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Stevenston and Ardeer U. P. Mission Statement
By late 1881 the Kilmarnock and Ayr Presbytery of the United Presbyterian Church had decided to begin mission work at Ardeer. Three factors seem to have swayed this decision. Firstly, they noted that only 500 of the town’s population of 5,000 went to the two Protestant churches here. Wheat prospects for evangelism! Secondly, with its method of finance the UP Church was most at home in the towns and cities; Stevenston was no longer chiefly a rural place. Thirdly, their evangelical meetings here had been a success and David Donaldson’s little Sunday School promised some results.
The Rev A. Morris Moodie was to call Mr. Donaldson “the Father of our church”. An Irvine man and former Divinity student turned stationmaster, he taught the children the scriptures at Mr. Williamson’s Ardeer School (the old part at the rear of what is now Ardeer Community Centre; local conservatives purchased it in 1893). When he came here in 1870 this was the only real building on the Ardeer side of the G & S-W railway. There was an average of four or five children to a family. Perhaps some of them hunted rabbits. 6,000 of them were caught annually in Stevenston some years before. After leaving Stevenston, he went on to become provost of Saltcoats. In 1905, when the white-haired General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, visited Saltcoats to be greeted by huge crowds lining the streets – in that altogether more religious age – it was the venerable Mr. Donaldson who stood up and proposed the vote of thanks to him.
His Sunday School was in effect the kernel from which our congregation sprang. He was born in late 1837, when Bonnie Lesley of Stevenston was old Mrs. Cumming of Logie. He died in 1918. Andrew, his son, was preses (chairman of our Board at the church from 1904 till 1938. Andrew’s son David was preses and session clerk. Elizabeth is mentioned elsewhere.
Ardeer was greatly blessed by the two hard-working, first-rate UP missionaries who came: - Robert Hamilton from Kilmarnock, who was here from April 1882 until October 1887 and James Westwater from Kirkcaldy, with us from December 1887 until March 1891. Mr Hamilton was a popular and effective preacher in and around the town, drawing in crowds from the farm houses in the district (NB: roughly 20 farms). He helped the local UP committee under the estimable Rev. George Philp to raise funds for a proper Mission hall, to which as many as 250 children were to come. The Home Missions Secretary for Scotland, the Rev. Dr. R. S. Scott opened the hall on the first Sunday of July, 1883. Surprisingly, it seated as many as 280. Demands on heating were high. Attendances were such that the hall grate was completely worn out by 1889. The debt of £450 was paid off by 1890 with much sacrifice and help from local UP churches. Interestingly, the ancestor of Patrick Warner, from who we leased the feu, was the famous Rev. Patrick Warner, who, long before dying here in 1722, had been a covenanting preacher 1677-79 in the fields of Carrick and Galloway, alongside John Walsh, the great grandson of John Knox.
Quite a few missions in very poor areas such as ours were not a success: they failed to achieve the financial viability which was a prerequisite of congregational status. 1884 was a bad year, when 200 Stevenston miners were thrown out of work and weekly church collections sank to just ten shillings (roughly 50p at time of printing). The miners, who generally saw the light of day only on Sundays, earned two shillings a day at most. But the Mission preserved. Local children flocked to the new hall twice on Sundays – for the forenoon children’s service and then to Sunday School.
“The child, the seed, the grain of corn,
The acorn on the hill,
Each for some separate end was born
In season fit, and still
Each must in strength arise to work
The Almighty Will”
R. L. Stevenson
Adults came to the huge Monday Bible Class. There were often two prayer meetings a week, a kitchen meeting in Station Square, a Saturday Bible reading and periodic evangelistic meetings in the two Squares. Worship was always their first priority.
On the morning of the 9th of May, 1884 at the new explosives factory there was a tragedy about twenty minutes to nine, when the no. 7 cartridge hut blew up, killing eleven girls. One of them Martha McAllister, was a leading choir member of the Mission – also a children’s monitor. The night before the tragedy she was singing to her mother and sister about Jesus’ triumph over death. Minutes before the explosion itself, and again showing her Christian witness, she sand “In sweet bye-and-bye”, the words including “The Father waits over the way to prepare us a dwelling place there…we shall meet on that beautiful shore”.
Long after Mr. Hamilton left, he was the highly welcome guest preacher at Morris Moodie’s semi-jubilee in 1917. Under James Westwater, the official membership of the Mission, always small, doubled to 64. He conducted seven weekly meetings, started all-important monthly social meetings and three managers were elected. By this time there were both morning and evening adult services, with the children coming to afternoon Sunday School. Congregational status was conferred on 11th November 1890. Afterwards he ministered at Blyth, Northumberland and Mr. (later Dr.) John Cairns succeeded him here for some months.
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