Wick Baptist Church
Wick Baptist Church today. Jayden Alexander Photography.
One hundred years after the church was established, the well known Caithnessian poet and pastor, John Horne, wrote a brief history of the Wick Baptist Church since it’s founding in 1806. He gave the names of all the men who were early members of the church and could be traced back to it’s establishment. They are now commemorated on a large marble plaque in the vestibule of the Church building. The church centenary was celebrated with special ceremonies. Services were conducted on the 22nd of July 1906, with large congregations at both forenoon and forenoon services. The evening meeting was so crowded that extra accommodation had to be provided for hose who couldn’t find seats in the gallery and the body of the church. The Rev. James Sutherland preached on “The Inner Circle of Christ’s Friends” at the morning service and Mr Millard conducted the afternoon service. Pastor John Horne spoke on the history of Wick Baptist Church, the provost, town councillors and magistrates accepted invites and they occupied the front pews, which was reserved for them, alongside the town clerk. The Rev. Dickie of the old parish church (now St Fergus) was also present in the evening meeting and sat amongst those on the platform. A Rev. Drummond and Rev. Hewisson was also present along with other representatives of other denominations in Wick. Scripture was read by pastor James Sutherland and the Rev. Millard gave a word of prayer. The brand new organ was also played for the first time at this service by Miss Grant.
The Haldane brothers were instrumental in the formation of the Baptist Church. It was James Haldane’s ministry that God bossed in Caithness from 1797 to 1805. He spent a long time preaching in Orkney and he began his return in August 1797. He found himself passing through Caithness, not intending on staying in the county but as a result of an injury sustained by Mr Aikman, who was his travelling companion, he had to delay their travels. James took advantage of this delay and so he picked up his Bibke and began to preach in surrounding areas. On August 31st he reached Thurso where at the time there was a population of about 25,000 people, he preached his last sermon there on September 24th where 4,000 people game to hear the Gospel be proclaimed. He then moved on to Wick where he was just as successful. James Haldane late commented on his time in Caithness as being “the most favourited six weeks of his life”.
In 1865, a new church building was built in Union Street as a result of the Church expanding. At the time of Robert Sowerby serving as pastor, all morning, afternoon and evening services were attended by large crowds with the evening service being packed to capacity, what a great sign and encouragement it must have been. Later, the Rev. Archibald McNicol was inducted as pastor and in the 1940’s a Christian Endeavour group was formed. Christian Endeavour had a strong effect on people throughout Scotland for many years up until the 1980’s. Mrs Isobel Cameron, a member of Wick Baptist Church, became the first Christian Endeavour president in Scotland along with her brother Jim. The “Mizpah” prayer was used to end every Christian Endeavour meeting. This group lasted until the 1980’s when it began to be replaced by today’s youth groups. Many teenagers were baptised under McNicol’s ministry, people such as Rena Dunnett, James Dunnett, Maisie Dunnett, George Thomson, Sheila Thomson, Sadie Leith, Isobel Manson and Lillian Manson. Throughout the years some of the Wick Baptist Church members have gone into training for ministry such as Brian Mulraine, Hugh Calder and Willie Miller. Several others often, and still preach in other local churches, amongst these people are James Cormack, Kenny Cormack and Eamon Rice.
After one hundred and thirty five years of being in the Union Street Church, it was time for a change. The building was in much need of repair and renovation work was desperate. In the year of 1997, while the church was under the ministry of Angus Morrison, they took a leap of faith in purchasing the old premesis of the Central Church in Dempster Street whcih closed in 1990. However, costly work was required both on the roof and interior, at the time there was only £12, 000 available in the building but to everyone’s surprise the building fund rose to £135, 000 within a year, this enabled the work to be done in a small amount of time.Much work was done including minimising the sanctuary and erecting partitions which can be removed if needed, covering the balcony which created a large hall, lounge, storage room, cupboards and w/c. By adding the removable partitions it made way for creating a prayer room, kitchen and downstairs w/c’s. The large side hall roof was lowered and modernised.
A few other members of the church have also gone around preaching in different churches in the community, foke such as James Cormack, Ronald Mackenzie, Eamon Rice and Kenny Cormack.
In 1806, Wick Baptist Church was formed, it formed at the same time as when Wick’s herring industry took off, it is possible that Church has an earlier history but it would be beyond the proof that we have. It all began when a group of people started to worship in a small attic in an old building in Kirk Lane, which is located just off the Hugh Street in Wick. The fellowship met here for twenty years until they moved to rooms above Bows Baker Shop.
As the church grew, a new church building was erected by Mr Robert Craig, a shoemaker and leathermerchant who was one of the leading members in the newly formed Baptist Church alongside Mr William Petrie a ploughmaker who advanced a sum on £350 on the church. Unfortunately, the building did not survive the “great 1970’s redevelopment” of the town. This church was see during the week as a school which was run by Mr George Farquhar, who in his younger days was a soldier and was taken prisoner by the French, where he learned the language thoroughly and so he had many pupils keen to learn. The congregation met here for three services on a Sunday while under the ministry of the Rev. Robert Sowerby and Mr Bailie Waters, a lay brethren who had acted as pastor for a number of years before Sowerby came to Wick in 1848. He continued to serve as co-pastor until his death.
A marble plaque which commemorates twenty four of the Church’s early members and founders. Listed to the right is a list of all of the church’s founders.
In 1921 God began to move in Wick. This is known as the fisherman’s revival of 1921. Well known pilgrim preachers had started meetings in the Baptist Church and within a short period of time many people came to the Lord. While this was happening, fishermen were working in Yarmouth, they returned to their homeland in Caithness and attended a meeting in the Baptist Church, this meeting was described as being charged with the Holy Spirit and more people found Christ that evening. During this great revival, the market square was said to have been filled with over one thousand people desperate to hear God’s work be proclaimed. Churches were packed to capacity, people were sitting on window ledges and steps leading up to the pulpit, the whole county was speaking about the revival and how God’s hand was upon the county. There is great description of this revival in the book “Floods Upon The Dry Ground” whcih was written by Evangelist Jackie, he lived at Huna with his side Nancy and two children, he held meetings at his home and at the Huna Mission Hall. He often attending meetings at the Baptist Church and held tent meetings at the Riverside in Wick. During this revival, just two years into William Millard’s return to Wick Baptist Church, sixteen young people were saved.
A group of men photographed at John O’ Groats. William Millard can be seen second from the right. The Johnston Collection.
The old church building in Union Street. Now owned by Mackay’s Hotel.
Wick Baptist Church is one out of three Baptist churches in Caithness and it is the second most northernly Baptist church on mainland Scotland. The church is part of the Baptist Union of Scotland.
Over the years there have been some members of the church who enetered into ministry, such as John Horne, who was the first memeber of the church to have become a minister. Hugh Gunn who trained in Edinburgh and was inducted in to a church in Belfast in 1902, a Mr Tait, Alexander Black, John Sutherland who moved to London, John Reid who went to Nebraska, William Margar, William Miller (Willie) who is now pastor at Dingwall Baptist Church and Jonathan Jolly who is now preaching at Living Hope Church in Hull where he was inducted in June 2016.
Some of the pastors of Wick Baptist Church were described by some former membership of the church are their descriptions are recorded in the Scottish Baptist book:
Real evangelist who made the whole county his parish. A lofty character with wining manners.
A young man if true metal. During the last service he conducted the spring of the clock snapped and startled everyone. He sis buried in the old Churchyard.
Handled organisations within the church with real ability.
A man full of fine illustration, fresh prayers, a humorous man. Left on the account of his wife’s health.
A warm hearted man, popular everywhere. Left due to a health brake down.
Moved to Scarfskerry Baptist Church.”
The church sanctuary today. Jayden Alexander Photography.
The front page of a 1997 issue of the church magazine “The Witness”.
An old Baptist hymnal which the church used in the 1940’s. Each Sunday school pupil in the 40’s were given a copy.
An article which feautured in one of the Church bulletins.
Left: Alfred Hewlett’s wife and two children. The Johnston Collection.