Irish RP Synod

This past week, Stephen represented the Scottish RP Church at the Irish RP Church’s annual Synod meetings. This year Synod was held in Knockbracken RP Church, where Stephen had worked as an assistant for a year before coming to Stranraer.

The Synod began on the Monday night with a sermon by the outgoing Moderator, Rev. Andrew Kerr (Knockbracken). Rev. Mark Loughridge (Letterkenny and Milford), whose brother Peter is minister in North Edinburgh, was elected Moderator for the year ahead.

On Tuesday night, Stephen gave an update on the work of the Scottish RP Church, before preaching to begin the Wednesday morning day of prayer.

The Moderator and the American RP delegate then travelled across to Scotland for the meeting of our own Presbytery on Friday.

Stephen pictured with the Moderator and other delegates - William Macleod (FCC), Kevin Bidwell (EPCEW) and David Weir (RPCNA).

Stephen pictured with the Moderator and other delegates - William Macleod (FCC), Kevin Bidwell (EPCEW) and David Weir (RPCNA).

The Synod finished on the Wednesday night by commissioning Isaac Berrocal for mission work in Almuñécar and Nerja in Spain, a region where 90% of people have never heard the gospel.


On the weekend prior to the Synod, Stephen spoke at Knockbracken’s annual church weekend on the ‘One anothers’ of the Bible.


The most well-known name associated with Knockbracken is Thomas Houston, who was ordained there not long after William Symington began his ministry in Stranraer. Houston spent his whole ministry (1828 - 1882) in Knockbracken and Stephen spent a year studying his life for a Masters thesis in Irish history. Houston was a prolific author, whose book on prayer meetings has recently been digitised.

The current minister in Knockbracken is Andrew Kerr, who was the 2018 Moderator of Synod. Andrew writes regularly for the Gentle Reformation blog. Below is part of an interview he did for a recent documentary on the Welsh minister Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

Mission Update Meeting

A relief team to Romania

A relief team to Romania

Last week, two members of the RP Church’s Relief Committee came to Stranraer to speak about the practical work they do, both locally and overseas. It was a great opportunity to hear more about the work, and think through how we can get involved, both as individuals and as a congregation.

The men did a similar presentation in Glasgow the night before, and you can read a report about it on the RPCS website.

From South Korea to Stranraer!

Stephen has a new ‘Pause for Thought’ page in the Stranraer and Wigtownshire Free Press. Here’s his first article for the new format, published in this week’s paper (30th May)

I was at a ministers’ conference in England last month, and was told that a South Korean man was very keen to meet me. It turned out he was bringing a group of people to a World Missionary Conference that was being held in Stranraer, and wanted to know of some local Covenanter sites that he could take them to.

Two weeks ago, over 100 of these Korean visitors arrived for their conference, impossible to miss with their bright yellow jackets bringing colour to the town. Many witnessed them singing in the town centre, with one video of it quickly gathering 15,000 views on facebook.

namsik korean blue banner.jpg

In fact, one of my favourite things about being a minister is the opportunity to meet fellow believers from around the world. In my three years in Stranraer, our small church has had visitors from South Korea, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Australia, the United States and Canada – as well as from many parts of the UK and Ireland. Some of these have been fellow Reformed Presbyterians; others have just been looking for somewhere to worship when passing through, and searched online for a Bible-believing church.

There are others in countries such as India, South Africa and France who’ve never visited, but have signed up to receive news and prayer updates from our church in Stranraer.

As a family, we’ve also had the opportunity to travel to International RP Conferences, in North America, Scotland and Ireland, with fellow-attendees from too many countries to count. This time last year we spent some time with the RP Church in Los Angeles, whose assistant pastor is South Korean. He has his own version of the ‘Blue Banner’, flown by the Covenanters in Scotland in the late-1600s, emblazoned with a Korean translation of the slogan ‘For Christ’s Crown and Covenant’. Another friend, a Japanese pastor, has one adorning his motorcycle.

Indeed, despite the differences in language, culture, food etc, the overwhelming impression when talking to these brothers and sisters is not what divides us, but what we have in common.

One of my theology Professors recently returned from teaching in South Korea. He commented that having been privileged over many years to visit some far-flung parts of the world and experience church life in different forms, what has generally struck him is not how different things are, but how similar. It reminded me of a conversation with a couple of medical missionaries in Uganda – two of the biggest issues they face among young men are alcohol abuse and suicide. People are people, wherever you go.

blue banner motorbike Kihei Takiura covenanter.jpg

Returning to Stranraer’s recent visitors, the fact that our town has a church sent out from South Korea is a local example of a trend academics describe as ‘reverse missionaries’. It is becoming more and more common for countries which we traditionally think of as missionary ‘targets’ to instead be sending missionaries here. So people from Africa come to start churches in England, and South Korean Presbyterians are sent to the mission field of South-West Scotland. Reverse missionaries come either because they think there aren’t enough churches in an area – or they perceive that existing churches are no longer proclaiming the message that once enthused traditional missionaries to travel the globe.


In 1950 an estimated 80% of the world’s Christians were in Western countries. By 2025 it’s estimated that at least half of them will be in Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia.

While some may feel threatened by this trend, I actually find it refreshing. As the UK moves further and further away from being a Christian country, those who follow Jesus find themselves in a similar position to that of the Apostles in the first century. The Apostles were regarded as ‘atheists’ (as they didn’t believe in the pantheon of Roman gods). They were outsiders whose views were misrepresented (the Lord’s Supper sounded a bit too much like cannibalism). They faced persecution, increasingly by the state itself (once it became clear that Christianity wasn’t just a Jewish sect). But all this combined to mean it was fairly clear where people stood. When people rejected the Apostles’ teaching, it wasn’t because they had been brought up in the church, and thought they knew it all already. And as people heard their message about Jesus with fresh ears, many found in strangely compelling. 

Perhaps some will hear South Koreans singing on the streets of Stranraer as an invitation to listen to an old message with new understanding.

The Tomb of Alexander Linn - Shepherd, Covenanter, Martyr


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.


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’.


‘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’.


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’.


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.


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’.


“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


Maintaining peace among believers


On Sunday morning we looked at the third Fruit of the Spirit - peace. We saw that in the context of Galatians 5, this is a reference to peace with other people, and particularly peace with other Christians.

That’s something Satan wants to destroy. In the book Precious Remedies against Satan’s devices, the Puritan Thomas Brooks lists some of these ‘devices’ of Satan, along with remedies to help us avoid them.


According to Brooks, Satan’s ‘one great device that he hath to destroy the saints’ is,

By working them first to be strange, and then to divide, and then to be bitter and jealous, and then ‘to bite and devour one another,’ Gal. 5:15

In order to counter this strategy, the Brooks lists twelve remedies. Stephen mentioned four in the sermon - here is the full list:

  1. To dwell more upon one another’s graces than upon one another’s weaknesses and infirmities.

  2. Solemnly to consider, That love and union makes most for your own safety and security.

  3. To dwell upon those commands of God that do require you to love one another.

  4. To dwell more upon these choice and sweet things wherein you agree, than upon those things wherein you differ.

  5. To consider, That God delights to be styled Deus pacis, the God of peace; and Christ to be styled Princeps pacis, the Prince of peace, and King of Salem, that is, King of peace; and the Spirit is a Spirit of peace.

  6. To make more care and conscience of keeping up your peace with God.

  7. To dwell much upon that near relation and union that is between you.

  8. To dwell upon the miseries of discord.

  9. Seriously to consider, That it is no disparagement to you to be first in seeking peace and reconcilement, but rather an honour to you, that you have begun to seek peace.

  10. For saints to join together and walk together in the ways of grace and holiness so far as they do agree, making the word their only touchstone and judge of their actions.

  11. To be much in self-judging: ‘Judge yourselves, and you shall not be judged of the Lord,’ 1 Cor. 11:31.

  12. Above all, Labour to be clothed with humility.