A BARRHEAD church has been hailed as “an enormous power for good” as it celebrates an impressive milestone.

Founded in 1844, the United Reformed Church (URC) has played an important role in the local community over the past 175 years.

It is known for having one of the town’s most “innovative” congregations.

And those connected with the church, in Arthurlie Street, marked its 175th anniversary in suitably stylish fashion by attending a special dinner at the Dalmeny Park Hotel.

Leading the celebrations was guest of honour, East Renfrewshire Provost Jim Fletcher, who highlighted URC’s unique history.

“It is fair to say that 175 years is quite a long time and the congregation have done an awful lot of great work in those years,” said Provost Fletcher.

“They’ve been an enormous power for good over 175 years and are very much in tune with the local population.”

Barrhead News: Party time for (back row) Moira McCarney, Helen Kavanagh, Caroline Anderson, Sheila Lamie and Eleanor Jackson, with (front) Moira Campbell and Ann ChisholmParty time for (back row) Moira McCarney, Helen Kavanagh, Caroline Anderson, Sheila Lamie and Eleanor Jackson, with (front) Moira Campbell and Ann Chisholm

First opening its doors in the mid-19th century as an Evangelical Union church, the URC has played a central role in the lives of many families in Barrhead through the generations.

Formed primarily as a working-class movement, The Evangelical Union was the radical church of its day, even boasting Labour Party founder Kier Hardie as a member.

This edgy approach is certainly evident in the history of the URC and in the way it has continually reached out to people from all backgrounds.

Just before the opening salvo was fired in the Second World War, the congregation called a pacifist – the Reverend Alexander May – to be its minister.

And, during the war, the URC took the innovative step of ordaining women as Elders as an “emergency measure” – almost four decades before the Church of Scotland allowed women to serve in this way.

Barrhead News: Moira McCarney, Mary Shaw and Mary Ellen WyperMoira McCarney, Mary Shaw and Mary Ellen Wyper

Provost Fletcher, who is a Labour councillor for Giffnock and Thornliebank, said it was such acts that earned members of the Barrhead congregation a reputation as “innovators.”

“It’s very much shaped by the views of the congregation and I think that has served them well over the years,” he continued.

“The congregation picks its pastors, instead of answering to the demands of higher dictates, and I thought this was particularly positive.

“Converting Keir Hardie to Christianity is obviously noteworthy.

“The church comes from a very liberal ‘left’ background.”

Barrhead News: This snap of the church dates from 1965This snap of the church dates from 1965

In the 1950s, a generous, and surprising, bequest from Barrhead man William Lang Reid, who died in Durban, South Africa, allowed the URC congregation to build seven church houses on the corner of Arthurlie Street and Lowndes Street.

These neat, single-storey properties are still let out to residents and all proceeds are poured back into the upkeep of the houses, rather than the church.

The congregation at the URC was also the first in Barrhead to have its service broadcast by the BBC – a tradition continued by the current minister, the Reverend Andy Braunston, who has featured not once but twice on Songs of Praise.

Barrhead News: The first residents at Reid CourtThe first residents at Reid Court

More recently, it became the only congregation in Barrhead to offer marriage to same sex couples.

Rev Braunston, who moved to Scotland with his husband Ian in 2017, is thoroughly enjoying his ministry in Barrhead and has praised his congregation for making them feel so welcome.

He has also been impressed by the warm welcome afforded to other members of the community.

Barrhead News: A Sunday School outing to Arthurlie House in bygone daysA Sunday School outing to Arthurlie House in bygone days

“The congregation is loving, outward focused and full of fun” said Rev Braunston. “We look forward to the next chapter in our life together as we continue to serve God and the good people of Barrhead.”

Barrhead URC still strives to serve the wider community, providing a café twice a week, on Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 10am until 1pm.

Barrhead News: Former URC minister, the Reverend Jim Colquhoun, was a well-known face in BarrheadFormer URC minister, the Reverend Jim Colquhoun, was a well-known face in Barrhead

It also runs a Friendship Group, where people may find and strengthen friendships, and church members are also enthusiastic supporters of the local foodbank.

Worship is currently held in the church hall while the congregation looks to develop the building to include an element of social housing.

To find out more about the church and its forthcoming events, visit https://barrheadurc.org.uk.