In The Beginning
The Church now known as “Renfrew Trinity Church of Scotland” had its birth in March 1862 when the congregation was officially recognised by the Presbytery though the story had really begun a year before that . . .
At that meeting, it was decided to begin worship the following Sunday evening if suitable accommodation could be found and, after some negotiation, the first meeting of the embryo church was held on the 21st April 1861 in the Old Burgh School which stood off the High Street. The Reverend James Brown conducted the service and the Reverend Andrew Henderson preached the sermon. At the close of the service a committee was formed and it met the following week and decided “that evening services only should be held and arranged for meantime”. These services were held in the school until the end of August that year. At the close of the service on the 2nd June, a meeting was held at which it was resolved to petition the Presbytery to recognise Renfrew as a preaching station. This petition was granted and the group moved one step nearer to its goal.
It was later decided to hold services during the day in addition to the evening ones and so the committee was forced to look elsewhere for a meeting place. Its next choice was the Athenaeum, a hall which stood on the High Street. The Athenaeum had been built as a library and reading room and was used for dances and other social functions. Worship there began on the 1st September 1861 with a full day of three services.
However, the adherents of the preaching station had decided to petition Presbytery to allow them full congregational status. Permission was granted at the Presbytery Meeting held in March 1862 and the Reverend Andrew Henderson was sent to Renfrew to make out a roll of members. He visited Renfrew and, after preaching, made out a roll of thirty-two names.
Soon after this, a communication from the Presbytery was received at Renfrew directing them to meet at an early date to choose three members who would be ordained as elders. Three members were selected and ordained by the Reverend Andrew Henderson in July 1862. A few months later it was decided to proceed towards selecting a minister. At a Session Meeting held on the 30th November, it was: “Agreed to transmit the call to Mr John Hutchison to be our pastor” and, in the old Renfrew Town Hall on the 16th February 1864, the first minister of the United Presbyterian Church, Renfrew was ordained. At the close of the Ordination Service he was handed the princely sum of £42.2/-, his first quarter’s stipend. This ceremonial handing over of the first quarter’s salary at the close of the induction was carried on into the 1940s.
From this time until the opening of the church building in June 1865, the Sunday services were held in the Town Hall. Steps were taken after Mr Hutchison’s ordination to erect a church but these plans must have been well ahead by the time of the ordination since the memorial stone of the church was laid by Sir Peter Coats of Paisley on the 27th October 1864 and the church was opened for worship on the 2nd July 1865.
Although the ministry was proving a successful one, there were ups and downs on the financial side. For example, at the end of 1868 the managers reported to the congregation a deficit of £44 in the year’s accounts and the congregation resolved to petition the Presbytery to recommend an application to the Home Mission Board for assistance.
It is interesting to note that, until this time, the congregation had sung all their praises while sitting down and there is a minute of 1871 which reads: “The Session decided that the service shall be rendered in a standing posture”. In the same year a Missionary Association was formed and the elders agreed to seek a meeting with the managers with a view to arranging a course of literary studies in the church during the winter. Perhaps the office bearers felt the income from these lectures might help to balance the books at the end of the year! Another entry from this period shows that the office bearers were deeply concerned about church attendance.
In 1875, Mr and Mrs Hutchison presented the congregation with communion plate. After expressing thanks, the minute goes on with the words: “The Session also pray that a blessing may continue to descend on their family, their basket and on their store”.
Throughout these years the elders exercised a strong discipline over their “flock” as is made clear by the number of men and women who were brought before the Session and reprimanded for their misdemeanours. There is no doubt that the elders were acting according to the dictates of their conscience, yet Christ’s words seemed to keep echoing: “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone”.
The impression left of these early years is of a young, lively, enthusiastic congregation under an able and, as events proved, learned minister. In 1874, Mr Hutchison, whose scholarly attainments had become widely known, received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from Glasgow University and, as was almost inevitable, the added honour attracted the attention of congregations looking for a new minister. On the 16th January 1877 he accepted a call from the newly formed congregation of Bonnington, Edinburgh. Dr Hutchison ministered there till his death in March 1901, the last six years of his ministry at Bonnington being as Senior Minister.
Dr Hutchison published “Expository Lectures on the First and Second Epistle of Thessalonians” in 1884 followed by a corresponding volume on Philippians and later “Messages to the Seven Churches in Asia”.
At the time of Dr Hutchison’s departure, the number on the roll was 150. Of that number, the record comments: “Seven are at sea or in foreign parts,” and goes on: “Eight have not been at public worship for some months” and, finally, ominous words: “Deputations of elders were appointed to see these members and report”.
The stipend at the end of the first ministry was £180 per annum.
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