Church History


Author’s Note. What follows is a limited version of events, names and dates selected from the very readable “Story of our Congregation – From Hillhead Free Church to Jordanhill Parish Church” published in 1996. Copies of this history are still available, and those interested in reading the full history of our Church can obtain a copy from the Church Office.


In the beginning. The first Communion Roll of Hillhead Free Church (then in the Presbytery of Paisley) was drawn up in November 1854. From that date we can trace a direct link to Jordanhill Parish Church today, with several changes of name and affiliation in the intervening years.

For the first four years the new congregation had no home and worshipped each Sunday in the small school on Knightswood Road. The first church was built in 1858, also on Knightswood Road, in the grounds of what became Knightswood Hospital and is now a housing development. In the mid-19th century Glasgow had not yet extended so far west, and the area around the first church was very different from today’s residential suburb. It was still an isolated rural area consisting of small fields and farms, coal and mineral workings, and little hamlets of miners’ cottages – Balshagray, Skaterigg, Claythorn, alongside the rolling green acres of the Jordanhill estate to the south owned by the Parker Smith family.

The first Communion Roll had 58 names, many “transferring their lines” from other churches in Renfrew and Maryhill following the “Disruption” of the previous few years. Most were miners with a sprinkling of ploughmen, carters and labourers and their wives, described as “a cheery lot, humorous and shrewd, much given to religious discussion”. Sadly, the first 20 years were the most stormy and turbulent in our congregation’s history, with bitter long-running disputes with nearby evangelical and revivalist associations.

Name changes. In the 1870’s and ’80s there were arguments and confusion because of another Hillhead Church near Anniesland. So in 1888 the Kirk Session resolved to change the name to Jordanhill Free Church, having received permission from Mr Parker Smith to use the name Jordanhill. The Uniting Act of 1900 caused another change of name to Jordanhill United Free Church, and following the further union with the Church of Scotland in 1929, the words United Free disappeared and we became simply Jordanhill Church of Scotland. The final change came in 1979 when the Kirk Session, wishing to recognise the parish tradition within the local community, amended the name to Jordanhill Parish Church.

Move to new site. By the end of the century it had become clear that a new site would have to be found. Most of the mines had closed, the surrounding area was derelict, the congregation was shrinking and the church building had serious structural problems. An early decision to build at Anniesland was soon abandoned and another site at the corner of Helensburgh Drive and Anniesland Road was chosen. Architect James Miller drew up plans for a church which would eventually house 800 worshippers, at an estimated cost of £3,000.

However, there was a long delay while funds were raised and this allowed time for further reflection. It was eventually decided to abandon the Helensburgh Drive site and instead build the new church on Woodend Drive, which was then still “a pleasant rural lane” but around which the suburb of Jordanhill was just beginning to appear. The foundation stone of the new building was laid on 8th October 1904, and the first morning and evening services in the new sanctuary were held on 11th June 1905.

The total cost was £4,134, and although total congregational income in 1904 was only £175, the congregation succeeded in raising £3,000 by bonds, bazaars and other fund-raising. The new building could seat 460, even although the total membership had fallen from a peak of 192 in 1881 to only 164 by January 1905. Such was the confidence of the Session and congregation in the future success and growth of their new Church in Jordanhill.

Jordanhill Ministers. The history and progress of our Church over the last 150 years is perhaps best summarised within the tenure of each of its ministers. In its first four years the church was classified first as a “Preaching Station” and then as a “Sanctioned Charge”, and neither of its first two leaders, James Allan (1854-57) and John McSkimming (1857-59) were ordained ministers of the Free Church. Nevertheless the congregation grew steadily under their leadership, and moved into its newly-built sanctuary in September 1858.

Rev Peter McLachlan (1859-70) was ordained in 1859 and presided over some of the most tempestuous years, with numerous rows with other local churches and evangelical groups. In 1866 Hillhead was transferred to the Presbytery of Glasgow, but this was no more successful as a peacemaker. When Mr McLachlan left to take up mission work in Glasgow he was succeeded by Rev James Jolly (1870-73), a young man of 25. Within a year he had “managed to bring peace where there had been discord”, and the once bitter rivals had come together in harmony. Unfortunately, shortly afterwards, Mr Jolly accepted a call to an Edinburgh church, much to the dismay of the Session and congregation.

It took over a year for a new minister to be inducted, when “a fine Highland gentleman”, Rev G D R Munro (1874-1902), arrived from the charge of Logierait in Perthshire, having previously served as a chaplain in the Crimean War and done missionary work in Italy and Turkey. Although we are told that Mr Munro was essentially a pastoral minister and his 28-year tenure was “not a spectacular ministry”, several significant events took place, including the building of a manse on Crow Road, the change of name from Hillhead to Jordanhill, and the decision to move from the church’s original home to a new site. Mr Munro’s long service was honoured by having the road at the Woodend Drive corner where our church still stands named after him, and also Munro Place where some of the miners had built their own homes.

Rev A D Livingstone (1899-1938) first arrived as a Licentiate at Jordanhill Free Church in October 1898 as assistant minister when Mr Munro’s health was failing, and within nine months he had been ordained as his successor at the tender age of 31. Minister and people were to be together for almost 40 years, seeing not only a new church but a new world take shape. The first years of his ministry were fraught with anxiety, moving to a new church in a thinly-populated area, with a small congregation and heavy financial obligations. Yet led by an energetic and inspiring minister, steady progress was made.

In 1907 the church was extended to provide 100 more seats, a separate vestry was added, and a new pulpit and communion table were in place. By 1914 the number of communicants on the Roll had risen to 319, with 200 children enrolled in the Sabbath Schools and 65 at the Bible Class. There was a Foreign Missions Committee, a Junior Choir, and a well-attended series of Monday Lectures. In 1912 the Session and congregation voted in favour of individual communion cups, which were first used at the October Communion of that year.

Plans for a further expansion of church and halls were well advanced when the First World War intervened in 1914. Various war-related fund-raising activities took precedence and occupied the attention of congregation and office-bearers. Mr Livingstone spent some time working with the troops in France, returning to Jordanhill in September 1917. Sixty-six members of the Church served in the armed forces and eight made the ultimate sacrifice.

After the war the expansion plans were resurrected, for a gallery and an added west aisle, together with a new hall, which it was agreed should be a memorial for those who had fallen in the war. The hall was built first, being opened and dedicated in October 1922. It then had to serve as the sanctuary for a year while the church extensions were constructed and a new organ (still our present one) was purchased and installed. The new additions were dedicated at a service on 7th September 1923 and a special organ recital was given three days later. The costs of these major changes were Hall £2,256, Church £5,995 and organ £1,125-a grand total of £9,376. This was a huge sum of money in those days, yet the debt was completely cleared by the year-end-a very impressive performance by the congregation.

Mr Livingstone celebrated his semi-jubilee in September 1924, in recognition of which presentations were made to him and his wife. The years that followed were a period of steady progress for the church, with membership increasing to 411 in 1929 and 507 by 1938. Full use was made of the new hall, and the Woman’s Guild, Girl Guides and Brownies, Girls’ Auxiliary, Life Boys, YMCA and Band of Hope all had their allotted days and hours. The 272nd Company The Boys’ Brigade was formed in 1936. Literary, musical and social events were also held regularly, and the Session’s decision in 1926 to forbid dancing in the hall was soon reversed after a petition from the Deacons’ Court.

Dr Livingstone was awarded a Ph.D from Edinburgh University in 1934, based on research carried out some years earlier during a six-month chaplaincy in Algiers. But in the latter years of his long ministry at Jordanhill his health was poor and in March 1938 he collapsed in the pulpit and died a few weeks later. Dr Livingstone had come to a reducing congregation and a crumbling church building, and 40 years later left behind a thriving congregation and a fine church well equipped for further progress.

His successor was the Rev George Allison (1939-43), who was inducted in April 1939. In his four short years at Jordanhill Mr Allison led the congregation with great spirit as it faced the many problems caused by the Second World War. The Memorial Hall served as a temporary home for refugees from the Channel Islands, and then became a canteen and recreation centre for the troops stationed in Jordanhill College School, staffed by bands of volunteers from the congregation (the forerunner of the Church Café?). Sunday services were held under wartime restrictions, and there was some local bomb damage in which a member of the congregation lost her life. Seven members died on active service.

Youth work had always been a special interest of Mr Allison, and in 1943 he left to take up a senior administrative post at the Church’s Edinburgh headquarters, dealing with the religious instruction of youth.

The next incumbent was the Rev John C. Cockburn (1944-58), a former pupil of Hutcheson’s Boys’ Grammar School and a distinguished graduate of Glasgow University. He was also the first genuine Glaswegian to take charge at Jordanhill. He was a gentle, kindly man and a scholarly preacher, and under his guidance the church continued to flourish. A Young People’s Association and the Dramatic Club were founded, but in contradiction the Session strangely rejected the proposed introduction of a Scottish Country Dancing Class.

The Rev Tom Allan, who was a member of the congregation at the time, made the first radio broadcast from Jordanhill Church in connection with the “Tell Scotland Movement”. Overseas missionary work was another interest of Jordanhill and the annual Missionary Meeting was always well supported. Among the speakers were two Jordanhill church members who had been missionaries, and also a minister from the Church of South India, Rev Michael Orr, of whom more anon.

In 1946 five memorial windows on the north wall were unveiled and in 1949 a new bell was donated and dedicated. The old manse in Crow Road no longer met modern standards and was sold, and the present manse at 96 Southbrae Drive was acquired in the summer of 1953. The Church’s centenary in 1954 was celebrated with special services and events, and a history of the first 100 years was written by a member of the Session, Dr William Kerr, Principal of Jordanhill College. In the same year Mr Cockburn also celebrated 25 years as an ordained minister and 10 years at Jordanhill.

By now accommodation was once again a problem, particularly in providing adequate space for the many organisations making use of the premises throughout the week and on Sundays. It was therefore decided to extend the hall premises at a cost of £8,000. This work was completed in 1958 and the final cost of £9,500 was cleared by 1960, paid for from a Buildings Fund which had originally been the Centenary Fund, with generous donations from members and various fund-raising activities.

When Mr Cockburn accepted a call to a church in Kilmarnock in 1959, Jordanhill was once again seeking a new minister. The Rev J M Orr (1960-76) was the unanimous choice of the vacancy committee and the congregation, and his induction took place on 20th May 1960. An Edinburgh graduate, Mr Orr came to Jordanhill from St Andrew’s Church, Auchterarder, having previously served in the army and as a minister in the Church of South India. At the October Communion that year the sacrament was dispensed to 826 members, a record for Jordanhill Church.

Mr Orr’s ministry was a very active and progressive period for Jordanhill. In 1960 a student assistant minister was appointed, the first of a succession of male and female assistants who have served the Church well, particularly, but not exclusively, with youth work, allowing the minister to spend more time on pastoral work. 1961 was a record year for new members and baptisms, and the monthly “Cover” was renamed “The Bulletin” and became a much livelier publication. Seat rents were finally abolished in 1962.

Moving with the times Jordanhill elected nine women to the Deacons’ Court in 1964, and three years later we were one of the first Scottish churches to have female elders when five women were ordained. In 1967 Mr Orr also was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree by Edinburgh University and also became official Chaplain to Jordanhill College School, with which the Church had had a close connection over many years. In 1968 the first Weekend Session Conference took place at Dollarbeg, another of Dr Orr’s innovations which has been continued since then.

Membership continued to grow, as shown by the following figures:

Year Adult Members Sunday School Roll
1949 745 151
1952 831 227
1956 975 265
1959 1,129 310
1961 1,167 343
1965 1,186 361

Further additions to the premises were clearly needed, and in 1970 extension plans were submitted at an estimated cost of £34,000. The new rooms and upstairs hall came into use in 1972, fittingly named after former ministers Munro, Livingstone, Allison and Cockburn.

Dr Orr and the Session also introduced a number of changes in traditional services. The annual Hogmanay Service was replaced by a Christmas Watchnight Service in 1960, the evening Communion Service moved to the afternoon in 1964, and the Friday Preparatory service was abandoned in 1972. A 9.30 a.m. “Family Service” was begun in 1971, and evening services were finally discontinued a few years later after much heart-searching and debate.

After 16 very busy and effective years at Jordanhill, Dr Orr made it known that he wished to return to a less stressful country charge and had accepted a call to Aberfoyle. He had made a great contribution to Jordanhill Church, and warm tributes were paid to him and Mrs Orr at a Farewell Social in January 1977.

While the vacancy committee went to work the Deacons’ Court was busy introducing a “Give As You Earn” Scheme to encourage members to assess and hopefully increase their annual givings. Putting the Church finances on a better footing was essential, and a heartening move for the new minister, Rev Finlay A J Macdonald (1977-1996), who was inducted on the first Sunday in June 1977. Like his predecessor he brought to Jordanhill a school-teacher wife and school-age children, who quickly settled into the local community.

Mr Macdonald was soon working harmoniously with the Kirk Session and Deacons’ Court, supported by a succession of assistants including several from the United States. He made further changes to services and forms of worship, and introduced a new committee structure including Pastoral Care and Christian Education committees, to be more responsive to the needs of the congregation and the community. Session conferences were held at Jordanhill College and Ross Priory, discussing such themes as the Church in the parish, eldership, and the place of children in the Church.

To mark the 125th anniversary of the congregation in 1979 and the 75th anniversary of the present building, the Church history was updated by Sir Henry Wood, a senior elder and coincidentally like the previous author Principal of Jordanhill College.

A major project was also begun to enhance the sanctuary by extending the chancel and creating a west chancel in the north-west corner for smaller services and other meetings. A group of volunteers painstakingly restored all the pews to their natural colouring, warm red carpeting was laid, and the Church was completely re-decorated. After many months of worshipping in the Memorial Hall, the congregation returned to a pristine Church on a glorious Spring morning in 1980, opening the service with the hymn “How lovely is thy dwelling place”. The renovations were dedicated on the 75th anniversary on 8th June at a service in which former ministers George Allison and Michael Orr took part, with the Moderator of the General Assembly the Very Rev Peter Brodie preaching.

The revised layout provided an opportunity for new innovations, one of which was a midweek service in the West Chancel on Wednesdays at 10 a.m., and this has continued for over 20 years. In the early 1980s a decision was taken to replace the names “Sunday School” and “Bible Class” with the more modern and inclusive “Junior Church”, while a Young Adults’ Group was formed in 1983 for those who had outgrown the Youth Forum. In that year Mr Macdonald graduated Doctor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, and the Kirk Session presented him with a Ph.D hood to mark the occasion.

The Easter Day Service in 1982 was broadcast live from Jordanhill Church, and in November 1985 three ecumenical services were televised by STV. In January 1988 our New Year’s Day Service was broadcast throughout the UK, and in October 1992 we provided a BBC Sunday Half-Hour.

In 1984 and again in 1993 long-service certificates were presented to many senior elders and office-bearers, too many to list here, but without whose long dedication Jordanhill Church could not have continued to flourish. The Church Office, first established in 1977 and now an essential resource within the Church, got its first computer in 1987 and this radically improved the production of agendas, minutes, orders of service and the monthly “Link” (previously the “Bulletin”). The system was upgraded in 1994, and in 1995 the Church kitchen was completely redesigned and re-equipped. In the same year our Church history was the subject of an impressive exhibition.

1988 saw the formation of the very popular Church Walking Group, with monthly walks on Saturdays and Wednesdays throughout the year providing both exercise and comradeship. At the suggestion of Lisa Withrow, our American assistant at the time, a Church library was established in 1989, with the Munro Room chosen as the venue for this facility which is still available. Stewardship campaigns and full parish visitations were held on several occasions, and all new residents to the district were visited and invited to attend our services, while Christmas and Easter cards were distributed throughout the parish each year.

1990 was a memorable year when the congregation held a series of special events to celebrate Glasgow’s status as European City of Culture. These included art and photography exhibitions, concerts, walks around Glasgow, and a major flower festival visited by over 1,000 people in a weekend. A lasting reminder of this special year is the banners created by a group of talented lady members. The year was also marked by a “Reformation Service” starting in the style of 1560, with men and women sitting separately, and gradually coming up to the present time. All of these events, planned and organised by a special committee, were much enjoyed and brought a renewed sense of fellowship throughout the congregation.

Dr Macdonald continued the important role of chaplain to Jordanhill School, and in the mid-1980s he was elected convener of the “Save the School” Action Committee after it was threatened with closure by the Scottish Office. The local community was strongly supportive, but this still involved him in a huge and stressful amount of extra work on top of his pastoral duties. When a successful conclusion was achieved he then became the first convener of the new Board of Managers charged with introducing and overseeing new management structures and systems for the day-to-day operation of the School.

Dr Macdonald’s ministry was eventful and stimulating, with innovative forms of worship and church music, while also strengthening the Church’s bonds with the parish and the wider local community. He had a friendly manner and a fine sense of humour, and was a caring pastor and an excellent preacher. He always took a keen interest in topical events, which often became the basis of a thought-provoking sermon. When Dr Macdonald left in March 1996 to take up the important post of Principal Clerk to the General Assembly, the Congregation gratefully acknowledged his outstanding contribution to the life and work of Jordanhill Church. Both Dr Macdonald and his predecessor Dr Orr have demonstrated their continued interest in Jordanhill by retaining strong links with the congregation through personal friendships and return visits.

Rev Colin C Renwick, (1996 – 2014) was inducted at a special service in October 1996. Educated at Breadalbane Academy, Aberfeldy, and at Aberdeen and Glasgow Universities, he came to us after several years of ministry at Maybole. He has brought to Jordanhill not only his own refreshing style of preaching closely linked to biblical themes, but also a prodigious musical talent as a former church organist, an excellent pianist and a fine tenor singer.

In Sunday worship differing forms and orders of service have been introduced, with regular participation by adult members and youth groups. The 10.30 morning service and the Wednesday morning service have continued, with an evening communion service once a month. The joint services with the Carmelite Sisters at Kirkintilloch (previously Langside) have continued, and monthly services are provided at residential homes within the parish. In 2006 Jordanhill was one of the first churches to introduce the new hymn book “CH4”, and the Congregation had to cope with many new and unfamiliar hymns, usually successfully after some coaching.

The 150th anniversary of the congregation was marked by a special service in November 2004, and the centenary of the present Church building was celebrated by a range of different events in 2005.

One of Mr Renwick’s most successful innovations was in 1998 when he suggested the setting up of a Wednesday “Church Café”. Staffed by a team of hard-working ladies, backed up by dozens of talented soup-makers and home bakers, this institution has gone from strength to strength, and is now well-known and very popular with Church members, other local residents and also school children. From its net income the café has also made regular contributions to Church funds and financed halls refurbishment and the purchase of new equipment.

At time of writing Jordanhill Parish Church under its various names has survived through more than one and a half centuries, two world wars, internal and external problems and the odd financial crisis. But in 2008 the minister, office-bearers and congregation are looking forward with confidence to the challenges of the 21st century and already planning for these. A Vision Group has been considering the challenges that may have to be faced and how Jordanhill should cope with these.

It is recognised that, as forms of worship change, the traditional sanctuary and facilities that have served us well may have to be changed too. We cannot foresee the future, but we can have faith that the work of our predecessors has not been in vain, and that future generations will continue that work in Jordanhill Parish Church for many years to come.

In the years following the centenary celebrations the condition of the church building became an increasingly serious cause for concern. The stonework and roof are in need of major renovation and repair, and the interior of the sanctuary also needs refurbishment. Expert advice has been sought and estimated costs obtained, and the process of raising the necessary funding is under way. The Heritage Lottery Fund has provisionally agreed to provide a sizeable amount and other sources of finance are also being sought. That finance will have to be at least matched by congregational funding, and a significant amount has already been raised or committed. It is planned to begin the first stages of work later in 2014, and to complete the full programme of works within two years.

Early in 2014 Rev. Colin Renwick announced that he had accepted a call to become the minister of Dunblane Cathedral and would be leaving before Easter. Mr Renwick leaves Jordanhill Parish Church after a very successful and fulfilling ministry of 17 years, and goes to his new post with the full blessing and support of the congregation. Under the current Glasgow Presbytery Plan, the Jordanhill congregation is in a linkage with Balshagray Victoria Park Church with a view to union within seven years. This means that Jordanhill Parish Church is currently not permitted to seek a new minister with full tenure. Both congregations have lodged appeals against the proposed linkage and these are currently being considered by Presbytery.

We are fortunate that the Rev David Keddie, a retired minister who is a member of our congregation, has agreed to act as locum during this extended period. All Church worship, organisations, and community outreach activities will continue as normal.