The Free Church Of Scotland In Lewis

A series of spiritual revivals in the Outer Hebrides at the beginning of the nineteenth century meant that the evangelicalism of the Disruption movement was welcomed in Lewis. The Free Church of Scotland's testimony was welcomed and embraced. A former minister of our congregation, Rev Murdo Macaulay, has documented some of these episodes in his book Aspects of the Religious History of Lewis. He has also written of his experiences of revival in the Carloway congregation of Lewis in The Burning Bush in Carloway. A biography of one of his predecessors, Rev Hector Cameron has been published under the title Hector Cameron of Lochs and Back.

The Free Church Of Scotland In Back

The following accounts of the ministers of Back Free Church bring the story of the congregation up to date. They are taken from a booklet written by Mr Neil Murray, our Session Clerk, in 1991, to commemorate the centenary of the present church building. If you have any comments or questions about the history of the congregation, please contact Mr Murray on

The Ministers Who Served The Congregation: 1859-2009

"And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; And they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever".
(Daniel 12, verse 3)

Rev. Dr. Iain D. Campbell (b.1963; Back: 1995-2009)

Rev Calum Iain Macleod Rev Dr Campbell is a native of Lewis, and studied at The Nicolson Institute, Stornoway, the University of Glasgow and at the Free Church College, Edinburgh. He holds the degrees of MA (Glasgow), BD (London), Dip.Th (Edinburgh), MTh (London) and PhD (Edinburgh). Iain was ordained as minister of Snizort Free Church, Isle of Skye, in 1988, and came to Back Free Church in 1995.

He has edited Heart of the Gospel, a collection of sermons from two Lewis ministers, and has written The Doctrine of Sin. These have both been published by Christian Focus Publications. The Gospel According to Ruth has been published by Day One Publications. His latest book is entitled On the First Day of the Week: God, the Christian and the Sabbath, and looks at the Sabbath principle in the Bible and its relevance for today's Christian.

Dr Campbell has also published two books on church history. The first is entitled Heroes and Heretics, published by Christian Focus Publications, and looks at twenty centuries of the church. The second is Fixing the Indemnity: the life and work of Sir George Adam Smith, published by Paternoster Press, and is a publication of Dr Campbell's PhD thesis.

Dr Campbell also writes a weekly column for the local paper, the Stornoway Gazette, on a variety of topics both personal and cultural.

He was editor of the Free Church Youth Magazine, The Instructor, from 1990-96, and editor of the Free Church's denominational magazine, The Monthly Record, from 1996-2000. He has published extensively in other journals and magazines. Some of his devotional writings can be found on the Free Church of Scotland website.

Back to top

Rev. Alister Montgomery (b.1929; Back: 1976-1994)

Rev Alister Montgomery The Rev. Alister Montgomery was born in Balallan in 1929 where his parents lived before moving to Stornoway in 1932 He was educated at The Nicolson Institute.

After his secondary education was complete he trained and served as an engineer in the Merchant Navy for a four year period. A short spell with the Police Force in Glasgow followed. A higher calling — a summons to the service of Christ — made him matriculate and study at Aberdeen University. This was followed by a three-year course at the Free Church College, Edinburgh, where he gained and shared the respect and affection of many like-minded students. Many of them recall with gratitude the fellowship and uplifting moments experienced in those preparatory days.

In 1965, he accepted a call to Scalpay, Harris, where for the next eleven years he preached with much acceptance. It was with regret that they learned early in 1976 that he had accepted a call from Back, one of the largest congregations in the Free Church.

Mr Montgomery is remembered as an unassuming, diligent pastor who prepared his sermons well and who delivered them in a quiet, impressive way. Mr Montgomery, in his own quiet manner, continued the good work of his predecessors in encouraging a great deal of improvement work to the church building, to needed facilities and to other essential provisions.

In recent years the church has been painted internally, new double glazed windows fitted, and a very spacious car parking facility provided.

What is far more important is that Mr Montgomery's labours in our midst "have not been in vain in the Lord" and it is the hope and prayer of all who have the interests of Sion at heart that the congregation will continue to enjoy in greater measure times of refreshing from on high.

Back to top

Rev. Murdo Macaulay (b.1907, d.2001; Back: 1956-1975)

Rev Murdo MacaulayMurdo Macaulay was born in Carloway, the eldest of a family of six — four sons and two daughters. When news of his birth reached a Godly lady in his home area she predicted that the child born was destined to be a minister of the Gospel.

Instead of proceeding to a higher education course on completing his studies at The Nicolson Institute, Stornoway, Mr Macaulay joined the Army. His stay there at that time was short, for his uncle bought him out to manage a rural grocery business for him. His interest in the military continued and for eleven years prior to the outbreak of the Second World War he served with the ROSS Mountain Battery Territorials.

When hostilities eventually came in 1939, he was commissioned to the rank of Lieutenant. His regiment was sent to France and he was among those captured and taken prisoner at St. Valery.

Between 1934 and 1939 the work of the Holy Spirit was much in evidence in Carloway and Mr Macaulay was among those brought from darkness to the light of the glorious Gospel. He never ever tires of relating some of the experiences enjoyed during these days of "heaven on earth" when angels and good people rejoiced.

It was, however, while in captivity that his decision to enter the ministry of the Free Church was made. As an officer he was allowed time to study. He became proficient in the language of his captors and this was beneficial to him later on in gaining passes in German as one of his degree subjects.

Immediately after his release from captivity he took his theological course in the Free Church College while at the same time studying for an MA degree at Edinburgh University. He was ordained at Govan in 1949 and seven years later he followed his predecessor in Govan to Back, where he laboured unceasingly and successfully until he retired with his late wife, Dolina, to the old family home in Carloway in 1975.

Mr Macaulay was a man of strong physique and an equally strong personality. He had an intense interest in many aspects of life and extensive knowledge of many subjects. In the words of a ministerial colleague and friend, he had "a studious mind, a retentive memory and a scholastic ability for research". This made him a most entertaining friend and companion. One was never left without food for thought from having met him casually or from having heard him preach. His power as a preacher could be attributed to an ongoing study of the "deep things of God" and a remarkable familiarity with the Holy Scriptures.

His voice possessed not only a carrying quality which could issue forth with startling force but which also could speak in the most moving, gentle tones.

During his stay at Back when he designed, organised and supervised the erection of a new manse he began a move which resulted in the building or renovation of almost all the FC manses in the island. The present state of the property reflects his practical diligence.

Mr Macaulay authored four books: Hector Cameron of Lochs and Back, The Burning Bush in Carloway, Aspects of the Religious History of Lewis, and Thine Eyes Shall See the King in His Beauty. He also edited a photographic collection of Free Church ministers in Lewis between 1843 and 1993, entitled Free Church Ministers in Lewis Presbytery.

Back to top

Rev. Alexander Macleod (b.1894, d.1954; Back: 1947-1954)

Rev Alexander MacleodMr Alexander Macleod was born at Broker, Portnaguran, Isle of Lewis, in 1893. During the 1914-18 War, he served with the Seaforth Highlanders where a warm, lasting an affectionate relationship began with like minded islanders. The spiritual oasis of the Gaelic prayer meeting in Cromarty was indeed a Bethel to Alasdair Macleod and his friends.

When the war was over he prepared for his Master's service by studying at Edinburgh University and in the Free Church College. He began his ministry in 1929 in Ness, where he laboured successfully for ten years.

After a period of eight years as minister of St. Columba Free Church, Govan, he came to Back in 1947.

His close friend and colleague, the Rev. W. Campbell, of Knock, writing in The Stornoway Gazette shortly after his death, had this to say in placing a stone on the "cairn": "Deeply imbued with zeal for the Glory of God and for the salvation of men his work in each of these congregations succeeded in strengthening the cause of Christ and was richly acknowledged by God towards the conversion of many sinners.

"His powerful voice, well able to proclaim the glad tidings of great joy so movingly, is now forever silenced here except in so far as its echo resounds in the consciences of Christless sinners, or in the memory of those who were privileged to feed upon the heavenly manna under its gracious unction.

"From the bedside of the sick, from the home of the bereaved, from the dwelling of the aged, this faithful and tireless pastor will be sadly missed where his presence, his words and his prayers conveyed strength and consolation to many a weary pilgrim on the way through this vale of tears to the heavenly Zion.

"To spend and be spent in the work of the Lord was the over-ruling motive of his life, and now having finished his course had heard the welcome of the Lord Jesus, 'Well done thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of the Lord'."

Back to top

Rev. Roderick Mackenzie (b.1868, d.1946; Back: 1910-1946)

Rev Roderick MackenzieRev. Roderick Mackenzie was born at Crossbost on 4th October, 1868. He served for a short time in the Army before becoming an apprentice baker with one of the largest bakeries in Glasgow at that time. As a young man he was strong of stature and of mind. He physical prowess and feats of strength could not be matched by any of his contemporaries or colleagues at work. He could carry a sack of meal under each arm up thirty feet of winding stairs.

He prepared for the ministry by attending Glasgow High School, Glasgow University and the Free Church College, where he was the only student during the 1900 Union controversy. He came to Barvas in 1904 and interestingly enough he was nominated by the Presbytery to act as convener of a special committee set up to mark the retirement of the Rev. Hector Cameron in 1907. The ensuing presentation service was conducted by the Barvas minister who was to be Mr Cameron's immediate successor. He preached from the words, "well done thou good and faithful servant", before presenting Mr and Mrs Cameron with £100 and a purse of sovereigns.

As a young man he gave of his time and service to minister to the needs of the people in a populous community. His facile use of words made him a popular preacher and church records indicate there were many seals to his ministry. He was a man of quick wit and some of his more apt sayings are still remembered.

Mr Mackenzie also represented the district as a member of the County Council of Ross and Cromarty where he made his influence felt in matters connected with the secular and spiritual life of the people.

He had a family of three sons and two daughters, all distinguished University graduates — a lawyer, doctor, two schoolteachers and a University lecturer. The minister's stipend was not sufficient to support the demands of his student family and he had to augment his income by rearing cattle and sheep.

Mr Mackenzie was a generous man and the hospitality afforded in the manse to visiting ministers at communion seasons and to locals who helped at spring and harvest work was commendable.

Mr Mackenzie died in the manse shortly after announcing his retirement in 1946. He is buried in Gress cemetery.

Back to top

Rev. Hector Cameron (b.1836, d.1908; Back: 1881-1907)

Rev Hector CameronRev. Hector Cameron's ministry of twenty-six years at Back is more fully described in the biography, Hector Cameron of Lochs and Back, written by the Rev. M. Macaulay, MA, in 1982.

His call to Back was signed by 195 members and 961 adherents. After some difficulties experienced at Presbytery level, he was inducted to Back on 30th June, 1881— a fortnight after the General Assembly gave him permission to leave Lochs.

His ministry was long and fruitful "being favoured with a time of blessing such as he had experienced in previous charges. By his rousing, lively and instructive doctrinal teaching he grounded the congregation firmly in the Reformed Faith. His sermons were highly prized by his judicious hearers. Yet eminent as he was as a preacher he is said to have excelled in leading the prayers of a Christian congregation".

The "boy who was born and for a time brought up in the Roman Catholic faith" was destined to stand alone at the head of a large majority of Lewis people in opposing the Union of 1900. Mr Cameron was a man of complete integrity and strong convictions — a born leader of men.

Mr Cameron's health suffered as a result of this ecclesiastical controversy and he retired to Dingwall in 1907. He died a year later on 25th June, 1908.

A stone erected by the Free Church people of Lewis marks his grave in Laxay cemetery. The inscription reads: "Erected by the Free Church people of Lewis in loving and to the sacred memory of the Rev. Hector Cameron, born 1836, died 25th June 1908."

Back to top

Rev. John Maclean (b.1825, d.1900; Back: 1877-1880)

Rev John MacleanVery little of the memory of the good man is available locally. He was a native of Islay and had served previously at Muckairn, Carloway,and Stratherrick. His stay at Back was for only three years.

A writer, in a tribute to Mr Maclean in The Highland News on 20th October, 1900, says: "The Rev. John Maclean, one of the best known Gaelic preachers in the Highlands, died at his residence at Cawder Place, Nairn, on Friday, 12th October, 1900. He is described as "an acceptable preacher who was frequently in demand for Gaelic services. His command of that language was exceptional and his sermons were powerful and impressive. In 1858, he accepted a call to Carloway. During his ministry there a great revival took place. Aged men and women, as well as the younger people, were deeply impressed and brought to a knowledge of the Truth as it is in Christ Jesus. So heavy was the strain of this work that Mr Maclean broke down physically and he was compelled to rest for twelve months. A change of climate being recommended he accepted a call to Stratherrick where he ministered for about fourteen years when he was called to Back, Lewis.

"His ministry in the island at that period was noted for the Temperance crusade which he instituted and, along with his colleagues, prosecuted with great success.

"His next field of labour was Shiskine in Arran, and from there he was translated to the important and heavy charge of Tarbert in Harris. Here he laboured very successfully for eleven years, but he found the constant and difficult travelling entailed by the scattered parts of the outlying district too much for him. He applied for a colleague and successor".

Back to top

Rev. Donald MacMaster (b.1827, d.1896; Back: 1859-1876)

Rev Donald MacMasterDuring Rev. Donald MacMaster's ministry the congregation was consolidated and many of the customs in vogue until fairly recently were introduced at that time. The mid-weekly prayer meeting was held on Thursdays at noon and all crofting and associated chores, whether in the fields, on the shore or on the moor, came to a halt. The minister was the initiator as well a strong advocate of this practice. A story has it that on one occasion a large quantity of seaweed was swept to the foreshore and the minister engaged the services of three locals on a Thursday to cart much needed natural fertiliser to the glebe. It seems that one of his office-bearers remonstrated with the minister at the Kirk-Session at the first opportunity. The minister promised to abide by his own rule in the future.

In 1861, Mr MacMaster married Jane Macrae, a daughter of the Rev. John Macrae (Macrath Mor), who was at that time minister of Lochs. One of the minister's neighbours was married to a lady from Lochs and it is said that when this man went to Lochs to visit his in-laws, the minister gave him a shilling to deliver a letter to his future bride. Mr Macrae moved to Carloway in 1866 and it is said that when Rev. Mr MacMaster and his wife, Jane, travelled to the West Side of the island to visit her parents, the lad in charge of the horse and gig was made to walk for part of the way so as not to hear the romantic conversation being carried on by the two in the two-wheeled carriage.

The MacMasters had a family of eight. Two of them died of measles within two days of one another three years before he left Back to go to Kiltalen. A third child would, very likely, have also died had not a maid given a drink to the child who was desperate for a drink. The memorial marking the graves of these children can be easily identified in the local cemetery at Gress by the uniqueness of its position. The details have been obscured by weather and time but theirs is the only memorial facing due south. The others in the cemetery face east.

Back to top

"Pray that Jerusalem may have peace and felicity, Let them that love Thee and Thy peace have still prosperity".

Back to top