School Wynd Congregational Church (1794 – 1991)


In 1736 there was only one Church in Paisley – the Abbey.  During that year, however, the Laigh Kirk was built in New Street, followed by the High Kirk in 1754 and the Middle Church in 1781.  This increase in places of worship reflected the increase in population of Paisley, from about two thousand in 1700 to over fifty thousand in the 1840’s.

School Wynd Congregational Church was founded at the close of the eighteenth century.  The rise of dissenting churches during this period forms an interesting development; numerous factors contributing to this breakaway from the Presbyterian Church.  Many found the type of preaching (Moderatism) unacceptable, as well as attitudes to missionary work.  The action of Presbyterian church courts caused members, and ministers, of Presbyterian churches to seek elsewhere the liberty denied them in their own denomination.  In addition, the French Revolution influenced the thinking of some church members during that period.  Some of the political radicals in Paisley were attracted to the Independent churches with their democratic policy.  Others also exerted an influence; the liberal views of the Rev. John Witherspoon of the Laigh Kirk and the Rev. John Snodgrass of the Middle Church held sway with some of the original members of the School Wynd Church.  James Haldane, one of two brothers who were instrumental in establishing the Congregational movement in Scotland, visited Paisley in 1797.  The Haldanite revival was the main force behind the formation of fourteen Congregational churches in Scotland by the close of the eighteenth century.  It must be acknowledged that many of the dissenters had in spirit and in practice embraced the principles of Congregationalism almost unconsciously.

Historians relate that by the middle of the eighteenth century Independent churches were formed in Paisley.  There is reference to the Abbey Close Independent Church, established by David Dale, founder of the New Lanark mills.  The consensus of research findings indicates that the Congregational Church met originally in the Tabernacle, a building on the south bank of the canal near the West Relief Church (Castlehead).  The Tabernacle is said to have been originally built for a congregation connected with the Old Scots Independents.

The first minister of the Congregational Church was John Young, ordained in 1801.  The congregation moved from the Tabernacle to a new building in Old Sneddon in 1834 during the ministry of Rev. Robert MacLachlan who remained with the congregation for twenty nine years.  By 1885, the expansion of the railway resulted in the congregation having to move to the School Wynd site in 1887, at which time the minister was Rev. William Challice who served until 1897, he being the eighth minister.

School Wynd Congregational Church was celebrated in February 1896, by which time the church roll was nearly three hundred, with over two hundred in Bible Class.  The life of the congregation continued to be built up in the next hundred years; a pipe organ was installed in 1900, the Monthly Letter was started in 1902, a Scout Troop was formed in 1915, and the former Ladies’ Work Party was renamed the Women’s Union in 1929.  The Autumn Conference of the Union was held School Wynd Church in 1921.

During its history of nearly two centuries, the congregation was served by seventeen ministers.  Rev. William J Dickson was inducted to the charge in 1898 and was pastor for fifteen years.  During the time of the First World War, Rev. W M Cownie was minister, and he also served for two periods as Chaplain with the YMCA in France.  The Rev. Isaac H Clyde ministered for two years from 1919.  In 1922 Rev. James R McPhail started a long and devoted ministry, ending with his death in 1943.  For the next fourteen years, Rev. T Hall Bisset faithfully served the congregation, followed by Rev. Sidney Bindeman for four years.  Rev. J Ernest Cairnduff was inducted to the pastorate in 1964 and ministered to the congregation until 1972 when he left to join the staff of Christian Aid.  Rev. John R Smith came to School Wynd for the first time when he was ordained and inducted in 1973.  He was minister until 1982, at which time he was appointed World Mission Secretary of the Congregational Union of Scotland.  Rev. Jack W Dyce served for two years to 1985 and in 1986 Rev. John Smith was warmly received when he returned to the School Wynd charge.

In 1980 the New Street EU Congregational Church united with the School Wynd Church.  That former church was established in 1845, and nine ministers served during that period (see here for details).