Barvas Free Church came into existence following the Disruption in 1843 when many ministers and congregations separated from the Established Church of Scotland over patronage, and formed the Church of Scotland Free, later named the Free Church of Scotland. Patronage was the system whereby estate owners could impose their own choice of ministers on congregations regardless of the wishes of the parishioners, thereby reinforcing their own social status and power. Following the Disruption, Free Church of Scotland congregations were able to call ministers of their own choice and establish clearly defined religious preferences based on Biblical principles and The Westminster Confession of Faith. An important characteristic in the governance of the Free Church is its freedom from state interference in its affairs.
At the insistence of the adherents, who petitioned the Presbytery, a Kirk Session was formed and Barvas Free Church became a sanctioned charge in 1845. Almost all of the Barvas Established Church congregation left to associate with the newly-formed Free Church of Scotland. In these early years Barvas Free Church was served by visiting preachers and Barvas and Back, together, were served by one minister and one catechist. One of the catechists, who served in Barvas before and during this time, was Kenneth Ross, from Crobeg, South Lochs, an experienced and highly respected lay preacher who, along with Barvas, had the charge of Carloway and Callanish.
It is interesting to note that the family of Rev William MacRae, the minister of Barvas Established Church at the time of the Disruption, left the Established Church to join the Free Church. According to oral tradition, Rev. MacRae gave his gig to carry his family to the nearest Free Church. Yet, he remained in the Established Church. Many years later, his son, Dr Charles M MacRae, a respected Free Churchman, came to be known as the “Grand Old Man of Lews” in his position as an eminent, renowned and greatly esteemed physician who, as a student, was a distinguished gold medallist in the class of James Young Simpson, pioneer of chloroform.
Barvas Free Church was built in 1850 on its present site and a manse on the site of its present one was built about that time. In 1872 the church was enlarged to the extent of 500 additional sittings.
Rev Allan MacArthur
The first resident minister of Barvas Free Church was the Rev. Allan MacArthur, a native of Mull, who was inducted in 1857. Barvas was his first and only charge. At that time, when poverty was the normal state of the populace, Rev MacArthur was frequently involved in helping achieve temporary relief for many, often without consideration for his own welfare. Rev MacArthur served in Barvas until his death, in Barvas Free Church manse, on 1st July 1887. His last text preached was Nahum 1 v 7, “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and he knoweth them that trust in him.” In 1886, the year before his death, twenty-four people were added to the communion roll. Rev MacArthur is interred in Tobermory.
The Rev. Neil M Morrison was inducted as Barvas Free Church minister in June 1888. A native of Leurbost, Rev. Morrison was a minister in Gravir Free Church (Pairc) for only about 2 years when he accepted the call but he left in 1900 to join the United Free Church.
Free Church Buildings
The Free Church of Scotland buildings were taken over by the United Free church but reverted to the Free Church after a House of Lords ruling in 1904.
During the years of that legal process concerning property, the Barvas Free church congregation built a church, known as “An Eaglais Shinc” (the Zinc Church), so named because of its corrugated metal walls, south of the Gleann Mòr River, near the then disused Free Church. Its foundation walls still remain.
The original Free Church building was restored and officially opened in 1933. The late Annie Finlayson, (Anna Choinnich), of 6 Brue, who was a member in the congregation in 1933, recalled that the opening address was taken from Haggai 1 verses 7 and 8. Allan Duncan MacKinnon, elder in the congregation, has a clear recollection of those events.
It is known that the Free Church congregation worshipped in the Barvas School (old Barvas School, Loch Street) on numerous occasions such as the period preceding erection of the “Zinc Church.” Some local historians are of the opinion that the precinct of the old Barvas School and (former) schoolhouse belonged to the Free Church and was where the Free Church congregation first worshipped before the church was built in 1850. Certainly, by 1847, there were about 500 schools throughout Scotland connected to the Free Church. In 1853 there was a Free Church School in Lower Barvas, situated near where the Monard road junction is now.
One of the most widely acclaimed Free Church teachers was Malcolm Nicolson, from Skye, who was schoolmaster in Barvas Free Church School in the early 1850’s. He composed several psalm tunes, one of which was named “Barvas”. Known as one of the “Men of Lewis” he also acted as lay preacher, assisting Rev MacArthur as well as other ministers throughout the island. One of his most noted pupils was Dr Charles M MacRae.
Some accounts from oral tradition assert that open air worship services were conducted somewhere in the vicinity of the Gleann Mòr river.
Since 1900, Barvas Free Church has been served by the following ministers:
Rev. Roderick MacKenzie, from Crossbost, was ordained and inducted to Barvas in 1904. During the 1900 Union controversy, he was the only student in the Free Church College. Rev. MacKenzie, an articulate and popular preacher, was translated to Back Free Church in 1910.
Rev. Murdo Macdonald from Bernera, Uig, was ordained and inducted to Barvas in 1915. Rev Macdonald, a quiet man of a retiring disposition, described as “a gentleman of sterling qualities” and greatly loved by the congregation, died in 1918, at his mother’s home in Stornoway, after only 3 years in Barvas. He is interred in Barvas Cemetery
Rev. John Macleod, from Leurbost, was minister of Lochcarron Free Church when he accepted a call to Barvas. He was inducted to Barvas in 1922. Rev. Macleod was author of the book “Am Measg nan Lili” published in 1948. The book details the impact of the Gospel on the West Side of Lewis in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and profiles the spiritual journey of Norman Macdonald affectionately known as “Tormod Sona”. The book was revised and published as a booklet, entitled “Pronnagan – Gospel Advent in Barvas Parish” in 2008 by Barvas Free Church Deacons’ Court, as part of its efforts to raise funds for the Barvas Free Church Hall Appeal (renovation project).
Rev Macleod retired from Barvas Free Church in 1956. He died in 1963 and is interred in Crossbost Cemetery. His grave is marked by a headstone provided by the Barvas Free Church congregation in remembrance and honour of a faithful minister who laboured in the congregation for 34 years.
Rev Kenneth J Nicolson, from Gravir, was inducted to Barvas Free Church, from Portree, in 1957. Rev Nicolson, a gifted and talented preacher with remarkable vitality and vigour served in Barvas for 22 years. In 1976 he was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland. He retired from Barvas in 1980 and made his home in Crossbost. Rev Nicolson continued to preach throughout the island and elsewhere, as supply minister, until in his 90’s. In 2004 he celebrated 60 years in the ministry and in 2007 he and his wife Rhoda celebrated their Diamond Wedding Anniversary.
Rev Nicolson, also a notable poet, was an accomplished composer of numerous spiritual songs and verses. A book, compiled by his daughter Peggy Macdonald, also a talented composer of poetry and verse, featuring many of his spiritual songs, was recently published. Rev Nicolson died in January 2010 at the age of 98 years and is interred in Crossbost Cemetery.
Rev Murdo MacAulay Macleod, from Stornoway, was inducted to Barvas Free Church, from Portree, in 1980. He served in Barvas for 14 years and was a man of deep Biblical and spiritual convictions with an enthusiastic devotion for the Christian cause. Rev Macleod retired from Barvas in 1994 and moved to the family croft at Cross Street, Stornoway. He continued to preach by providing supply cover in vacant congregations as well as undertaking Gaelic preaching duties in other churches. Rev Macleod left the Free Church in the year 2000 to join the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing).
Rev Macleod passed away in July 2014 having served the ministry for 47 years. He was predeceased by his wife Jessie Margaret, a former Church missionary worker, who had strong family ties with Uig. Both are interred in Ardroil Cemetery, Uig.
Rev Kenneth Macleod was a native of Barvas and known locally as Coinneach Ruadh Mhurchaidh Goraidh. He was inducted to Barvas Free Church, from Maclean Presbyterian Church, New South Wales, Australia, in 1996. He was born in Lemreway, Lochs, where his father was a lay preacher.
Rev Macleod brought a wealth of experience in Ministry, Church matters and in preaching the Word with him to Barvas. As well as serving in Australia he was a former minister of Tain Free Church. Rev Macleod was elected Moderator of The General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland in 1999 and steered the church successfully through the tumultuous time of schism, in 2000, when the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) was formed.
Rev Macleod retired from Barvas Free Church in 2000 and returned to Maclean, Australia, with his wife and most of his family. He continues to take an active role in church matters and a special interest in his beloved Barvas.
Rev Calum I Macleod, from Scalpay, was ordained and inducted to Barvas in 2003. He was amongst the first Free Church College students to graduate with the new University of Glasgow degree, Bachelor of Theology.
Rev Macleod served faithfully in Barvas for 7 years. In 2010 he accepted a call to Back Free Church.
Rev Murdo M Campbell, the present incumbent, from Melbost, Stornoway, was ordained and inducted to Barvas in August 2014, at the age of 26 years. He is the youngest ever minister to be inducted to Barvas. Rev Campbell had previously undertaken placements in Barvas and had accepted the call in person. Rev Campbell’s wife Alison, nee MacVicar, has strong family ties with Shader, Barvas. Rev and Mrs Campbell have a family of 3 sons – David, Finlay and Daniel Murdo (born 2014) who has the distinction of being the first child born to a serving Barvas Free Church minister in 90 years.
The present church building was first renovated in 1933. The next major improvement was seventy years later, in 1979, when a small annexe containing a seated room and toilet facilities was added to the church.
In 2006, work commenced on the £150,000 extension, renovation and refurbishment project, an essential development required to upgrade and modernise the church building.
Due to the works, completed one year later, the Barvas Free Church building now has a semi-detached purposeful church hall in use for the benefit of the wider community, suitable access and seating facilities, enhanced landscaping, safe car-parking provision and is a church building that adequately meets the needs of the present day generation. Two major transformations included in the development concerned the approach route to the pews and the demolition of the front porch, distinctive features that were in the architectural design and layout of the church building. The approach route to the pews, unpopular with many through the ages, involved worshippers having to face the congregation whilst walking to their seats. In the refurbishment, this was changed as the new entrance ensured ease of approach that conformed to the layout of other churches.
The porch, located on the front façade, was used as a vestry. It contained an interior staircase that led to the pulpit and was the main entrance taken by ministers. At the top of the staircase, to the right of the entrance door to the pulpit, was a solid fuel fireplace, evidently for the benefit of the minister or preacher. The fireplace was stoked up to provide a drying facility for the preacher in the days, before electricity and motor cars, when it was necessary to walk to church. However, through the years, the fireplace lost its raison d’être and this practice was discontinued. In the renovation, the porch, in need of repair and upgrading was demolished due to the high rebuilding costs involved.
Barvas Free Church Community
Barvas Free Church serves the West Side communities from Bragar to Borve with prayer meeting houses in Arnol, Shader and Borve (church), affiliated to Barvas Free Church.
Borve, in 1890, was established as a mission station and remained so until the last serving missionary retired in 1976.
The first church building was located at the west end of the village and its foundations remain visible. The present church was built in 1895 and a house, in close proximity, was built for the missionary. Dr Ross, the local doctor at this time who served as Free Church elder, is credited with having provided much vital support to the work carried out at the church, both practically and financially. Dr. Ross was a son of Kenneth Ross, the respected Catechist.
The first missionary to serve in Borve was George Beaton, born Stornoway, a skilled and versatile man who was a preacher, teacher, catechist, precentor of Gaelic tunes and a session Clerk to the congregation. Of interest, George’s wife, Mary, nee Morrison, was the daughter of Duncan Morrison, of Lower Barvas, Gaelic Teacher and Free Church Missionary in Dell, Harris and Carloway, and Mary, nee MacIver, also of Lower Barvas. Their son Duncan was a Free Church minister in Uig, Lewis, from 1879-1887. George and Mary Beaton’s son Alexander was a Free Church minister in Strathconon and their son Dr. George Duncan Morrison Beaton was a distinguished and highly esteemed surgeon in Accrington, England.
Borve Church has been upgraded and redeveloped through the years with much of the work being completed on a voluntary basis. The church was extensively renovated in the 1980’s and included the addition of an annexe and a new car parking area. In 2000 major works were carried out on the exterior walls. The most distinctive features of the church, at one time, were its impressive stained glass window panes. The panes, in different coloured shades and tints, attracted the attention of many people. A special feature of the church, continued in use through successive generations, is the wall clock with its distinctive tick-tock sound. The clock was presented to the congregation in 1908. Monthly evening services are held in Borve and the church is also used for weddings and funerals.
The history of Barvas Free Church, from its earliest days, has been blessed with a strong tradition of solid Biblical preaching, Scriptural emphasis and faithful leaders.
May the Lord continue to bless the witness of Barvas Free Church and may the kingdom of Jesus Christ flourish and shine forth in our communities and throughout our nation