The History of Overton Church
Chapter 1: The Beginning (Prior to 1828)
The beginning of the present Overton congregation can be traced back to 16th July 1828, when on the Law Castle Green under the open sky, the Rev. Peter Mather from Dunbar was ordained and inducted by the United Associate Presbytery of Kilmarnock to the pastoral charge of their new congregation in West Kilbride.
On the day after the ordination the Kirk Session was constituted by the Rev. James Ellis of Saltcoats, and consisted of Alex. Simpson, Hugh Pattison, John Baillie and John Broadfoot. The first communion was arranged for 28th September, and it was intimated that on the Saturday previous “tokens would be given to intending communicants”. The first roll of members, still in existence, contained 40 names.
Why was it that in a small and, then, remote village like West Kilbride this new congregation came to be formed? To answer that question we must consider the state of the Church of Scotland at this time.
The eighteenth century had been a time of much dissatisfaction and division.
For one thing there was the vexed question of Patronage. As early as 1703 a pamphlet controversy had developed, disapproving the right of the laird to appoint the minister to a Parish, contrary to the wishes of the people.
The secessions from the Established Church – led in 1733 by Rev. Ebenezer Erskine who began the Secession Church, and in 1752 by Rev. Thomas Gillespie who founded the Relief Presbytery – were supported by those who insisted that ministers should be chosen by the call and consent of members in full communion.
Further, the eighteenth century was a time when a new brand of intellectual and sceptical thought was developing, not only in Scotland, but throughout Europe; and many in the Church, devout and faithful folk, were suspicious of this new thought.
It lacked the passion of conviction; it questioned some of the articles of the Church’s confession; it undermined the authority of the Word of God.
The secessions received considerable strength from those who felt that many “moderate” ministers had reservations in proclaiming the true evangelical faith.