 1959 the first Baptismal Service was conducted by the Rev. D Gibson in the YMCA Hall. The children baptised were Fiona MacLennan and Calum MacDonald. By November 1959 the conditions in the YMCA Hall had deteriorated further, with the congregation having to contend with leaking gas as well as a leaking roof! The building was finally demolished, and the congregation moved to the old Scout Hall in Kirktonholme Road. Incidentally, it was during the period in the YMCA Hall that the time for Morning Worship was set at 11:30am. Previously the Service began at 11:00, but the ringing of the Old Parish Church bell at 11:15 for their service at 11:30 caused a distraction and as a consequence the Free Church Service has continued to this day with the later start of 11:30.
It was at about this time, at the time of the move, that an appeal was made to Presbytery to allow them to place an appeal in the Monthly Record and other publications for building funds. An approach was also made to Presbytery asking that a request be submitted to the Church Extension Committee for support regarding a site for a church building. Meanwhile the services continued in the Scout Hall with supply arrangements having been set up. Prominent amongst those giving supply assistance were students such as M.A. MacLeod, A.M. Macleod, and D. Paterson, and the Rev. A.G. Ross and Rev. J Calvin MacKay.
Towards the end of 1969 the late Reverend J.M. MacLeod was stationed in East Kilbride as the church Evangelist, staying in his own caravanette based at Kittochside. Amongst other things he organised Prayer Meetings in various homes, mainly the homes of Miss Lamont and Miss Gemmell. Outreach work was undertaken in the West Mains area outward from the church, with young people from Partick Highland, Govan and Govanhill taking part, along with some local people.
On 20th January 1960 a congregational meeting was held and a working committee was appointed. On the advice of the Rev. J.M. MacLeod it was decided to petition the General Assembly through the Presbytery asking that East Kilbride be raised to the status of a pastoral charge. It was also decided to petition the Church Extension Committee asking for approval in principle for a church building to be erected.
In March 1960 the Rev. J.M. MacLeod’s term of service came to an end, and by September 1960 Govanhill kirk session had come to the conclusion that much of the work would be undone unless regular visitation was maintained amongst the potential membership. Weekly supply of preachers was not in itself meeting this need, hence they agreed to approach the Presbytery. The session was of the view that the Home Missions Committee should recommend that a minister or someone suitably qualified should be appointed to give a period of service in the East Kilbride congregation. By January 1961 the committee had appointed the Rev. A.G. Ross, Strathpeffer, for a period of four months. The late Rev. J Calvin MacKay, formerly a Missionary in Peru, gave a period of service after the Rev. A.G. Ross.
Coming of Age
In May of 1961, a congregational meeting was held to draw up a petition to the General Assembly requesting the status of Church Extension charge, a request which was granted. A Sustention Fund Schedule was submitted, which enabled the congregation to call a minister. The congregation had ‘come of age’, a feeling reflected by Govanhill Kirk session on 19th September 1961 that ‘the East Kilbride congregation were now in a position to go ahead alone in these matters’.
The first kirk session meeting held in East Kilbride was on 20th June 1962. By this time a congregational meeting had been held, in May 1962, for the purpose of electing a minister, and the congregation were looking forward to the opening of their new church building. The evening of Friday, 1st June 1962, was the evening the new church building in Blacklands Road was opened for public worship. Those belonging to the East Kilbride congregation were greatly encouraged by the presence of a number of visitors from far and near, so that when the Moderator of the General Assembly entered the pulpit, the church and adjoining hall were completely full. Professor Cameron preached an able sermon from Psalm 122:7, and thereafter officially opened the new building.
‘Peace be within your walls, Prosperity within your palaces.’ Psalm 122:7
On Friday 17th August 1962 the ordination and induction took place of the Rev. D. Paterson to the East Kilbride congregation. Rev. Paterson, a native of Inverness, was the first Minister of East Kilbride congregation. He remained there until October 1966, when he accepted a call to Brora.
From there being no Free Church in East Kilbride up until the 1950’s, much had happened in a few years. From that first service in a dilapidated hall with only six adults and two children in attendance, the congregation had grown and a fine new church had been built. As we look back 40 years on, we are thankful to all those whose zeal and effort were so vital during those early years. We thank God for each one of them. We are thankful too for all those who witnessed for the cause of Christ throughout the years and for those who still do. And as we look back, surely we can be strengthened and uplifted by the many blessings which we as a congregation have enjoyed over many years.
‘Sing to the Lord, for He has done excellent things.’ Isaiah 12:5
Ministers of East Kilbride Free Church
Rev. David Paterson 1962 – 1966
Rev. Alasdair Gollan 1968 – 1970
Rev. John Pateman 1973 – 1986
Rev. James MacIver 1987 – 1997
Rev. Iain Thomson 2001 – 2020