The New Town Act was passed in 1947 at a time when Britain was tentatively starting to rebuild itself after the Second World War. It was recognised that people living in cramped city-centre locations required rehousing in more spacious, modern and green-spaced developments. Industry was starting to come to life again and there was optimism and anticipation about the future. Six new towns were designated in Scotland: East Kilbride, 1947; Glenrothes, 1948; Cumbernauld 1955; Livingston, 1962 and Irvine, 1966. These new towns slowly took shape in the late fifties and sixties affording families better living conditions yet within easy reach of major cities.
To mark the 70th anniversary of the New Town Act, we asked the churches in the five Scottish New Towns the following question to find out their thoughts about the changes in their New Town over the years and how this has affected their work and witness for Christ.
‘It’s 70 years since the New Town Act was passed and new towns were designated and established in Scotland, how has the work and witness of your Baptist church changed in that time? What have been the opportunities and challenges?’
When people came to live in Irvine new town they came with great hopes and expectations. For many there was the prospect of a new start and the first residents were all in employment.
Things have changed since then and Irvine faces similar problems to many other towns throughout Scotland – poverty, unemployment, addiction and other issues associated with social deprivation.
The Bourtreehill Church has had to deal with challenges throughout the same period. The church had to weather the blow of losing the founding pastor and go on to meet the demands of a changing community. The church had sought to do that and for the past 17 years it had provided an ‘oasis’ for people which has become one of the most deprived in the country. We are encouraged that in 2017 we are baptising people and welcoming people to services in our church building and community cafe with no previous church background.
In the past seventy years, Irvine has changed, some things have improved and others deteriorated. There was great hope as the New Town came into being, there was work as firms established factories, workshops etc, some are still in operation. With recessions, and cut backs, where there was auto engineering, today it is levelled ground. The Magnum has closed and a completely new sports centre opened in the centre of the town. Alcohol and drugs is still the great ‘pull down’ in the town and surrounding area. The church, seven different denominations, does not seem to have much impact on society but Irvine Baptist still tries to be a faithful witness to Christ in the midst of the changes.
People moved to East Kilbride seeking a new life, through the witness and work of the Baptist Church, many found new life in Christ. A Baptist witness was established in East Kilbride in 1952, with the Church subsequently planting 2 new churches in other areas of the town. The one Church now became 3 Congregations: East Mains, Westwood and Calderwood, in order to reach the people with the message of Jesus.
East Mains Baptist Church, East Kilbride
New Towns are by nature dynamic and ever changing. For the Church to remain effective and relevant it needs to share that characteristic while remaining true to the unchanging gospel. In 1998, in response to changes in East Kilbride, East Mains embarked on a process of radical transformation which affected every area of the Church’s life. Alongside these changes, God called the Church to create a Centre for the Community as a place where needs could be met, people could be helped, and Jesus could be shared.
Today, 2,000 come through the doors of the Centre weekly, and more than 130 community groups use it regularly. The Centre enables the Church to engage with local people providing practical help and care, and to share the love and message of Jesus. As a result, people have come, and are coming, to faith in Christ.
Calderwood Baptist Church, East Kilbride
Calderwood Baptist Church was the last of the three Baptist Churches planted in East Kilbride under the visionary leadership of the late Peter Barbour. In the last 14 years we have responded to the challenge of reengaging with our community and maximised the opportunities that a thoroughgoing theology of family and community care has afforded us; to build the congregation, growing to a gathering of more than 200 and enjoying a community impact that reaches 1,000’s. The Hunter House Transformation story, documented elsewhere is a visual symbol of the changing face of ministry in the New Town! Rev John MacKinnon
Westwood Baptist Church, East Kilbride
Challenges – WWBC was planted 50 Years ago and the challenge has always been to stay true to the Word and be relevant to contemporary culture. To meet the needs of the different generations we have a traditional early morning communion once a month, a morning family service and a cafe style service in the evening.
Opportunities – Many in our communities, although not church attenders, are searching for spiritual answers to life’s big questions. To fulfil the great commission our church vision is to encourage an outward expression and sharing of our faith through Alpha and the Food Bank and other local Christian initiatives.
Carbrain Baptist Church, Cumbernauld
Much has changed in Cumbernauld since the days of exciting opportunities with young families, isolated from their familiar environment, full of hope and seeking a new lifestyle. Friendship and activity in a busy Church all-age programme when few community facilities were available, offered a new spiritual dimension for some, which has outlasted the fabric of ‘New Town’ living. Sports, leisure and other activities became readily available and the practical role of the church in filling these gaps decreased but the unchanging message of Christ’s love for a broken society is still there. Economic and social changes mean that the church now runs a Job Club and space for A.A. and other Groups to meet. With few young families in the catchment area of the church we are challenged to find fresh ways of reaching our community in the days ahead.
Psalm 90 :”The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away”. If applying this to New Towns, then Cumbernauld, in common with others, has had its share of ‘toil and trouble’ albeit over a shorter lifespan than seventy years. However, we are not yet ready to ‘fly away’!
This church was planted by Ladywell Baptist Church Livingston in 1980. Since that time Livingston has changed radically and is now home to nearly 60,000 people. In the early years there was much evangelism and growth in the church but in recent years the congregation has become much smaller. However, there has been a growing emphasis on community involvement and extension of the church building in 2006 has greatly helped with this. We are very involved with outreach to the community, especially young families and the elderly, but are struggling to bridge the gap between social action and preaching the good news of Jesus Christ.
The biggest change in the past 7- years, in any new town, Livingston included, would be the growth – an increase in population and of course housing.
All the preparatory and ground work of planting a Baptist Church and establishing a Baptist Witness in the New Town of Livingston was done in the late 1960s. Ladywell Baptist Church being constituted in Autumn on 1968. (We celebrate our ‘golden anniversary’ in 2018. Delighted that our guest speaker on that occasion will be the very first Pastor, Rev Bruce Milne). Of course, Dedridge Baptist Church was born/planted from Ladywell
I suppose too, like all new churches, there was much coming and going. Over the past years the Baptist Church memberships in the two Baptist Churches in Livingston has declined. In saying that, I believe the Baptist Witness is still strong, it is just that society has a different take/view on God and worship and the need to attend church. Nevertheless, we continue to be salt and light, in the very New Town of Livingston, where our Lord has placed us.
Glenrothes Baptist Church
The aim of Glenrothes Baptist Church is “to glorify God through worship and witness” by making disciples who make disciples (Matt. 28:19). The church has been well-served in this “great commission” by its four pastors: Rev. Alexander Wright (1958-1992), Rev. Neil Allison (1993-1998), Rev. Archy Macmillan (1999-2010), and Rev. Jacob Brothers (2011-present).
The church has changed with the New Town, from its first meeting in April 1956 until now, always seeking to keep that gospel-centred focus. Our premises, too, have changed as the congregation has grown and the work expanded. We now meet in a former office building adjacent to the Town Centre. Our current challenge is to fully develop these strategically-located premises to enable us to make the most of the many opportunities for reaching out with the gospel to the lost community around us.