Pray for Harris

Harris_FCCI am just back from a very special weekend. I had the privilege of assisting at the communion in the Free Church (Continuing) congregation of Harris, along with Rev Allan Murray (Brora, retired). It is a congregation I have come to know well, having been there many times giving pulpit supply over the last few years, as this congregation has been without a settled pastor since 2004. The people are warm and kind, and have shown their devotion to the Lord’s work by their remarkable cohesion, so that even after twelve years of vacancy, this close-knit group of God’s people continues to maintain a testimony in a very remote place.

Let me give a brief report on the Harris congregation, to stir up prayer for the Lord’s work there.



Harris is not actually a separate island at all; it forms the southern half of the landmass called the “Long Island”, being separated from Lewis by a steep mountain range, the Clisham. It is an incredibly barren island, with thin ground barely covering the grey rock. Exposed hillsides often look like moonscapes, with only the odd patch of grass or heather amongst the exposed faces of rock. Unlike Lewis, there are soaringly high mountains, and there are also incredible beaches, especially the vast golden sands of Luskentyre.

In days gone by, Harris experienced true revivals, most notably under the preaching of John Macdonald, the famed “Apostle of the North”, who visited several times in the 1820s and 1830s, on his way too and from the remote archipelago of St Kilda. The well-known Harris blacksmith, John Morrison, “Gobha na Hearach”, wrote deeply spiritual Gaelic poetry, and kept up meetings for Gospel witness, in the days when the parish minister was not evangelical in sympathy. Following the Disruption of 1843, a Free Church was built in Harris, and a succession of ministers maintained a testimony to the Gospel.

Today, Harris is sadly divided in religious terms, with this remote rural area having almost the full spectrum of Presbyterian denominations represented. But these divisions should not distract from the obvious love for the Lord and devotion to His cause of many people in this island, across denominational boundaries.

The church used by the congregation is a visible expression of this love. Originally built as a meeting-house for the Free Presbyterian Church in the village of Northton, it had become surplus to requirements for that Church in recent times, and was very kindly gifted to the Harris congregation several years ago. The meeting-house is in need of substantial renovation, having been little used over the last decade or so, and a plan for building work is currently well advanced, but its gift was a huge encouragement to the Harris congregation.



The people in Harris are familiar now from many visits: a solid core of seven professing members, all very active and committed, with another ten or so adherents, and some children. They are warm and welcoming to visitors for the communion season, who came from as far afield as Glasgow and Inverness for the weekend. It has been a particular joy to see evidence of spiritual progress amongst the young people of the congregation over recent months.



Harris is, of course, vacant, but will not be so for long, Lord willing. Rev Iain Smith, a former minister of Partick Free Church (Continuing), who has pastored a congregation in Tasmania, South Australia, for the last twelve years, has returned to the UK, and accepted a call just last week to become minister in Harris.   This communion was therefore a joyous time of celebration, as the people look forward to having their own pastor resident in the area from the 6th of May.

There is a great deal of work to be done to get the Manse ready for a minister, on top of the building work already in planning for the meeting house. But despite this pressure, there is an encouraging sense that the Lord has not forgotten Harris or the small FCC congregation there.

The news granted a real pleasure in the worship of the weekend, with a great sense of the Lord’s presence at the communion table, as the senior minister encouraged us to true communion, from the Biblical text, “Leaning upon her beloved” (Song of Solomon 8:5). In the evening, although I was feeling quite unwell, I was enabled to bring a very solemn message on the experience of Hell, and its conquest in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord enabled me to keep going to the end of the sermon, although I had to excuse myself from the prayer meeting afterwards (thankfully one of the elders is a GP, and was able to give some pills to settle my stomach!). But I was well enough to attend the evening fellowship, which was a time of thoughtful and serious spiritual discussion, and the thanksgiving service the following morning.



  • This congregation has endured a long vacancy with great commitment and dedication; pray that the Lord will encourage them richly as a minister is settled.
  • Remember Mr Smith, as he comes to pastor this people, that he will be greatly used in this place, and that as an older minister coming out of retirement to accept this call, he will feel his youth renewed in his service to the Lord here.
  • There are real financial needs here, as the burden of renovating the church hits at the same time as a manse needs to be redecorated and prepared for use after twelve years without permanent occupation.  Let’s pray that the Lord will answer the needs providentially, and that His people are given a heart to support the congregation here.
  • In a day when congregations are increasingly being reduced just to gatherings of professing believers, there are a number of adult adherents willing to attend in Harris. Pray the Lord will work mightily to draw them to Himself under the preaching of their new minister.
  • Let’s seek a real blessing for the young people who are growing up in this congregation, that they would know the Lord for themselves, as Lord and as Saviour.
  • Above all, that God would be glorified in the worship of His church.

Since writing the above, I have been reminded that there is currently a financial appeal in place for the Harris congregation, to assist with the substantial costs they will incur in renovating the church building and preparing the manse for the new minister.  Please note that anyone wishing to contribute can find the treasurer’s contact details on this page:

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10 comments to Pray for Harris

  • Isabel Campbell

    We so enjoyed a rich blessing from both Rev Alan Murray and Rev Alisdair Macleod through the preaching of the Word.
    I can honestly say that the sense of peace and presence of the Lord was palpable at the table and behind it.
    Keep us in your prayers.

  • Rev John Nelson

    Rev Smith has become a close friend of mine during his time in Australia and I will certainly be praying for the congregation and his ministry. Mr Smith is a wise, gracious, discerning man who I’m sure will provide a great deal of encouragement to the congregation and will be well received by the young people.

  • Elder Wal Ashby

    It was with sad hearts that we farewell-ed our very dear Pastor Iain Smith and his dear wife Mary, from Hobart, Tasmania. Although sad, we know this is the Lord’s doing and we rejoice with the folk of Harris that they might know of the Lord’s doing for them what He did for us twelve years ago, His “Exceedingly abundantly above all we could have asked or thought”. As a result, we feel a special kinship with you folk there and assure you of our prayerful remembrance as you discover what our gracious God has in store for you in days to come.

  • From the Hobart congregation of the Southern Presbyterian Church, Tasmania.

    We do wish Pastor and Mrs. Smith all the very best as they approach taking of this new charge. We trust that the Lord will bless Pastors Smith’s gospel ministry as He did for us here in Hobart. May the congregation enjoy many more years of Pastor Smith’s intriguing light on God’s Word. May our Lord bless you all as both congregation and minister get to know each other.

  • I was surprised to read that you were able to return home to point half way through the recent North Uist FCC Communion. I would have thought as Junior Minister you would have conducted the Evening Service on the Sabbath of the North Uist FCC Communion. At least when you got back to your family in Point you STILL had the Sabbath off. I know in the church I belong to the FP Church of Scotland, if there are 2 visiting ministers assisting at a Communion, they both do an equal number of services between Thursday and Monday Morning or Evening if that is the case.

    • Rev Alasdair Macleod

      Thanks for your comment, David.

      In our own congregation, that is our practice; to have 2 ministers throughout the weekend. But I suppose in some smaller congregations it is easier just to have 1 assisting minister over the Sabbath itself. Every blessing to you.

  • What it means if there is only one visiting minister over the weekend Saturday – Monday of a Communion Season the minister of the congregation is expected to do a service, Whereas if there are two vising ministers over the WHOLE weekend, the minister of the congregation doesn’t have to do very much at all and is able to rest his voice especially if he has been preaching week in and week out.

    • Rev Alasdair Macleod

      Thanks, David. Actually I don’t believe this is right: I think Mr Gracie took both the Sabbath services, and also the Monday thanksgiving before returning home – the local minister was not required to preach. Personally, both as a host of communions, and also as a visiting minister, my preference is for sharing the duties between 2 ministers over the whole weekend, as this makes the duties more manageable, and also lends a helpful continuity to the whole weekend. It did feel strange to help to prepare a congregation for the Supper, and then return home without participating; and similarly, when I have been the main minister assisting, it is very tiring to have to preach again in the evening after conducting the entirety of a Communion Sabbath morning service. But all this said, we have to be realistic in the modern world about the fewness of ministers, and the smallness of congregations, and reach sensible decisions accordingly. I know that in the FP Church in recent years, there has been a move towards communions with just 1 assistant, which in a previous generation would have been unthinkable, and yet now I suppose is just sheer necessity. But the most pressing need is still for the presence of the Lord at the services.

  • When there is ONLY one visiting minister at a Communion, the home minister or in the case of vacant congregations the Interim Moderator ie the minister looking after the congregation does a couple of services during the communion. Some places especially in the mainland Highlands only have one service on the Thursday & and Friday Evenings and Monday either Morning or Evening which helps if only one visiting minister is available to assist. The only place I know of where 2 services take place on the Thursday, Friday and Monday of a Communion is Glasgow. Other places have 2 services Thursday and Friday and one on a Monday. What is needed is more ministers to fill vacant congregations.

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