Our congregation began life in the dining room of a house in Mansionhouse Road in 1863. The church building was completed in 1867 and our first minister was the Rev Horatius Bonar, who is still remembered today for writing hymns such as “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say”.
We have a strong history of faithful outreach to our parish and community and many of our members have taken part in mission work abroad.
In almost 160 years together, our congregation has sometimes been large and sometimes small. In all that time, and through every phase of our life together, God’s word has been preached, His people have been encouraged and friends, neighbours and strangers have been made welcome.
If you would like to know more, you can read a fuller version of our story below.
If you would like to know more, Calum Martin presented this history of the congregation at our 150th anniversary celebration in 2017
If we were to look back on Edinburgh in 1867, we’d quickly see how much has changed over the years. Then, it was not all that long since the Meadows had been reclaimed from the old South Loch. The Old town was already old, but some parts of the New town were still, well, new!
But much would be familiar. The Crags and the Castle were already dominant features on the skyline, but they were about to be joined by a new landmark, the building we see all around us today.
This is not a story of bricks and mortar, but one of people. It is that continuity of Christian Fellowship, and not a building, that has brought us to this anniversary today.
Even before the building was here, this congregation was taking root, just around the corner.
One Sunday morning in November 1863, the dining room of 13 Mansionhouse Road became the first meeting place for what would become this congregation. When, three weeks later, there were too many folks to fit into that one room, the process of events which would lead to our having this building began.
And now, over 150 years later, between Bible study groups, and church lunches we’ve seen that practice of opening our homes to one another continue.
The foundation stone for the building itself was laid in October 1865. We’ve got a copy of the notice for the event here, featuring both the original name for the congregation and a sight still familiar to members and visitors today, the very same fruit and cake for which I hope many of you will be staying after the service. I can assure you though, whilst the invitation is very much the same as it was all those years ago, the cake and biscuits are perfectly fresh.
Not long after construction began, there was, however, a near crisis. The firm hired to construct the building went bankrupt. The architect himself, a Mr Patrick Wilson, stepped into the breach, and the disaster was avoided. The legacy of that event is that the stone in the lower and upper parts of the building comes from distinctly different quarries. Whether the difference can now be detected, I’ll leave for you to decide.
It was not long after that the first minister was called: Dr Horatius Bonar (a memorial to whom is by the main door) celebrated the first Communion here at the end of February 1867 – hence, this 150th anniversary today.
Bonar was widely acclaimed in his day for his humble leadership and wonderful evangelical writings, but he is probably best known today for his Hymns. He wrote over 600 works of verse, mostly hymns, through the years, many of which are still in common currency in Scotland and, in translation, across the world.
Bonar was also a strong advocate of the practice, still debated in some quarters at the time, of using musical instruments in worship. Ultimately it would be after his time, in 1894, that the first instruments featured in worship here. It is fitting then that our services still feature a dedicated band, who draw so widely on the pool of musical talent within the congregation.
Bonar can also be credited with having done much to start the Children’s ministry here. In those early days there was a monthly children’s service at 6.30pm, said to always be crowded. By the end of the 1890s these had merged into regular services in the form of the Children’s address.
A tradition of faithful outreach has continued unbroken, though in changing forms, since our foundation. From the Causewayside Mission, running from the 1880s for many decades; to the Social Evenings of the 1940s; to the work of the Youth Committee from 1946 through the 1950s, the congregation here has responded to the changing nature of this part of this city and our society, finding new ways to share the gospel. Today we run “English Corner”, “Who Let the Dads Out?”, “Alpha Courses” and more, all different ways of reaching out to our community.
That outreach has not been confined to the city of Edinburgh alone. By 1966 close links had been forged with mission work as far afield as Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, India, South Africa and a range of lands across the Levant. To see that work continuing today we need only look to the wall across the room, behind us there, with its pictures of our current mission partners.
But life is rarely plain sailing. Three years ago, our then-minister and a number of members chose to leave the Church of Scotland. We are grateful to God for the ways He has helped us to move forward since then. We’ve seen new members join us, and watched people find new ways to serve and be involved. Last April, we were delighted to have the Rev Stuart Irvin come to us as our minister.
The continued regrowth of the congregation is visible, more so and more so each week, and the spirit of Christian Fellowship here is as strong here as ever.
In the last 150 years God’s word has been preached; His people have been encouraged; and friends, neighbours and strangers have been made welcome. May the next 150 years see that continue.