Dumfries and Galloway

The Tomb of Alexander Linn - Shepherd, Covenanter, Martyr

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Alexander Linn was shot on the spot on Craigmoddie Fell, a remote part of Wigtownshire, in 1685 after being found with a pocket Bible. In May 1827, 142 years later, the Stranraer minister William Symington preached a sermon at the spot. A stone wall was built around the grave, its stone placed in the wall, and a new stone added.

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According to one contemporary account, ‘it is so remote a place, that nothing but the hottest spirit of persecution could have pursued its victims into such a wild. It was a matter of surprise, that a congregation could be collected there to hear sermon. Yet, says an eye witness, we had a large and most attentive audience, people having gathered from a wide circle of the surrounding country’.

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‘It was with great difficulty that Dr. Symington could find his way to the spot on the Sabbath morning; but as he approached it, he perceived people streaming towards it from all quarters. A temporary pulpit was erected near the martyr’s grave. The audience listened with much pleasure to a long and moving discourse from Jude 3’.

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The Dumfries & Galloway Courier (29 May 1827) reported that there were at least 1000 people there - and that Symington spoke for four hours!

‘The preacher and his audience, which could not be under 1,000 souls, had to travel through bogs for many a weary mile, and when the voice of the Psalms rose in the wilderness, and matrons, maids, and reverential men were seen streaming from every neighbouring height, the spectators had a living example before them of a conventicle held in the days of persecution. We need not eulogise the talents of the preacher. As a divine he has very few equals, whether among Dissenters or in the Established Church; and although he spoke for four hours, a more attentive and enthusiastic congregation never assembled on a hill-side. The inscription on the humble tomb of Linn furnished the Rev. Gentleman with a text, “contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints,” and never was a text more interestingly illustrated. The remoteness of the spot — the tent planted in the open wild — the monotonous aspect of external nature as contrasted with the pious worshippers around — the burn stealing through the heathery waste, and the curlew complaining that her wilderness had been invaded — all contributed to subdue the mind to a holy calm, to banish for a time every worldly feeling, and produce impressions which only the poet could have adequately described’.

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One tradition states that Linn was from New Luce, and would have been a parishioner of Alexander Peden’s - however it is more likely that he was a fugitive from elsewhere.

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Further memorial services were held in 1887, 1911 and 1912. According to another source, ‘additional commemoration services were held at the tomb in 1972 and 1985, the latter marking the 300th anniversary of the death of Alexander Linn. The 1972 service was recorded by an addendum to his original 1685 stone in which two numbers in the date were transposed, reading 1927 instead of 1972’.

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“Contend for the faith that was once for all given to the saints” - Jude 3

“Happy is that people whose God is the LORD” - Psalm 144:15

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Church buildings in Wigtownshire

Our church building features in a 2016 publication entitled Church Buildings in Wigtownshire, by John R. Hume.

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In a helpful introduction to the book, Hume notes the pivotal role of Wigtownshire in the Christianisation of Scotland, with physical evidence of early Christianity at Kirkmadrine and Whithorn (where there used to be an RP church). He also notes that in the 20th and 21st centuries rural depopulation has continued, and with it the number of active places of worship, with only a handful of new church buildings constructed since 1945.

It could be added that even in Stranraer itself, church closures and mergers are a constant feature. And while socio-economic factors are doubtless part of it, the Bible alerts us to the fact that there may be another reason for the closure of churches - the Lord Jesus Christ coming and removing lampstands (churches) when they lose their first love (Revelation 2:5). Even in churches which remain open, the Bible has long since been stolen from unsuspecting churchgoers. Against this background we’re grateful that God has preserved us as a congregation to bring the good news about Jesus Christ to 21st century Stranraer.

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The book is available from the Stranraer and District Local History Trust for £4.50.

Reformed reading group starts in SW Scotland

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Last week, a new ministers’ reading group started in Newton Stewart, organised by Reformation Scotland. For our first meeting, we worked through a book written by a local Galloway minister 350 years ago - Samuel Rutherford’s Conversations with a Dying Man. Even though the book was written a long time ago, it led to some very practical discussions about ministering to the sick and dying.

For more resources from Reformation Scotland, including their video series Scotland’s Forgotten History, check out their website.

New book traces history of RP churches in Galloway

Although Stranraer is currently the only Reformed Presbyterian Church in Dumfries and Galloway, it wasn't always that way. In fact, there is a rich history of Reformed Presbyterianism in South-West Scotland. This is highlighted in the newly-released Ministers and Congregations of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland: 1688-2016 by James A. Dickson.

The front cover features the Ordnance Survey map of Whithorn from 1844

The front cover features the Ordnance Survey map of Whithorn from 1844

The book contains sections on both the congregations and ministers of the RPCS. Congregations particularly close to Stranraer (which originally included Stoneykirk) included Colmonell, Girvan, New Luce, Newton Stewart and Whithorn. During the ministry of William Symington in Stranraer (1819-1839), we're told that a large proportion of the members were from outside the town itself - Inch, Leswalt, New Luce, Stoneykirk etc.

For an interactive map of locations of RPCS congregations past and present, click  here

For an interactive map of locations of RPCS congregations past and present, click here

Other Congregations in Dumfries and Galloway included Castle Douglas, Dumfries, Dunscore, Lockerbie (Hightae), Scaurbridge (Penpont), Quarrelwood and Sanquhar. Congregations in nearby Ayrshire included Ayr, Crookedholm, Darvel and New Cumnock.

The book also mentions a number of revivals which took place in Dumfries in the 1800s, which Stranraer's minister at the time, William Symington, was 'very much involved in'.

Let's pray and work to see God's blessing on this part of Scotland in the twenty-first century!