American visitors

We recently had the opportunity to hear about the work of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. Jason and Michelle, who were over visiting from Indianapolis with their two children, gave us a bit of a flavour of church life Stateside at our Wednesday morning Bible study.

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Stephen and Jason had previously met on a mission team in Newry, and Carla and Michelle had previously met on a mission team in Airdrie. Because of their vision for the Global RP Church, they said that they had decided to spend their European holiday in Airdrie and Stranraer rather than Barcelona and London.

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After sharing some traditional Scottish food, Stephen and Carla took them to Wigtown to show them some Covenanter sites.  We are grateful for another opportunity to spend time with brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world!

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Banner of Truth Ministers' Conference

At the end of April, Stephen attended the Banner of Truth Ministers' conference in England. It's a great opportunity to meet fellow ministers from the UK and around the world, and be encouraged by talks on the subject of ministry.

  Breakfast with brothers from Chile, Albania and Larne!

Breakfast with brothers from Chile, Albania and Larne!

The conference gave Stephen the opportunity to meet Simon Arscott, the minister of All Nations IPC (Ilford) where one of our members, Gareth, is attending while he's working in London.

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It was also a chance to catch up with fellow RP ministers from Ireland who had made the trip over. Warren Peel (Trinity RPC) was one of this year's main speakers.

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Videos of the talks are available here.

All the lonely people

‘All the lonely people. Where do they all come from? All the lonely people. Where do they all belong?'

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The Beatles’ lyrics seem more relevant than ever. In January, Theresa May appointed a Minister for Loneliness. Someone joked that they couldn’t work out why the government had only appointed one of them – but loneliness is no laughing matter. A 2017 study found that 9 million people in Britain often or always felt lonely. Government research found that 200,000 older people had not had a conversation with a friend or relative in a month. But it’s not just a problem for older people - 83% of 13-34 year olds in the UK say they feel lonely, as do a third of new mums. And loneliness can be lethal – research shows that being lonely and isolated increases the risk of early death by a third.

The Bible recognises the dangers of loneliness. God created a world where there was no sickness, suffering or death, and declared it ‘very good’. But there was one thing which wasn’t good – ‘it is not good that the man should be alone’. One solitary human being wouldn’t reflect a three-person God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) – and wouldn’t cope well with life.

One of God’s solutions to loneliness is marriage – yet the Bible recognises that not all will marry, married people can feel lonely too, and one partner is usually left alone. God’s other solution to loneliness is one that you might not expect. It’s called the church.

For many today, church is a building. It’s something that you go to, not something you’re part of. But the idea of church as just something you go to once a week is radically different from the New Testament descriptions of the church as a family and as a body. That’s a picture which our congregation seeks (albeit imperfectly) to live out. When our daughter was born last year, people in the church brought meals to the house for weeks afterwards. Our people are regularly in each other’s homes for meals. The sick and housebound are visited in hospital and at home.

None of this is because anyone has been told to do it. It simply reflects the fact that through faith in Jesus we’re now brothers and sisters in Christ, and we want to reflect that in how we live our lives. And of course, the great Christian hope is Heaven, a place where none are strangers, because all are members of the one family.

Published in the Stranraer and Wigtownshire Free Press, 26th April 2018.

School ministry

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Last week, Stephen had the opportunity to speak to all 1,050 pupils in Stranraer Academy over four days as part of their 'Time for Reflection' assemblies.

Tomorrow, he will be taking part in an S1 class, answering questions the students have prepared, such as: 'Why do you believe in God?' 'Why did you choose to do work for a church?' 'What is the greatest miracle ever?' and many more!

William Symington: Stranraer's most famous minister

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Undoubtedly, the most well-known minister the RP Church in Stranraer has ever had was William Symington. He was minister here for twenty years, from 1819-39. Shortly after he came the church building was rebuilt to hold 700, and was regularly packed out. He's most well-known for two books which he wrote while minister in Stranraer, which are still in print today.

We recently were reminded of him twice in a week. Firstly, in our study on the Shorter Catechism, we reached Q25 which is about how Jesus is our great high priest. That was the subject of Symington's first book, On the Atonement and Intercession of Jesus Christ. Then, in our sermon series on Daniel, we reached the end of Daniel chapter 9, which is where the title of Symington's most famous book, Messiah the Prince, comes from.

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Here is the entry on Symington from the out-of-print Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology by the RPCNA's Roy Blackwood:

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Symington, William (1795-1862), RP theologian. He was born in Paisley and ordained in the RPC in Stranraer in South West Scotland, serving as pastor there 1819-39 and then in Great Hamilton Street Church, Glasgow, 1839-62. He published two theological works, On the Atonement and Intercession of Jesus Christ (Edinburgh, 1834) and Messiah the Prince (Edinburgh, 1839). The latter was his most important contribution to Scottish theology; it expounds a basis in the theology of Christ's kingship and kingdom for Church-state relationships.

The RP Synod elected him Professor of their Theological Hall after the death of his brother, Andrew Symington in 1853, and once described the two brothers as 'the most distinguished ministers who have been raised up to us since the martyrdom of James Renwick. They led the RPC out of an attitude of narrow provincialism focused on self-preservation and into a sense of missionary responsibility for the Church in Scotland and throughout the world.

Symington was pre-eminently a Covenanter Evangelical. He once described how, at the age of seventeen, 'I gave myself away to the Lord in a solemn, personal covenant.' He insisted that the only basis for Scotland's national covenants was the covenant of grace. He became deeply involved in social reform because he saw intemperance, ignorance of the Scriptures, illiteracy, slavery, bad working conditions and corruption in government as moral sins in a nation committed to God in public covenant. He was recognized as one of Scotland's most powerful and eloquent preachers and frequently spoke to these issues in other churches and on public platforms. What Thomas Chalmers and Andrew Thomason were to Glasgow and Edinburgh, Symington was to south-west Scotland. In Glasgow he focused on the thousands drawn into deplorable living conditions by the Industrial Revolution. The church (which seated a thousand people) went to three services, then formed two mission churches and a school system involving over 900 students and fifty teachers. In 1838 the University of Edinburgh recognised his leadership by granting him the degree of DD. His life motto was (in Greek) 'To God Alone be Glory'.

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In 2009, an account of his life, as well as summaries of his books, by Roy Blackwood and Michael Lefebvre, was published by Reformation Heritage Books entitled: William Symington: Penman of the Scottish Covenanters.

The original account of Symington's life was written by his sons and included in the second edition of Messiah the Prince. It is now available on our website. These last two resources make use of Symington's unpublished journal.