Scottish Congregational and URC College

On Sunday 13th March 2011, Hamilton United Reformed Church, along with other U.R.C. congregations in Scotland, marked the 200th anniversary of the Scottish United Reformed and Congregational College.

On 13th March 1811 a group of ministers met to discuss the formation of a Theological Hall  for the training of men for ministry within the independent or ,’dissenting’, churches of Scotland.  The motivating force behind the scheme was two ministers, Greville Ewing and Ralph Wardlaw, who both served as unpaid tutors of the College for over 25 years, along with serving pastoral charges. Greville Ewing was instrumental in establishing the first Congregational Church in Hamilton in 1807.  Eventually to become known as St. James’ Congregational Church, this was the Church David Livingstone attended as a boy. Neil Livingstone, David’s father, was a founder deacon of the Church meeting at the current location in South Park Road. The Theological Hall started with 8 students, meeting in various church halls. By the mid 1860s there were usually between 20 and 30 students in training.  The emphasis was upon rigorous academic training, including Greek, Hebrew and Latin, Biblical Studies, and Natural Theology [Science], together with practical training for ministry.  In 1884 a building was purchased in George Square in Edinburgh.  With the union of the Congregational Union of Scotland and the Evangelical Union of Scotland in 1896 the College continued training ministers for the combined denomination.  In 1921 the College moved to new premises in Hope Terrace, Edinburgh, where it remained until the early-1970s.  In 1927 the College became known as the Scottish Congregational College, a name which remained until the majority of Scottish Congregational Churches merged with the United Reformed Church, the college being one of four training establishments within that body.

In 1930 a formal link with the United Free Church of Scotland College introduced Rev’d.  Allan Barr as Professor of New Testament Studies.  Following service in the forces as a chaplain, Rev’d. Charles Duthie was appointed Principal in 1949, at the age of 34, being the youngest holder of that post. Prior to his appointment, to match the rigorous standards of equivalent University Faculties of Divinity, the College endowed a second chair, appointing Rev’d. James Wood to the post of Professor of Biblical Languages, Exegesis and Criticism, in 1944.  Prof. Wood took over as Principal on Dr. Duthie’s appointment to New College, London, with the Rev’d. Dr. Morton Price of Perth, taking on the duties of teaching Biblical Languages and Biblical Studies.

Although many thought of the College as a training place for ordained ministry, there has always been an emphasis on training all men and women for Christian Service.  A large number of lay training opportunities have been provided, as well as training for overseas mission, both ordained and lay.  In the late 1970s the College ceased to maintain its own building and for a time shared premises with the Scottish Episcopal Church College in Edinburgh.  These days all students undergo university courses, under the supervision of the College Principal.  The College now provides opportunities for In-Service, Refresher Courses, and Continued Professional Development for ministers and lay preachers.

A fundamental aspect of the College, over its entire existence has been that it serves the Churches of the denomination.  Its committee structure included men and women from the Area Councils of the Church, both ordained and lay, reflecting the ethos of independent churchmanship in Scotland. Many lay men and women have served the College with distinction, particularly Walter Brotchie of Edinburgh as College Treasurer.  Fred McDermid of Stonehouse was, at one time, chairman of the College Committee of Management.

Three more notable students of the College were Vera Finlay [later Mrs Kenmuir] who entered training in 1926 to, become the first woman minister in Scotland. The Olympic athlete, Eric Liddle of ‘Chariots of Fire’ fame, is one of the better known missionary students of the College. The Rev’d.  Peter Marshall, better known as the Chaplain to the American Senate, many of whose sermons were published posthumously, also trained at the College.