‘375 Years of Witness’
At the beginning of the 16th Century, the Catholic Church was still very much in control throughout Europe. Although there were grumblings, there was no one to unite and lead the dissidents. Then in 1517 a leader appeared in the shape of Martin Luther, a professor of Biblical Studies at Wittenburg in Germany. He nailed his 95 theses to the door of his Church and the Reformation had begun. In 1521 he was thrown out of the Church and along with many others began the task of spreading Reform throughout Europe
Scotland at the beginning of the 16th Century was still feudal and suffering under a corrupt Church. In 1528 Patrick Hamilton introduced Luther’s ideas to the people of Scotland and was burned by the Bishop of St Andrews for his troubles. John Knox then took up the struggle and after a spell as a galley slave (he had been captured by the French), he returned to Scotland, where he defeated Queen Mary in battle in August 1560. Reform had come to Scotland under James VI they had their first Protestant King.
National Covenant Signed
There were many fights and disputes over the next 80 years, but progress was made and more Protestant Ministers were trained and Churches built. A major setback came with the death of James and the succession of his son, Charles I in 1625. He was no Scot and was greatly influenced by his Catholic wife. He tried to force a liturgy, written by the Archbishop of Canterbury, on the Scottish people and as a result of his insensitivity they rioted. Charles persisted and in 1638 the National Covenant was signed in GreyfriarsChurch in Edinburgh, in protest against Charles’ belief in the doctrine of the ‘Divine Right of Kings’. This united the country as never before, in what the people saw as the fight against the re-imposition of Catholicism. In 1642 Civil war broke out in England and it was Oliver Cromwell who managed to win the Scots over to his side and Charles was doomed.
Building of Fenwick Kirk
It was against this background that Fenwick Kirk was built, having been disjoined from the Laigh Parish, in Kilmarnock, in 1642. The Church was built in 1643 in the form of a Greek Cross, with the Pulpit in the west arm surmounted by a Sounding Board and beside which stands the Sand Glass; still turned by the Beadle today at the beginning of the Sermon. This is not, as some suppose, to make the Minister stop after a certain length of time (approx 40 minutes), but was in the past to ensure that the people received an ample amount of the Word of God each Sunday.
The Rowallan Gallery
The Gallery directly opposite the Pulpit is known as the Laird’s Loft or the Rowallan Gallery. Named after the principal landowner responsible for the building of the Church, Lord Rowallan. This gallery has an outside stair and in days gone past, only the Laird would have had a key and so he decided who would sit directly in front of the Minister.
The Call to William Guthrie, the first Minister of Fenwick, was donated to the Trustees of the Lochgoin Trust in 1985, by the family of William Guthrie and the Kirk Session was asked if it could be hung in the Church. The Call begins with the words, ‘Reverend and well-beloved’ and ends, ‘Your very affectionate friends and flock’. The names make fascinating reading. In 1643 no women were allowed to sign the Call and all those in the left hand column have the same handwriting, because many could not write and so someone had to sign on their behalf. The right hand column contains the important families of the day, beginning, as you would expect with the name of Lord Rowallan, the biggest landowner of the area.
Guthrie was a popular Preacher and a caring Pastor and soon he built the new Church up. It is claimed that people moved house and job, just to be a part of his congregation. For over 20 years he taught the people of Fenwick about the love of God. Then in 1664 things changed. Charles II began a campaign of enforcing an Episcopal form of Church Government on to the Church of Scotland, just as his father Charles I had done. Guthrie was a Presbyterian at heart and supported the National Covenant of 1638, which rejected any such moves. On the morning of 24th July 1664, the King’s Curate ejected him from his Pulpit. He treated the Curate with courtesy and even gave him lunch in the Manse before he left for his native Elgin; where he was to die just one year later.
Beside Guthrie’s Call, sits the Bible of Capt John Paton. He handed this, from the gallows, to his wife, just before he was executed. Paton was an Elder of this church and also a Covenanter. Many were the skirmishes he had with the Dragoons before he was captured and executed in Edinburgh in 1685.
The Phinigk Flag was flown by the Covenanters at the battle of Drumclog, their only victory, and at the battle of BothwellBridge, their greatest defeat. Fifteen hundred Covenanters were taken prisoner; many died during the months of confinement in Greyfriars Churchyard, the rest in a shipwreck off the Scottish mainland, after they had been deported to the colonies. The flag bears the words, ‘Phinigk for God, Cwntry and Covenanted Works of Reformations’. The gap between God and Cwntry would usually have been filled by the word ‘king’, but of course it was the king they were fighting against. But rather than exclude the king totally, they left a space, just in case the king should come back into the fold. The symbols are the Open Bible, the Martyrs Crown and the Thistle.
The Embroidery Hanging
In 1993 we celebrated our 350th Anniversary with many different events, most notable being the visit of the then Moderator of the General Assembly, the Rev Hugh Wyllie.
Maybe the most memorable part of 1993 was the ‘Hanging’. Mrs Bunty Bryson and some friends carried out this work on display on the north wall. They spent almost 18 months making it, before it was unveiled by the Moderator of the Presbytery, at a special service to end our year of celebration.
The Covenanters were against the imposition of Episcopal practices by the king. So when they were forced out of their Churches, they met illegally on the moors and hills around Scotland. These services were known as Conventicles and anyone caught attending such a service was liable to execution. Indeed many were killed for just having a Bible on their person when the Dragoons appeared. It is not for nothing that these times are known as the ‘Killing Times’. The Churchyard bears testimony to several who died because of their beliefs. More men from the Parish of Fenwick died in the cause of the Covenanters, than from any other parish in Scotland.
The name board of all the ministers from the time of Guthrie shows the number of Curates who ran FenwickChurch until the 1690 Revolution and the deposing of James II. With the crowning of William, Presbyterianism became, by Act of Parliament, the official form of Church Government in Scotland.
For the next 70 years things were fairly quiet in Fenwick until the question of Patronage reared its ugly head. This Act of Parliament allowed the local landowner to pick the Minister, even if the people disliked him. In 1782 the Earl of Glasgow imposed upon the Congregation, the Rev William Boyd. So disliked was he, that not one adult, except the senile beadle, turned up to his Ordination. That year the breakaway Burgher Congregation was formed. Mind you, William Boyd still stayed for over 46 years! Then in 1843, the Disruption came to Fenwick. This split came about over the issue of Patronage and so the village now had three Congregations. 1913 saw a Union between the Burgher Congregation and the Free Kirk, to become the United Free Church; then with the National Union of 1929, it became the West Congregation of the Church of Scotland.
Andrew Burns saw the last tragic event in the life of the OldFenwickParishChurch. It happened on the evening before the November Communion of 1929. A spark from the Church’s boiler set alight to the roof and the Church was totally destroyed. Only the walls remained standing and all that was saved internally was the Sand Glass and its stand. In a short space of time the Church was rebuilt and restored to its former glory.
1933 saw Fenwick face a new challenge, when for the first time in 150 years; there was only one Church in the village. The splits of 1782 and 1843 had come to an end and now the village was united again. At least until Communion, when people had to decide on whether to sit upstairs where the ‘real stuff’ was or downstairs where the non-alcoholic wine was served.
In 1989 a new floor was laid, the Chancel area opened up and a new carpet put down. These changes have added to the character and warmth of welcome that members and visitors receive as they come to worship week by week.
In 2016 the church halls were redeveloped to better accommodate both church and community activities.
2018 is our 375th Anniversary and we are celebrating with a series of events with the primary emphasis around the covenanting history of the church including a Conventicle and a visit from The Moderator of the General Assembly along with all the former ministers.
What does the future hold for the people of Fenwick Kirk? Most importantly we hope that we can keep building on the same vision and faith that has inspired so many generations in the Parish to fight and win, even when the odds were stacked against them; so that Fenwick Kirk will still be here in another 375 years, witnessing and giving glory to the God who protects us and is guiding us.
At the North and South Gates of the Church stand the sentry boxes. These were built during the early part of the 19th Century. Their purpose was to house the men who guarded the freshly dug graves from the ravages of the body snatchers. Fenwick too had its own Burke and Hare.
On the East side of the Church stands the Memorial Stone of Capt John Paton. The engraved swords can still be seen at the Museum at Lochgoin. On the South side of the Church lies the Guthrie Memorial Stone, and to the West is the stone erected in memory of James White who was shot dead at a Prayer Meeting and had his head cut off by a Dragoon, who then played football with it in the streets of Newmilns. The verse on the stone was read by Sir Walter Scott and was used in one of his books. Such was the effect of the words, he is supposed to never have forgotten them. All the graves with a green plaque represent a Fenwick Martyr. Although there are eight Covenanter Graves in the Kirkyard, there are only four Covenanters buried there, the rest are memorial stones
A bell rope hung outside the Church for 350 years and until recently was rung each Sunday to call the people to worship (it is now rung electronically). The Jougs hang on the South Wall and are the weapons of shame and punishment. Anyone that the Session thought unworthy was chained there as an object of shame.