Rev. Archibald Alison – 1882-1900
A tall bearded man with the appearance of an Old Testament patriarch, Mr Alison was born in Strathaven in 1820. He attended the Relief Theological College, 1840/44 and was ordained to his first charge Leslie West, Fife on July 30thd 1849. His call was signed by 70 members but he soon had a thriving church putting up a new church with 600 sittings and a manse. He declined a call to Baillieston in 1873 and his acceptance of the call to the tiny church at Prestwick was a surprise to all. At his induction on 4th July1882, he said he left Leslie West with regrets but felt an urge to build the cause in Prestwick for which he had taken a liking during a month there the previous year. He also felt that there would be greater opportunity to educate his large family.
Mr Alison died 7th March 1900. Little is known about his surviving family. According to one of our older members, the boys were boisterous. Two went to South Africa and joined the British Colonial Forces engaged in the Boer War. The daughters were unpaid organists for many years.
Rev. Ernest Finlay Scott – 1895 – 1908
This young man fresh out of university was ordained and inducted as co-minister and successor to Mr. Alison who was incapacitated through paralysis. At his ordination held in the Bute hall on 11th September, 1895, Rev. Mr Scott of Darvel conducted the service, preaching from John 6 v 28/29. ‘This is the work of God that we believe on him whom he hath sent’.
At the time there were 123 members. Mr Alison remained in the manse, Mr Scott being paid a salary of £180 per year plus £45 in lieu of manse.
With the death of Mr. Alison in 1900, Mr. Scott became sole minister of Prestwick South United Free Church. With the release of the manse, he married Miss Annie Roxburgh Dunlop 29th April, 1902.
He continued his studies and published the first of his very many books. He was as prolific a writer as the late Professor William Barclay. His books and commentaries became essential reading for all theological students. There is no minister in Scotland and indeed most of the worlds countries without at least one of his books. The two published whilst at Prestwick South Church were the Fourth Gospel, Its Purpose and Theology. Published in Edinburgh in 1906. The Apologetic of the New Testament. Published in London 1907. A later book ‘The Kingdom and the Messiah’ published in 1911 was probably prepared during his last years at Prestwick.
In 1908, Mr. Scott accepted an appointment as Professor of Church History in Kingdom University Ontario. The news was received with regret and pride. At his last service before sailing from Greenock to Canada, he baptized Nancy Wilson, infant daughter of the Church Officer and sister of Mr. William Wilson and the late Mr. James Wilson who continued in the tradition of his father.
He died in U.S.A. in 1954. His daughter, a Professor of Egyptology, visited our Church in Mr. Yorke’s time on one of her trips to the Middle East.
Rev. Robert Alexander Cameron MacMillan – 1909 – 1910.
A leet of eight candidates for the vacancy were heard. Three were heard a second time before Mr. MacMillan was chosen. He was called by 76 members and 22 adherents out of a membership of 200. He was ordained and inducted Thursday March 4th 1909. He appeared to be a worthy successor to Professor Scott. He was born 11th May 1883 at Ullapool to John and Sarah MacMillan (nee Boyd), was educated at Ullapool, Glasgow High School, taking his M.A. at Glasgow University in 1904. He attended Divinity College in Glasgow and was licensed by Glasgow Presbytery in 1908. During 1908/9 he was assistant to the Professor of Philosophy at the University.
At his first communion in Prestwick South Church there were 175 communicants and 28 new communicants.
Mr MacMillan represented South Church at the opening of St. Nicholas Church.
Towards the end of the year, he was given leave of absence to take his sister to South Africa for her health’s sake. Shortly after his return he announced that he had accepted a call to a church in Johannesburg. The news was received with dismay and some anger.
Representations were to Presbytery and later to the Assembly which resulted in the restriction on calling ministers in their first charge for at least three years. Mr MacMIllan did not stay long in South Africa but accepted a call to the fashionable St. Johns Presbyterian Church, Kensington, London in 1913.
At the outbreak of the Great War, the Rev. Robtert A. C. MacMillan joined up with the Seaforth Highlanders. He was killed in action at Arras in 1916 as a Second Lieutenant. He was a bright young man of whom it was said that he was marked out for high office in the church.
Rev. Alexander Gibson – 1912 – 1934.
After a long vacancy a leet of seven candidates were heard in September, 1911. Four of them were heard a second time and Mr. Gibson and Mr. Calderwood a third time before the choice was made.
He had been ordained and inducted in 1896 to Kilfrauns Church in the Perth Presbytery and came to us after long experience, being inducted to Prestwick South, 1st February, 1912. He served us well through the Great War and through the Union into the Church of Scotland. He was clerk to the U.F. Presbytery and later to the Church of Scotland Presbytery.
During the war, he served as a Chaplain in the Y.M.C.A. huts in France. Rev. Mr. Forbes, minister at the North Church served similarly and for a time both churches were served by just one minister.
Membership when Mr. Gibson arrived was around 200. It rose to 300 by the end of the war and to 414 at the end of Mr. Gibson’s ministry. He was interim moderator at a vacancy at Tarbolton Erskine and accepted a call there himself in 1934.
He died at Dumfries in 1954, the same year as Professor Scott died.
Rev. George Adam Theodore Napier Christie – 1935 – 1947.
Mr. Christie was inducted 11th September, 1935. Born in Aleppo, Syria, the son of Rev. W.M. Christie, minister in Haifa, Palestine he took his M.A. in Glasgow University and the honours diploma at the U.F. (now Trinity) Divinity College in Glasgow. He was Freeland Scholar in Old Testament Language and Literature and secured the Joshua Patterson Fellowship. He was highly regarded as a student and was urged by his Professors to continue his studies in Zurich, Switzerland, but instead he accepted a call to St. Columba’s Church, Bombay, India.
As a student he had been assistant to Rev. J. Struthers Symington, Union Church, Tradeston and to Rev. Dr. Archibald Chisholm, Langside Hill Church, Glasgow.
While carrying on a difficult ministry in India he took special interest in education and social work. He was on the board of governors of two of the countries educational institutions. He was chairman of finance committee of the Church of the Indian Gujerati Congregation.
His most notable work was the weekly class for young Indians to counteract the baneful effects of the caste system. Europeans, Indians and Anglo-Indians met together developing a deeper understanding of each other’s problems.
During Mr. Christie’s ministry, there were several changes much as a result of the Second World War:
The Watch Night Service was established in 1935. Membership rose and there were 40 new Communicants in September, 1936. Afternoon Communions began in 1938 but only 11 attended the first.
One of the notable holiday supplies in 1938 was the great Scottish Evangelist D.P. Thomson.
During the war, the hall served as a First Aid Post and later as a canteen operated by the W.V.S..
Mr. Christie was ill for two long periods and the membership declined after reaching a peak of 500 in 1940. He accepted a call to Sandbank, Dunoon in 1947 where he died, February 28th, 1960
Rev. James Burgoyne Yorke – 1947 – 1976.
Our longest serving minister was born in Gateshead, Co. Durham on 26th August, 1906. He was educated at Gateshead Alexandria Road, School. He began his studies for the ministry in the University of Aberdeen, taking his B.A., B.D. in 1936. He was a student assistant at Aberdeen South church 1935/36. He was licensed by Aberdeen Presbytery 14th April, 1936 and ordained and inducted to his first charge of New Byth, Aberdeen 24th March, 1937. He transferred to Drumoak 3rd June, 1941. His M.A. came in 1947 just before he came to Prestwick South Church for induction on 3rd December, 1947. He came from a quiet country charge to a town charge which at the time was lacking in numbers and spirit.
Membership rose rapidly from 386 at the commencement to a climax of 912 of whom 712 attended communion in 1968. The church was bursting at the seams and there was much discussion about possible extensions. Ryefield was purchased and later demolished to be replaced by our new hall.
The churches of Prestwick moved more slowly together through the operation of the Local Churches Council, and a scheme of united Sunday Evening Services was inaugurated. In some respects this was not a success. Attendances at our own evening services had always been good. Most people enjoyed the quiet informality of Mr. Yorke’s Sunday evening’s when the congregation took quite an active part.
Towards the end of his ministry, Mr. Yorke was not very fit, but a happy Jubilee was celebrated on 5th December, 1972.
Mr. Yorke died 30th April, 1976 and was sadly missed by all his congregation. The eldest son Rev. Kenneth Yorke, was licensed by the Presbytery of Ayr in his fathers church where he was brought up. He was ordained and inducted to his first charge, Kirn in Dunoon on May 5th 1982
Rev. Jack Brown – 1976 – 1980.
After the death of Mr. Yorke, Presbytery decided that it could reduce Prestwick charges from five to four by some form of readjustment. With the possibility of retiral of Rev. Philip Petty from North Church and that of Rev. Donald Caskie from St. Cuthberts, it seemed possible to link two out of the three.
During the early deliberations Rev. Douglas Glover of Darlington Church, Ayr was Interim Moderator with much of the services at the church conducted by Rev. J. D. Brown who endeared himself to the congregation by his preaching.
Presbytery allowed us a minister on temporary appointment of up to four years, to be terminated when either of the other Prestwick Churches fell vacant.
The congregation chose Rev. Jack Brown. He was appointed by the Presbytery and introduced to the congregation in a service very similar to an induction service.
Mr. Brown was young but had been a mathematics teacher and an elder in Tynecastle Church, Edinburgh, when he felt called to the ministry. After completing his studies for the ministry, with no immediate vacancy to beckon him, he supported himself and his young family by ‘Job Creation’ types of employment. It was his experience of the problems of modern youth which enabled him to appeal to the youth of our own church, inspiring them to set up a spiritually based Youth Fellowship.
Mr. Brown introduced many of us, particularly members of the Bible Study Group to the methods of Evangelism Expolsion, an American systematic approach to spreading the Gospel to all who would listen.
During his ministry, we began to look forward to celebrating our Centenary. Midsummer 1980 would coincide with the anniversary of the establishment of the Mission Hall. About £4,000 was collected as a Centenary Fund. Some was used to provide Gas Central Heating for the Hall, and some to redesign the back hall or former Mission Hall to provide a Session House and improved study for the minister.
Mr. Brown’s ministry was cut short at the end of 1979. After the Christmas Service he was transferred to Dalmellington, but continued to occupy the manse. In January 1981, Rev. Jack Brown accepted a call to Ladhope St. Cuthbert’s Church, Galashiels, later to become St. Aidan’s Church.
Rev. Thomas Barr Girdwood 1981 – 1988
The vacancy between our 7th and 8th ministers was long and tiresome. At first Rev. Waldron Moffat was Interim Moderator and he was followed by Rev. David Ness. A scheme for a linkage with North Church was unacceptable to our congregation. With the linking of North Church and St. Cuthberts Church we were granted return to full status, and allowed to call a minister.
During the long period from January, 1980 to October, 1981 we were well served by the wonderful preaching of Rev. Johnston MacKay retired from Glasgow University and a charge at Greenock.
One of the most memorable sermons was delivered the morning of the Sunday when Rev. Kenneth Yorke was licensed, the 28th June, 1981. His text Matthew 27 v 46 “My God, My God why has thou forsaken me?” had 150 years previously been given by Rev. MacLeod Campbell of Rhu and he had been expelled from the church for his views.
Rev. Thomas Barr Girdwood of Kirn, Dunoon preached as sole sominee on Sunday 23rd August. His tale to the children about Buzby the telephone bird who makes people happy by spreading the word was delightful. His sermon to the adults on John 12 v 12 was on the same theme of communication. Greek visitors to Jerusalem said to Philip “Sir we would see Jesus”. That was a foretaste of the wonderful preaching which we have enjoyed from our present minister.
Rev. Thomas Barr Girdwood was inducted before a packed church on 28th October, 1981. Many members of his previous charges of Kirn, Shawlands and The Grange, Kilmarnock were present.
The Service opened with a reading of 1 Corinthians 12 v 12 – 31 by Rev. Elizabeth Watson who posed the question “What is the Church?”
Presbytery clerk Rev. Charles Johnston declared that we were restored to full status. Rev. Humphrey Hamilton of Prestwick, St. Nicholas, and Presbytery Moderator put the eight doctrinal questions to Mr. Girdwood and preached on verse 31 of the reading ‘covet earnestly the best gifts’ stressing those of preaching and visiting.
On Sunday, 1st November, Mr. Girdwood was ‘preached in’ by a colleague, Rev. James Miller, Shawlands Old, to the text, 1 Peter 2 v 9.
Mr. Girdwood came from Kirn, Dunoon. His previous charges were Larkhall Chalmers (1949), The Grange, Kilmarnock (18th May, 1955) and Shawlands Cross (21st June, 1961), where he succeeded Rev. Humphrey Hamilton of St. Nicholas Church, Prestwick.