The Free Church of Scotland was formed in 1843 as a result of the Disruption when about one-third of the ministers and members left the Church of Scotland. They did so on principle, believing that the Church of Scotland of that time was allowing the state to interfere improperly in its internal government.
Shortly after the Disruption Ayr had two lively Free Churches – in the Sandgate and in Newton-on-Ayr. By the end of the 19th century the number of Free Churches in the town had risen to five. However, the growing liberal influence within the Free Church of Scotland at this time threatened many of the principles of the Disruption. The Westminster Confession of Faith, for example, was being challenged as was purity of worship. Tensions came to the fore when the Free Church linked in 1900 with another Presbyterian denomination, the United Presbyterian Church. A minority in the Free Church would not enter this union on the ground that it violated certain key church principles.
At first this minority was not represented in Ayr. Effectively, a distinctive Free Church witness was not to be found in the town for four years. It had to be resuscitated with a combination of outside help and local supporters. It was not easy for the Free Church in Ayr in the first part of the 20th century. It had to wait until 1920 before it received its first minister, Rev Andrew Orr. Since that time a further eight ministers have served Ayr Free Church.
Aspects of Ayr Free Church
Early in the 20th century the Free Church in Ayr had a decidedly Highland character, but in the last 30 years the Church has attracted people from a much broader background and remains committed to Christian witness in Ayrshire. We are now a diverse group of people with different cultural backgrounds.
We use a modern translation of the Bible and our praise includes both psalms and hymns with musical accompaniment. The worship and witness of the Church is in the language of the people.
Ayr Martyrs building was erected in 1832 by the small Reformed Presbyterian Church (the Covenanting denomination which was dissatisfied with the Revolution Settlement of 1690). It became a Free Church in 1876 when most Reformed Presbyterian Churches linked with the Free Church.
The Church front
It is something of a historical accident that the Free Church occupies this building today. It was assigned to the Free Church people in Ayr by a Church Commission in 1907 which had been set up to adjudicate between the Free Church and the United Free Church. The Ayr Martyrs building was superfluous to the requirements of the United Free Church, and seemed suitable for the relatively small band of Free Church people at that time. And it turned out in God’s providence to be appropriate to the needs of the congregation in the 20th century.
A hall was first built in 1931, and further accommodation and modern toilets were added in the 1990s. These can accommodate the prayer meeting and several Sunday School classes.