Church buildings in Wigtownshire

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


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.


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

2019 AGM

Tonight we had our Annual General Meeting, where we looked back at God’s goodness to us over the past year. Those who were able then stayed on for some takeaway food.


You can read the report of our activities during 2018 below:

Regular Events

We are thankful to be able to look back on 2018 as a year when God has clearly been at work in the congregation. We are grateful for the privilege of public worship which we enjoyed together on 104 occasions this year. There was an average attendance of 27 in the morning and 20 in the evening. We would exhort our members to make morning and evening worship central to their week.


Rev. Stephen Steele preached 77 times in Stranraer. He also preached three times in Faughan (as part of their annual church weekend) and once each in Gateway and Newtownards (RPCI), as well as once each in Fresno and Russell (RPCNA).

  • Rev. Gerald Milligan preached seven times

  • Mr Ian Gillies preached four times

  • Rev. Ruairidh MacLean (Free Church) preached four times

  • Mr Jude Colhoun (Irish Baptist College) preached three times as part of his placement

  • Rev. Andrew McMillan preached twice as part of his application to join the RPCS

  • Mr Ben Lowery (Edinburgh Theological Seminary), Rev. Archie McPhail (APC) and Rev. Andrew Quigley all preached twice

  • Rev. Tom McWhirter (UFC) preached once.

Stephen preached on the following books and topics: Jeremiah 29, Daniel, Psalms 1-10, Romans 1-7, Genesis 3-11, Esther, Public Worship, People Jesus Met and Zephaniah.


  • Communion - The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was celebrated twice. 22 people took communion on 13th May, and 20 on 11th November.

  • Baptism – Thomas Stuart Milligan was baptised on 30th September.


Session met 4 times over the course of the year. We are grateful for Mr George Rodger (Airdrie) as he continues to serve as our interim elder. We would urge our members to pray that God would equip and call qualified local men to serve as elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-16).


  • Gareth Milligan moved to London for work at the beginning of the year. We are delighted that he has settled well into All Nations International Presbyterian Church, a recent church plant in Ilford.

It is our prayer that in 2019 we would see more of those who worship with us publicly profess their faith in Jesus and come under Christ-appointed oversight by becoming church members.

Bible Studies

Stephen continued to lead two Bible studies per week:

  • On Wednesday mornings we discussed the passage that was preached on the previous Lord’s Day morning.

  • On Thursday evenings we continued working our way through the Shorter Catechism.


Up to 4 children were cared for in the crèche during the morning service each week. Bible stories were taught using Gospel Project materials. Session thank the following people who cared for our covenant children in this way: Amy Bingham, Elizabeth Craig, Ruth-Anne Henderson, Lesley McIntyre, Sheila McIntyre, Angela Milligan, David Milligan, Gerald Milligan, Ruth Milligan and Carla Steele.

Session reminds parents of their baptismal vows to ‘train your child to worship God among his people’. To help those children sitting through church, during 2018 Stephen continued to produce two worksheets (one for older children, and a simpler one for younger children) to help them follow along with the morning sermon.  

Sunday School before the morning service for children aged 7 and up continued throughout the year. The class, teaching an overview of the Bible using the Shorter Catechism, was taught by Mrs Carla Steele. Session commends Hannah and Daniel Hall on their excellent work memorising the first 26 questions of the Shorter Catechism.

We are delighted that Hannah attended girls’ camp and camp reunion once again. We would strongly encourage parents to make use of the great opportunities that these camps provide children aged 10+.


In the autumn Session decided to begin a Toddlers group on a trial basis through to the end of the year – both as an opportunity for Christian mums to get together, but also to try and develop contact with unbelievers. Given a positive trial period, it was decided to keep Toddlers going through to summer 2019.

Church lunches
We had a number of church lunches throughout the year, and are grateful for those who helped out with them.

Wider Ministry

As part of his wider ministry in Stranraer, Stephen took two weeks of assemblies in Stranraer Academy as well as taking part in an RMPS class. He continued to serve as chaplain to Stranraer FC and to write regular ‘Thought for the week’ articles in the Stranraer and Wigtownshire Free Press.

Special Events Throughout the Year

February: Session were delighted to be in a position to once again increase our givings to Presbytery (putting it up to £1500 per month). The congregation’s initial commitment in September 2015 had been £625, which we then doubled to £1250 in May 2017. We are thankful that this was another small step towards being self-funding.

March: We were delighted to welcome Jason O’Neill from Christ Church RP in Indiana to speak at our Wednesday morning bible study. As well as sharing his own testimony, he gave a very informative talk on the work God is doing through the RP Church in America. This was followed by a time of fellowship where we introduced Jason and his family to some Scottish treats over a cup of tea!

April: Stephen had the opportunity to speak to all the pupils in Stranraer Academy over 4 days as part of their ‘Time for Reflection’ assemblies. He also took part in an S1 RMPS class (Religious, Moral and Philosophical Education) covering ‘Charity’ and ‘Miracles’.

May: Rev. Andrew McMillan and his wife Brenda joined us in Stranraer for a weekend. Andrew preached twice (which was part of his application process to join the denomination) and they were also able to enjoy meals with several members of the congregation.

June: In June we welcomed an RP Mission Team, led by Ian Gillies. The bulk of the team’s work involved giving out leaflets advertising a 3-night mission entitled ‘Who needs Jesus anyway’, based on Romans chapters 1 and 2. The team sang psalms in Dalrymple Court, had  game nights with some of the young people in the congregation, did clean-up work at Stair Park and visited Covenanter sites in Wigtown and Anwoth.

July: Three of our members were able to attend the RP International Conference on the South Coast of Ireland, along with members from the four other RPCS congregations. These conferences are a great way to get to know other like-minded believers, and we would encourage others to consider going to events like these if at all possible.

August: We were delighted to have Jude Colhoun with us on placement for three weeks in August. Jude is a member in Raphoe Congregational Church and studying at the Irish Baptist College. Jude preached through the book of Habakkuk while he was here. He also led bible studies, introduced psalms in nursing homes, and studied The Priority of Preaching with Stephen.

From 24th-27th August we had our annual GO Team. Their main task was organising a Church Family Fun Day, at which Rev. David McCullough (Woodstock RPCI) gave two talks on the importance of family worship. The team also helped run a congregational movie night in the hall on the Friday night, sung psalms in Dalrymple Court on the Lord’s Day afternoon, and put on a musical performance in Belmont Care Home on the Monday, finishing with a time of psalm singing. We also took them to Glentrool to see the grave of six Covenanters, as well as Bruce’s stone. We are grateful for the work of the team members, young and old!

September: September marked three years since Stephen’s ordination in Stranraer, and time for Presbytery’s three-year review. As a reminder, when the Stirling church plant closed, the money that had been allocated to it (on a 3-5 year reviewable basis) was reallocated to Stranraer to enable the congregation to call a full-time minister.

Presbytery’s review looked for a core group of at least eight committed people (we have 20 communicant members), evidence of potential leadership (Rev. Gerald Milligan has been inducted as a ruling elder), a regular participation of at least 15 people exclusively associated with the church plant (our average attendance for 2017 was 28 in the morning and 22 in the evening) and a minimum annual income from tithes and offerings of 25% of the total operating costs (up to that point in 2018 we had covered 67% of the total operating costs).

We are grateful to God for such measurable progress, but would remind members that Presbytery are still covering around £20,000 per year of Stranraer’s costs. We would also remind members of their Biblical obligation to return at least 10% of all that God gives them – not to do so is to rob God (Malachi 3:8).

October: Our minister Stephen was asked to represent the Scottish RP Church at the annual meetings of the RP Global Alliance Advisory Committee in Ottawa, Canada. This is a great opportunity for our small congregation to be involved in the work of the wider church.

November: In November we began Discipleship Explored. Nine people initially signed up for the course so we split into two groups – with one meeting on Tuesday afternoon and the other on Thursday evening. Those who signed up have found the course to be very helpful in explaining the basics of following Jesus.

December: Stephen was asked back to take the Christmas ‘Time for Reflection’ assemblies in Stranraer Academy. We are thankful for these opportunities to bring the gospel message to local schoolchildren who otherwise might never hear it.

Looking back over the past year, we are grateful to have been spectators watching Christ build his church in Stranraer. It is our prayer that in the year ahead we will move closer to being a self-supporting, self-governing congregation known for proclaiming Christ and living out the gospel.


William Symington, RP minister in Stranraer 1819-39

On Thursday evening, Stephen gave a talk at the Wigtownshire Antiquarian and Natural History Society on Rev. William Symington, who was ordained in Stranraer 200 years ago this year. You can listen to the talk above, and view the accompanying presentation below:

A number of sources mentioned in the talk are available to read on our website. They are:

We have previously made available the contemporary account of his preaching mentioned in the talk, and the entry on Symington in the Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology.

Yesterday, just three days after Stephen’s talk, Roy Blackwood (whose PhD thesis on Symington is invaluable) passed away. You can read a tribute to him on the Gentle Reformation website.

"Adam poisoned me"

The BBC recently featured an interview with Toronto artist Gillian Genser, headlined: ‘How a sculptor’s artwork slowly poisoned her’. Genser was experiencing headaches, vomiting, hearing loss, confusion and suicidal thoughts. But she never suspected it was coming from the sculpture, which was made only of natural materials. 

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For years, doctors were baffled by what was afflicting her. They asked if she was working with anything toxic, and she assured them she wasn’t. They prescribed antipsychotics and antidepressants, but nothing seemed to help. Finally, she saw a specialist who tested her blood for heavy metals and found high levels of arsenic and lead in her system. She was shocked, but still confused — how had she ingested those dangerous compounds? Finally, she talked to one doctor who was horrified to hear that she had been grinding up mussel shells for the past fifteen years. She had no idea that mussels can accumulate toxins over years of feeding in polluted waters. 

And the most fascinating thing about the story is who the sculpture was meant to be. It was Adam, the first man. Genser recognised the irony herself. She said: ‘It’s very interesting and ironic that Adam, as the first man, was so toxic. He poisoned me. Doesn’t that make sense?’

Screenshot 2019-02-12 11.58.58.png

And it makes perfect sense, because that is what Adam, the first man, did to all of us. He poisoned us. He rebelled against God – and we are contaminated by that rebellion.

For a long time Genser didn’t suspect that her poisoning came from the sculpture of Adam. And we too don’t suspect that our sin comes built in. We blame society, education, our up-bringing. We believe the myth that people are basically good. And because of that misdiagnosis, we prescribe ourselves the wrong cure.

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One of those wrong cures is the outward forms of religion. Going to church, taking communion, giving money, doing good works. They’re all good things – but are helpless to cure the underlying problem.

The message of the Bible however is that a second Adam – Jesus Christ – has come to cleanse us from this in-built corruption, as well as all the other poisonous thoughts, words and deeds we add to it during our lives. It doesn’t mean those who trust him will be perfect. Like Gesner, we will suffer the effects of Adam’s poison for the rest of our lives – but it will no longer define us forever.

Published in the Stranraer and Wigtownshire Free Press, 14th February 2019

An RP worship service in 1847

On the 21st of February, Stephen will be giving a talk at the Wigtownshire Antiquarian & Natural History Society on William Symington. 2019 marks 200 years since Symington’s ordination in Stranraer and he remains Stranraer’s most famous minister.

The blurb for the talk is as follows:

2019 will be the 200th anniversary of the Reverend William Symington’s ordination in Stranraer where he commanded significant influence on the south west of Scotland and the wider ecclesiastical scene. A noted evangelical in the covenanting tradition, Symington was none the less outward-looking and deeply involved in social issues such as slavery, illiteracy, and poor working conditions. As the current Reformed Presbyterian minister in Stranraer, and with an MA in history, the Reverend Stephen Steele will present the findings of his research into one of Scotland’s most powerful and eloquent preachers.

As part of his research for the talk, Stephen has been reading some contemporary accounts of Symington. One, in a book entitled Our Scottish Clergy, includes a description of the morning and afternoon worship services in the Great Hamilton Reformed Presbyterian Church in Glasgow in 1847, eight years after Symington moved there from Stranraer.

William Symington Glasgow Examiner (from Our Scottish Clergy).png

Here’s the relevant excerpt:

Last Sabbath, at seven minutes past eleven, he entered his pulpit, and at a quarter-past eleven, the greater part of his large congregation had assembled. Some, however, continued to enter till the half hour. The services were commenced by singing the last four verses of the 31st psalm; and, after prayer, Psalm Ixxi. 10th to 15th verses inclusive, were read and expounded at considerable length (twenty minutes), and then sung. The only thing remarkable in this part of the public services of the body (the Reformed Presbyterian) to which Dr Symington belongs, is their exclusive use of the psalms — paraphrases and hymns being both prohibited. Two minutes before twelve, the 11th and 12th verses of the sixth chapter to the Hebrews were read as the subject of lecture. The lecturer first showed that these verses might be connected with the warning against apostacy in the beginning of the chapter, or with the verses immediately preceding them, in which the apostle had expressed his full confidence in those he addressed. He then proceeded to minutely analyse the subject of lecture, and to give the strict meaning of some of its original terms. He remarked that the word rendered desire in the eleventh verse, means vehement or intense desire, and indicates the deep anxiety a minister feels for his people. He also pointed out the minuteness of ministerial care indicated by the terms "every one" In speaking of Christian assurance, he said that Paul mentions it in three places, and in each of the three its aspect is peculiar. In Col. ii. 2, it is the assurance of understanding; in Heb. x. 22, it is the assurance of faith ; and in the passage under consideration, it is the assurance of hope. The former two passages, he said, referred to objective assurance, the latter to subjective assurance — a perception and conviction of truth revealed, and a personal interest in truth received — the former being the assurance of faith, the latter of sense. He then stated the character of this assurance ; that it was no vague idea of safety, nor even of the mere acting of faith, but a deep personal persuasion of an interest in Christ, founded on satisfactory evidence. That such assurance is attainable he proved from the facts, that it is the subject of apostolic benediction, exhortation, promise, and example. He stated that it was attainable by perseverance and practical godliness, and that all believers had it not, and that no believer had it always. He deprecated the conduct of those who consider doubts and fears essential to safety; these he affirmed were neither parts nor evidences of a man's Christianity. He then stated the three things that the apostle desired of the Hebrews — to show diligence, to avoid sloth, and to imitate those inheriting the promises, who, he said, might be either the living Gentiles, or their departed brethren, the Jews. He concluded by showing that sloth was sufficient to secure irretrievable ruin, and that the example of the saints is designed for imitation. He finished his excellent lecture at five minutes to one o'clock, and concluded the services by prayer, singing, and the benediction which was pronounced shortly after one o'clock.  

In the afternoon the people had assembled by a quarter after two. The church was well filled, almost every pew being fully occupied. After singing, a prayer of much fervour and very great length was offered. A chapter was then read without remark, and the second singing being over, Rom. xiii. 14, "But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ," was announced as the text. He commenced by stating that the text is a counteractive of the evil stated before it. He then divided his subject into two parts. First, he would open up what was meant by putting on Christ ; and, second, he would offer some remarks suggested by the text. On his first head, he remarked that the phrase "put on" is figurative, and is used in reference to God, who is said to put on vengeance, zeal, &c., and also to man — Job says, "I put on righteousness." More particularly he observed, first, that putting on Christ means to make a profession of religion. As many as are baptized, in a certain sense, put on Christ ; but in a higher sense, those who voluntarily and intelligently attend the other rite — the Lord's Supper — comply with the injunction in the text. To put on Christ includes, secondly, believing in him for justification. Thirdly, it means being conformed to the image of Christ, or the possession of a new moral nature. He quoted Ephes. iv. 24, and Col. iii. 10. Fourthly, it includes imitating Christ's example, which he considered the chief idea of the text. Finally, it supposes an appropriating of Christ wholly. He then proceeded to make his general remarks suggested by the text. First, what clothing is to the body, Christ is to the soul — a covering, a comfort, a protection. Second, in putting on Christ, we must put off whatever is opposed to him. Third, Christ ought to be seen in his people — the command is to put on Christ, and what we put on is visible. Fourth, Christ is to be so put on as never to be put off. Fashion or decay induces a change of raiment, but neither affects the putting on in question. He then concluded by censuring those who think it enough that God sees and knows their religion — man must also see and know it. He briefly described the happiness of those who have put on Christ, who are clothed in the fine linen clean and white — the righteousness of saints. The discourse commenced at a quarter to three, and was finished at twenty minutes to four. The concluding services were similar to those in the forenoon, and the congregation was dismissed at ten minutes to four.