by Rev. Allan Shearer and Joanna Shearer
‘…and behold, [it] was burning with fire, and [it] was not consumed.’ (Exodus 3:2)
Between November 2018 and March 2019, we had the great privilege of serving the Lord in Greenock Free Church. A small building in need of repair, hidden behind a large furniture warehouse (the former Greenock Gaelic Free Church building), with a few members; an onlooker, passer-by – or fireman – may have been inclined to think that the church was dead or was dying. They would be grossly mistaken. Within the draughty building was an incredible warmth – the undeniable warmth of the Lord’s people who have a hunger for the Word of God and a heart for reaching out into the community with the Gospel. Since our time spent within the congregation and community of Greenock, we have come to a deeper understanding of three things: providence, perseverance and prayer.
In December 2018, the church held its first Christmas carol service. Members of the congregation diligently walked the streets surrounding the church handing out invitations, posting them through doors, and leaving them in businesses and the local shopping centre. It was a great time of encouragement in being able to speak to people in the community as they invited them to the service. One elderly lady walked a great distance that cold winter’s night to attend the service after seeing an advert the congregation had put in the local paper. For those who attended the service on the evening of 14th December, it was a very special time - a time of worship and glory to our great God. Richard Hill, a friend of the congregation, who played the piano for the service said:
“I really felt as if the Lord was amongst us that night...His power through the Holy Spirit blessed the evening for His glory and honour. I often wonder if God used that blessed evening to strengthen the fellowship and prepare them for tough times ahead…”
Two weeks later the adjoining building was ablaze. It was completely destroyed by fire. Miraculously, although sharing a common wall, the Free Church building survived. Despite some costly damage, it was not consumed. One of the firemen said he could not believe how little damage was done. A member of the congregation said:
“We were devastated by the fire. It was difficult to comprehend why the church was still standing. I do believe the Lord saved us for a reason. It’s a new beginning.”
[Images: visible damage after fire]
What seemed initially like a strange providence, was soon to reveal just how much the Lord often ‘moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform’. The former insurmountable renovation costs, to repair the roof, upgrade the interior, and replace the carpets, were paid for by the insurers in covering the fire and water damage. Generous donations have also been made to the congregation to replace the windows and the ageing kitchen, ready for service. The previously dwarfed, hidden Free Church building is now seen fully from the road, with a car park due in place of the large, demolished warehouse. Press coverage at the time of the fire helped to make the church more widely known in the community. Now, despite the ever-present Coronavirus, the Greenock Free Church building is once again open for worship! ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!’ (1 Corinthians 15:55-57; 1Peter 1:3).
The people of Greenock Free Church have soldiered on as a small remnant for twenty years without their own minister. They have suffered the sad loss of members and have seen their building ravaged by fire. Yet their perseverance is commendable and honouring to the Lord. They seek to glorify God in worship and reach out to the community around them. It is striking that when Paul writes to the churches, he never makes reference to the number of people who attend. His emphasis is never on quantity but rather on the quality of our Christian lives. His letters are marked with encouragement. The congregation of Greenock Free Church are in need of our encouragement and prayers.
[Image: Refurbished Hall]
During our time spent within the congregation, prayer was – and remains – central to the life of the church. They have persisted in prayer for a settled ministry, local leadership and for the Lord to add to their number. Please join with the congregation in bringing these things before the Lord. Greenock, ranked the most deprived area in Scotland in January 2020, scoring low for educational outcomes, employment and its high number of drug-related hospital admissions, is in much need of the Good News of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. How wonderful to think that the Lord has saved and preserved a people and a church in the heart of that community!
Through providence and the perseverance and prayers of His people, it is exciting to think of the Lord working out His purposes and what He may bring about in the ‘mission field’ of Greenock!
[Image: Greenock Free Church]
 William Cowper