Catholic Church Kilsyth

Rev Mr Alistair McLachlan
The former minister in the Burns and Old Parish Church Kilsyth describes his life in his own words.

I grew up in a Christian home.   Going to Church and Sunday School was a natural part of the week.   My father worked in West Africa for the first eleven years of my life so was a stranger who came home every eighteen months or so for three months and then went away again.   It was much later in life that I learnt that Dad was a good churchman before going abroad.   Mum had sung in the Church Choir and had been involved in Sunday School and Girls' Association, but my brother and myself put paid (temporarily)  to her active Church involvements.   When I was about seven I joined The Life Boys, the junior wing of The Boys' Brigade, an overtly Christian youth organisation, and there, along with Sunday School and Bible Class I learnt an informed Christian Faith. Youth Fellowship provided a time of questioning and further informing, stretching the faith that had led me to "join the Church" - profess my faith and become a member of the Church of Scotland.

I was not a good pupil in Primary School - the learning came too easily and I avoided anything that I did not like. I did not do my reading homework, and am still a poor speller. When I started reading for myself at around fourteen I began an adventure which goes on voraciously to this day. Despite lack of application I finished Primary school near the top of the class.   My Secondary school education was mixed - Maths being my best subject and Science being not far behind. English was a constant struggle, but I did manage a better Higher than I expected. By the end of Sixth year I would say that the Christian Faith was the strongest interest in my life - but not un-typically I avoided any idea of a Call to ministry. Maths and Science being my best subjects, I went to University - in these days of wonderful opportunity - and ended up with a not very good Honours degree in Chemistry. There was a real Calling to do something in the Church - which I again avoided by accepting a post as Research Assistant with Unilever Merseyside, where I studied Consumer Evaluation of Toilet Soaps for two years.  

These two years were amongst the most formative years of my life. I was away from home for the first time, and had very good "digs", being treated like one of my landlady's family. I also became very active in Highfield Congregational Church, Rock Ferry, Birkenhead. This was a lively congregation with a large Young People's Society where I was member and helper. There was also a Worship Group and a very active Ecumenical involvement, with Christian Aid and the Council of Churches for Merseyside.   A spell in hospital back in Glasgow gave me the opportunity to discuss what was happening in my life with the minister of my home church.  An application to teach Science was a further attempt at avoidance, but finally I surrendered and applied to the Church of Scotland with regard to training as a minister. Three Years in Trinity College, Glasgow and a year as probationer minister in Cardonald Parish Church, Glasgow were followed by my Ordination and Induction to Eastbank Parish Church, Shettleston - the last place I dreamt of going. The ten years there were fruitful and laid the foundations for all I did afterwards.

Two things happened while I was at Eastbank. The first was meeting with Peter Whittaker, a young probationer Methodist Minister, newly out of college. Peter and I hit it off on first sight and we spent five years working closely in the East End of Glasgow. Involvement with The Boys’ Brigade and Shettleston Council of Churches led to an Ecumenical Ministers’ Fraternal, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity events and joint services, including sharing a quarterly Communion Service once a year.

The second arose out of my experiences on Merseyside. The Ecumenical movement there was very much alive, greatly boosted by the opening of the Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King - an event that all Merseyside shared. Coming back to Scotland meant coming back to a very closed and divided Christian scene. One of the early things I did was to introduce myself to the clergy at St Paul’s R.C. Church, Shettleston. The elderly, Irish parish priest (bless him) I know did not understand the Ecumenical movement, neither did many of his people, so nothing happened until a meeting of clergy and ministers from the R.C. Deanery encouraged us to meet with one another and get to know each other’s fields of work. I grasped the nettle and soon Fr O’Leary and his curates were members of the Fraternal and attended meetings of the Council of Churches. It was a very steep learning curve for us all, but bit by bit we began to share small things. We set up a joint discussion/Bible Study group called the Emmaus Group - we were learning to walk together talking about our faith and beliefs, and various joint activities followed. Peter Whittaker and the Methodists were very much involved with these things.   One real breakthrough was a shared Stations of the Cross  in St Paul’s on Palm Sunday afternoon.   When we heard about the planning for the Papal Visit to Scotland, we shared in the news and in some of the local preparation.   Partly in jest I asked if there were any spare tickets for the Bellahouston Mass and I know that Fr O’Leary went out of his way to source one for me. It was a day that I will never forget - the great privilege of sharing such a wonderful day with another part of the Christian family.

Peter Whittaker went to Bedford a few years before I left Shettleston, but we managed to continue fruitful cooperation amongst the three denominations, until I left and came to Kilsyth. Once upon a time Kilsyth was a religiously deeply divided town, and some of these suspicions remain to this day.  I was delighted to know that my predecessor, Rev Alex Watson, had been closely involved with St Patrick’s, and I happily continued this involvement.   Fr Denis O’Connell (bless him greatly) involved me in a number of events such as the visit of the Papal Nuncio, the anniversary of the dedication of the new church, and visits by the Archbishop Keith O’Brien. The Kilsyth Churches Working Together gave a framework in which we could co-operate. When Fr O’Connell was moved to Leslie in Fife I attended his farewell in Kilsyth and tried to slip in quietly to his first service in his new Church and he had me out front and leading the hymn singing!!!

Under Fr Kruger and Fr Doonan we continued our cooperation. With the coming of Fr Gerry Hand a very real friendship developed as well as continued co-operation. Events such as meetings for the candidates for General elections and joint meetings of officebearers from all the local churches boosted our understanding of each other’s ways and a joint Christian ministry to our town. A particularly happy event was the sharing of Burns and Old Parish Church Building with St Patrick’s congregation for the Saturday evening Vigil Mass during the extensive renovation of the St Patrick's building. In many people's eyes this cemented the friendship between the two congregations and parishes. Not long after I left Kilsyth for Kilmelford Fr Hand shared with me the wedding service for my son Donnie and his bride from Milton of Campsie Anne Leeson. It was one of the proudest days of my life. When my grandson was born, Fr Tracey conducted his baptism in St Paul’s R.C. Church Milton of Campsie, another very proud day for me.

The Catholic communities of the parishes of St Paul’s Shettleston and St Patrick’s Kilsyth have been a very valued part of my ministry and it has been humbling in the extreme to be accepted by both of them as a fellow minister of the gospel.

Rev Mr. McLachlan receives a
presentation from Fr. Gerry Hand
and the congregation of St
Patrick's when he left Kilsyth.

Rev Mr. McLachlan meets
Archbishop Barbarito, Papal
Nuncio to Great Britian and
Ireland, at St Patrick's in 1987.

Rev Mr. McLanchlan and Rev
Mr. Ross with Cardinal O’Brien
and Fr Ben Doonan.

Rev Mr. McLachlan,
addresses the congregation of
St Patrick’s, in the hall on the
occasion of Fr. O’Connell
being made Canon 1986.
Rev Mr. McLachlan meets
Archbishop O’Brien, after
Mass in St Patrick’s.

God BlessYou!