History Of East Parish Church

Prior to 1777, many members of the Established Church had become dissatisfied with the intolerant conduct of the heritors and Presbytery, and, when the present Avendale Church in Kirk Street was built in 1772, further discontent arose because of the lack of accommodation allocated for the townspeople in the new church. A meeting of those who felt aggrieved was held in November 1776 and it was resolved to build a Relief Church. In January 1777 the Relief Presbytery received them as a forming congregation and initially services were held in a tent in the churchyard in Castle Street. The site at the corner of Green Street and Waterside Street on which the present Church is erected was acquired in April 1777 from the four Friendly Societies (owners of the Bleaching Green), and by November 1777 the new church- with sittings of 1087- was used for worship under the first Minister, Rev. William Heriot who had been ordained in September of that year.

In 1788, during the ministry of Rev. John Kirkwood, a Manse was erected on ground opposite the Church in Waterside Street, and this was replaced in 1829 by a new Manse, Dhu Crag in Stonehouse Road for Rev John French DD the successor to Mr Kirkwood. This in turn was replaced in 1929 by Westdene, Townhead Street, which remains the Manse to the present day.

On a vacancy arising in 1833 when Rev John French received a call to Edinburgh, two candidates found favour with the congregation, numbering at that time about 1400. As sittings were in any event insufficient, it was agreed that the members who preferred Rev Walter McLay should remain in the East Church and the remainder who preferred Rev George Campbell should leave and form a second Relief Church. This was done and so by amicable agreement the West Relief Church came into being.

In 1843 the Church was greatly enhanced by the addition of an imposing Steeple into which a Bell was installed and to which a Clock was later added. These remain to this day and such is the clock regarded as the “Town Clock” that the local District Council attend to its maintenance. With the approach of the Centenary, it was decided that the Church should be enlarged to incorporate much needed hall and other accommodation. From July 1876 until October 1877 the congregation worshipped in the West Church while the Church was almost completely demolished with only the Steeple remaining. A hall, vestry and other offices were formed on the ground floor with entry from Waterside Street and the Church was raised to occupy the first floor and galleries with entry by steps from Green Street. At this time two stained glass windows were installed in the south wall in memory of John Brown, a benefactor of the Church. The building as thus enlarged remains essentially the same to this day although substantial renovation work was carried out in 1977/1978 in the midst of celebrations for the Church’s Bi-Centenary. More recently, the Church has been enhanced with the fine exterior stonework of the Church being disclosed by the removal of the paint of many years, the descriptive “White Church” no longer being an identifying feature for visitors.

In line with the historical changes in the Reformed Churches in Scotland, there have been various alterations to the name of the East Church since its formation. In 1847 the Relief Church, of which it was part and which had left the Church of Scotland in 1750, united with the Secession Church (which had left in 1733) and formed the United Presbyterian Church. It in turn united in 1900 with the Free Church (or Church of the Disruption) which had left the Established Church in 1843 and the United Free Church came into being. So Strathaven East United Free Church continued until, in 1929, the main issues of dispute were resolved and with others of the same denomination came back into the fold of the national Church of Scotland as the Strathaven East Parish Church. In 1973 the Church was linked with Glassford Parish Church both sharing the ministry of Rev. William T Stewart, B.D. who retired in 2018.

Since its formation there have been only ten Ministers:-

1777 William Heriot
1786 John Kirkwood, M.A.
1820 John French, D.D.
1835 Walter McLay
1870 Alexander W Donaldson, B.A.
1914 Matthew Urie Baird, B.D.
1921 James Young Wilson, M.A.
1929 James Baillie, M.A.
1949 Hector James Steel, M.A., H.C.F.
1980 William Thompson Stewart, B.D.


See "Trinity History" page for subsequent information regarding the East Church

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