It has been brought to our attention that the Associated Presbyterian Churches (APCs) have issued a leaflet entitled WHAT HAPPENED in ABERDEEN? And WHY? As this document contains statements and accusations which are patently false, we feel duty-bound to respond.
Before dealing with the Aberdeen situation in particular, there are other matters to which it is necessary to draw attention:
- Contrary to what is stated in the APC document, the Rev Alexander Murray, when taken to task for asking a Roman Catholic priest to pray, was not refused a Libel “in direct contradiction of the Churchs own law”. The fact is that Mr Murray did not ask for a Libel when the matter was first brought to the attention of the Northern Presbytery; he did so only after the Synod had come to a final decision on the matter. In these circumstances, the Clerk of Synod, after consulting the Legal Adviser, informed Mr Murray that what was stated in the decision was something that Mr Murray himself had admitted and that there was, accordingly, no need for a Libel.
- The Lord Chancellor was disciplined, not for attending a funeral, as has been asserted repeatedly by those who seek to besmirch us, but for being present where no Free Presbyterian office-bearer, indeed no Christian, ought to be present, that is, where a blasphemous mass was being held, and the assertion that he “did NOT attend Mass, (albeit a Mass took place) but merely attended a Memorial Service” is meaningless, a mere playing with words and a statement that only the wilfully blind and biased will agree with. Ten years have passed, and the APCs are still trying to convince people that the reason for the 1989 separation “was founded upon several issues of a constitutional nature”. The Aberdeen APCs, shortly after the event, thought it expedient to make known what they regarded as being the real reason for the 1989 walkout. In a widely-circulated congregational flyer, they were asking: “1989 What did it mean for you?” Their answer? “For us it meant the birth of a new Church. Remember the decision by the Synod of the Free Presbyterian Church to discipline the Lord Chancellor for attending the funeral of a Roman Catholic colleague? After that some of us felt that we no longer belonged to the F P Church, and the APC (Associated Presbyterian Churches) was born.” (The disciplining of Lord Mackay might have been unpalatable to many but at no stage in the proceedings was he dealt with in any way that was inconsistent with our constitutional position.) The flyer also supplied a street plan and the information that the local APC Church was located at Alford Place. What it did not mention was that the building did not belong to them and that the legal title to the Alford Place Church was held, not by the Associated Presbyterian Churches, but by the General Trustees “for and on behalf of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.”
Having, in these early days, access to the building, several Free Presbyterian week-day services were held in the Alford Place Church but when it was intimated that we intended to worship there on a certain Sabbath afternoon, the APCs promptly changed the locks and denied us further access to our own building! At the time, we decided not to pursue the matter but arranged for services to be held in a lecture theatre at Kings College. That arrangement was to continue until June 2000, and, as will be understood, the expense involved in hiring a place for worship for that extended period of time was considerable. The Rev John Tallach continued to occupy the Free Presbyterian Manse at 18 Carlton Place.
It is true that the Synod, in May 1990, decided “to suffer themselves to be defrauded” rather than resort to litigation, but at the same time it was made clear that it reserved “the right of the Church to defend any claim against its property”. We have, hitherto, strictly adhered to what was then decided. In June 1999, the Rev John Tallach left the APCs to join the Church of Scotland, and, at that juncture, an adherent of the Aberdeen congregation, Mr Ronald Bruce, acting entirely on his own initiative, and believing that the Manse at Carlton Place was now unoccupied, hired locksmiths, gained access to the building and changed the locks. It was after this was done that it was discovered that some of the possessions of Mr Tallachs grown-up children were still on the premises. Mr Bruce, apprehensive of the consequences of allowing them access, arranged for these possessions to be carefully packed by a removal firm and they were duly delivered to an address specified by their owners. It should be borne in mind that all the time that the Rev John Tallach occupied the building, the title to it was held by the Deacons Court of the Aberdeen congregation of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. On learning of the impending departure of the minister to the Church of Scotland, the Deacons Court several times asked the APCs simply to hand over the keys of the property but it was to no avail.
Following the recovery of our Manse, the APCs raised an action in the Aberdeen Sheriff Court by which they sought to interdict the General Trustees, the Aberdeen Deacons Court, Mr Ronald Bruce “and all others acting on their behalf or with their authority from entering or trespassing on the heritable property and garden ground pertaining thereto occupied by the Pursuers and others authorised by them, known as Alford Place Church, Alford Place, Aberdeen: from interfering with the peaceful possession and use of said heritable property enjoyed by the Pursuers, their Congregation and their tenants, and from tampering or interfering with the locks to the heritable property; and for interdict ad interim; and for the expenses of the action”.
Over the years, many others whose credentials would have been unacceptable to us, were indeed “authorised” by the APCs to make use of the property. At present we shall draw attention to two of the organisations who were allowed this privilege without the knowledge of the General Trustees.
- Organisation of Aberdeen Kirks (OAK). This is an ecumenical body with charitable status, and it made use of the building for commercial purposes, running a canteen providing lunches for the general public and paying the APCs a rent of £50 per week. Although the building was decaying, things appeared to have been going well for OAK and it would appear that they, with the approval of the APCs, were making plans for the future. This seems plain from a document entitled, “EXTENSION OF ACTIVITIES AT ALFORD PLACE CHURCH”, which has come into our hands. Such activities were to include the following:
- The opening of a shop “to sell a range of goods purchased from sources in poorer countries, eg India and Nepal”.
- The mounting of “interesting and attractive displays” and exhibitions “which would be of interest to our restaurant customers”, including “seasonal displays at Christmas and Easter”.
- The providing of “office and meeting space for such as United Bible Societies” which would create “further awareness of Alford Place Church and bring many people into the building”.
- The Aberdeen School of Christian Studies. This is an ecumenical body, one of whose main aims is “to bring together Christians from different traditions”.
- In May/June 2000 four lectures were delivered in Alford Place Church under the auspices of this group and bearing the title “From Sinai to Azusa Street: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Holy Spirit.” Furthermore, this was done in association with the “Winds of Change” Programme; this being, apparently, the name given to the Aberdeen Pentecostal Celebration. These titles speak for themselves.
- On Sabbath 11 June 2000, the “Winds of Change” programme included a Celebration Parade advertised as starting “at Alford Place, involving decorated floats, vintage cars, musicians, dancers and clowns. The parade will travel down Union Street to Castlegate and the beach.” At the beach a “Summer Fayre” was to be held “with stalls, performers, kite-flying, parachute games and much more . . . “. In the evening an “Ice Disco” was to be arranged for young people and also a “Celebration Ceilidh for everyone” to be held in “the Beach Ballroom with a top ceilidh band”.
That these things should take place on the Lords Day and be organised by such as profess to be Christians is almost beyond belief. Representatives of OAK were asked if the Alford Place Church was used in connection with this parade and the answer received was that the toilet facilities were probably used. Whether that was the case or not, it is plain from the foregoing that the situation was getting out of hand and quite intolerable from our point of view. In the Lords inscrutable providence, it was the APCs themselves that were to set in motion the train of events which in due time led to the building being restored to us.
In view of the fact that it was the APCs who had raised the action in the Aberdeen Sheriff Court, and in line with the Synods declaration that it reserved “the right of the Church to defend any claim against its property”, it was decided to lodge defences, and our Legal Adviser was instructed accordingly. When, after several months and several adjustments to pleadings, it became evident that the APCs were seeking a way out of the difficult situation in which they had placed themselves, some of their office-bearers wrote letters requesting dialogue, but we refused to accede to these requests. In doing so we were adhering to the Synods decision in 1990, when, in deciding not to proceed to litigation, it also declared that it would “take no steps to enter into any form of negotiation with people who, in its view, have no moral or legal right to property which they hold and which their consciences, as yet, do not require them to vacate”. The APCs were well aware of the fact that this was our stated position.
When the APCs abandoned the action, we were advised that we were within our rights in taking whatever steps were necessary to recover the property, and this was done in an orderly manner on June 14. The Title Deed was shown to the senior officer on duty at the nearest Police Station and he was fully apprised of our intention to recover the property in a peaceful manner. No objection was raised. On arrival at the Alford Place Church, we were treated with civility by the OAK representatives who happened to be on the premises. They accepted the position and having amicably made arrangements with them in regard to the removal of any property belonging to them, the locks were changed. The tenants occupying the flat within the church building were assured that we were not there to evict them and the agreement proposed to them was so much to their advantage that they readily entered into it.
In view of the forementioned facts and considering that many of the congregations formed in 1989 have almost dwindled to nothing, it is very sad and solemn that the APCs should still be declaring that they are “firmly convinced that the Free Presbyterian Church has departed from its constitution” and that it is “with extreme reluctance” that they would “hand over a property needed for the work of the gospel”. With regard to the Alford Place Church, we can assure them that it is now solely used for the preaching of the gospel and that its door remains open to them to come and hear it.
(Rev) John MacLeod, Clerk of Synod