United Presbyterian Church (Scotland)

Last updated
United Presbyterian Church
Classification Protestant
Orientation Calvinist
Polity Presbyterian
Associationsmerged with the Free Church of Scotland in 1900 to form the United Free Church of Scotland
Merger of The Relief Church and the United Secession Church

The United Presbyterian Church (1847–1900) was a Scottish Presbyterian denomination. It was formed in 1847 by the union of the United Secession Church and the Relief Church, and in 1900 merged with the Free Church of Scotland to form the United Free Church of Scotland, which in turn united with the Church of Scotland in 1929. For most of its existence the United Presbyterian Church was the third largest Presbyterian Church in Scotland, and stood on the liberal wing of Scots Presbyterianism. The Church's name was often abbreviated to the initials U.P.


United Secession Church

It was founded in 1820 by a union of various churches which had seceded from the established Church of Scotland. The First Secession had been in 1732, and the resultant "Associate Presbytery" grew to include 45 congregations. A series of disputes, in 1747 over the burgesses oath, and in the late 18th century over the Westminster confession, led to further splits, but in 1820 two of the groups united to form the "United Associate Synod of the Secession Church", also known as the United Secession Church.

The Relief Church

The Presbytery of Relief was constituted in 1761 by three ministers of the Church of Scotland, one of whom was Thomas Gillespie, who had been deposed by the assembly in 1752 for refusing to take part in the intrusion of unacceptable ministers. The number of congregations under its charge increased with considerable rapidity, and a Relief Synod was formed in 1773, which in 1847 had under its jurisdiction 136 congregations.

The Relief Church issued no distinctive testimonies, and a certain breadth of view was shown in the formal declaration of their terms of communion, first made in 1773, which allowed occasional communion with those of the Episcopal and Independent persuasion.

In 1794 the Relief Church adopted as its hymn-book Patrick Hutchison's Sacred Songs and Hymns on Various Passages of Scripture, and it was Hutchison who established the first systematic definition of the Relief Church's beliefs.

A Relief theological hall was instituted in 1824. [1]

The union

In 1847 a union formed between all the congregations of the United Secession Church and 118 out of 136 of the Relief Churches, in what then became the United Presbyterian Church. It was the first Presbyterian body to relax the stringency of subscription, the Church Synod passing a declaratory act on the subject in 1879. On such points as that of the six days' creation, it was made clear that freedom was allowed; but when Mr David Macrae of Gourock claimed that it should also be allowed on the question of eternal punishment, he was at once declared to be no longer a minister of the church. He left behind him many who sympathized with his position, and in the remaining part of the 19th century the United Presbyterian Church came fully to share the forward movement of thought of the other Scottish churches. [2]

Doctrinally, little distinguished the United Presbyterian Church and the Free Church of Scotland, and between 1863 and 1873 negotiations took place on a union, which however proved fruitless. But in 1896 the United Presbyterian Church again made advances, which were promptly met, and on 31 October 1900 the United Free Church of Scotland came into existence. [1]

Timeline showing the evolution of the churches of Scotland from 1560 Reformed Scots Church Denominations.svg
Timeline showing the evolution of the churches of Scotland from 1560

The final Moderator (1899/1900) of the Church was Very Rev Alexander Mair (1834-1911).

Church buildings

The former United Presbyterian church in Paisley. Former United Presbyterian Church - geograph.org.uk - 387115.jpg
The former United Presbyterian church in Paisley.

The United Presbyterian Church constructed a number of notable buildings, the largest of which often used a neoclassical design with a portico. A particularly fine example is Wellington Church, near the University of Glasgow, which was built in 1883-4 by the architect Thomas Lennox Watson. This preference for neoclassical architecture contrasts strongly with the prevailing mid-Victorian taste for Gothic Revival in most of the other Scottish churches. Most U.P. churches were, however, far more modestly built than Wellington.

The famous architect Alexander "Greek" Thomson (1817-1875) designed three striking U.P. church buildings in Glasgow at Caledonia Road (1856), St Vincent Street Church (1859), [3] and Queen's Park (1867). Of the three only St. Vincent Street survives intact, Caledonia Road being an empty shell and Queen's Park destroyed by World War II bombing.

Alexander Thomson was a devout Christian and a member of the United Presbyterian Church. His architectural style was often eclectic; it cannot be described as truly neoclassical (he never managed to visit Greece), but he frequently used Egyptian and other Middle Eastern motifs. His interior designs and colour schemes for churches were strongly influenced by Biblical descriptions of King Solomon's Temple, for example the reference to pomegranates in 2 Chronicles 4:13 and the furnishings mentioned in 1 Kings 6:15-36.

See also

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Thomas Nairn was a controversial Scottish Presbyterian minister. Although he served in several Presbyterian denominations perhaps his most important contribution to church history was his role in setting up the organisation which eventually became the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Although his stay with that religious community was relatively short he was acknowledged, by right of his valid ordination, to have the authority, along with John M'Millan, to form a legitimate presbytery and in so doing to be able to ordain others to the offices of the church. Before Nairn's arrival M'Millan had for more than 36 years been the only minister in what was essentially a small denomination known as the United Societies. Nairn had previously been a minister in the Associate Presbytery of the First Seceders, although he started and ended his days in the Church of Scotland.


  1. 1 2 Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "United Presbyterian Church". Encyclopædia Britannica . 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 608–609.
  2. Drummond, Robert J. (1950). "The significance of the United Presbyterian Church". Scottish Church History Society: 1–7. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  3. "Glasgow City Free Church".