New Testament Assemblies In Shetland - A History

Philip S. Moar

The first New Testament assembly was planted in Shetland in 1864 when five born-again and baptized believers sat down in a room in Mounthooly Street in Lerwick to remember the Lord in the breaking of bread. In the evening they went to the Market Cross in the town centre and preached the gospel. From then on ‘they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship and in breaking of bread and in prayers’, Acts 2. 42.

One of the company, William Gibson Sloan, born in Dalry, Ayrshire, in 1838 and born again in 1861 had joined the Edinburgh Religious Tract and Book Society and was sent to Shetland in 1863 as a colporteur. He visited Lerwick and many other parts of Shetland calling on up to twenty houses a day, reading the Scriptures, praying with the people and preaching the gospel. Often, cottage and barn meetings were overcrowded so he preached in the open air and through him many were saved.

He became exercised about baptism by immersion and was baptized by the Baptists in Shetland but never joined the Baptist Church as he wished to be clear of all denominational tags. For that same reason he relinquished membership of the Church of Scotland. Towards the end of 1863 and early in 1864 he came into contact with other preachers who had arrived in Shetland including Colin Campbell and James Boswell. As souls were being saved through the preaching of these men it was decided that they would meet together on the first day of the week to break bread according to the scriptural pattern. They did this for the first time in the room in Mounthooly Street, Lerwick in 1864.

The work continued and believers were baptized either in the sea or in a loch outside the town. Despite opposition, a number were added to the little company and soon they had to hire a hall for their meetings. The work spread into the countryside and, within a short time, assemblies were planted at Hoswick, Whiteness and Selivoe and halls were built. During the next few years great blessing was experienced in Lerwick and throughout the country districts. Many souls were saved and added to the local companies. In 1885 a new Gospel Hall was built in Navy Lane, Lerwick, and called Ebenezer Hall. By then there were seventy believers in fellowship. The Hall has since been renovated and extended.

In 1889, a young brother named Horatio A. Wallis, who had been in assembly fellowship for some time in Stockton-on- Tees, arrived in Shetland. He started visitation and preaching throughout the islands. In 1902 his sister, Carrie Wallis, joined him and they made their home in Navy Cottage, Lerwick, and continued there the rest of their lives. John Stout, who was in fellowship in Ebenezer Hall, joined Mr. Wallis and together they laboured in the islands. Mr. Wallis was tragically killed in a motor-cycle accident in December 1929. His sister stayed on in Lerwick until her homecall in 1952. Mr. Stout had moved to New Zealand in 1919 and continued his fruitful ministry there. On hearing of Mr. Wallis’ death he felt called to return to Lerwick, which he did in 1932. He continued to serve the Lord until his homecall in 1952, aged 91.

In 1906, Mr. Stout, along with J. Miller, a young evangelist from Glasgow, saw great blessing in the district of Northmavine, about thirty miles north of Lerwick. Souls were saved, and along with some believers from the denominations, were baptized. These believers gathered together to the Name of the Lord in a crofter’s house at Mangaster. From there they preached the gospel in cottage meetings and in public halls. This testimony continued and in 1981, after some young men had been added to the company, a new Gospel Hall was built in Brae.

In 1910, James Petrie, a young evangelist from Edinburgh, but of Shetland origin, arrived. He began to preach in Selivoe along with John Stout. At this time the Selivoe meeting was at a low ebb with only five in fellowship; two brethren and three sisters. Their only gathering was to remember the Lord together each Lord’s Day morning. After two weeks’ gospel preaching, Mr. Stout left to go elsewhere in Shetland but Mr. Petrie continued in Selivoe for a further three months. Towards the end of that time he saw a number of souls saved, and backsliders restored. He also saw ten people baptized and received into fellowship.

In 1916, William Cumming, a young seaman, was saved, baptized and received into fellowship. He, too, started preaching the gospel when at home from sea. Later, he and James Moar saw blessing in Whiteness, which was an encouragement to the assembly there. Andrew Cumming moved into Lerwick where he too saw blessing. In 1923, J. W. Miller started preaching the gospel in the island of Trondra, where a young believer, Gilbert Irvine, was School Master. He was able to use the school as a gathering centre, and together they preached the gospel with encouraging results. During that year twenty-four were saved, of whom thirteen were baptized. A Gospel Hall was built in 1925 to seat one hundred. Two bedrooms and a kitchen were added to the hall as a ‘prophet’s chamber’ with the total cost of £180 being met by the saints. That testimony continued for the next thirty years but, with young people leaving the island for their education or work and the older people passing on, the few that remained in assembly fellowship either moved to the assembly in Lerwick or the recently formed one in Scalloway.

In 1946, James Moar gave up employment and went out in faith. His exercise was to visit every home in Shetland with the gospel. For the next thirty years he continued until his homecall in 1977, at the age of 87. During that period he visited almost every home in Shetland and Orkney several times. He saw many souls saved and gathered to the Name of the Lord as he faithfully preached the gospel. On James Moar’s second visit to Papa Stour, a small island on the west coast of Shetland, an assembly was established, where believers gathered. This continued until the last remaining brother who took part was called home. After that, the family moved to Scalloway and were in fellowship there.

In the mid-1940s, Gilbert Irvine moved to Yell where he was in charge of Mid-Yell School, living in the schoolhouse with his young family of four. He soon started preaching the gospel and shortly afterwards met with some believers in his home to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. James Moar paid several visits to Yell, conversing with the islanders in their homes. Over a few years a number were baptized and received into fellowship, including all of Gilbert’s family. After Gilbert Irvine left Yell, the assembly moved to the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Tait, in Aywick. They too saw all their family saved, baptized and received into fellowship. With little employment and many of the young people having to leave the island for further education, most of the believers left during the 1950s and made their homes in or near Lerwick. This resulted in the testimony in Yell closing and the believers being received into fellowship in Lerwick, Scalloway or Hoswick.

In 1950, a brother named Magnus Sinclair moved from Selivoe to Scalloway in connection with his work, along with his wife and young family of four. Soon after he arrived he set aside the best room in his house for gospel meetings. In 1951, James Moar and George Alexander of N. Ireland commenced gospel meetings. Some were saved and backsliders restored. James Moar continued weekly meetings teaching New Testament Church truths. Some were baptized and in June 1951 eight believers sat down to remember the Lord. Later, a building in the centre of Scalloway was purchased, renovated and made into a very comfortable Gospel Hall. Opened in 1954, the testimony continues there to this day.

The most recent Gospel Hall to be built is in the district of Sound, on the outskirts of Lerwick, completed in 1987. There are about thirty in fellowship and the assembly is active in gospel outreach.

In January 2002, four assemblies working together were able to purchase a large building from British Helicopter International. It is set in one acre of ground with a large sandy beach alongside, on the southern tip of Shetland. It is now known as ‘The Shetland Christian Youth Camp’.

We are grateful to many of the Lord’s servants who have visited our shores for gospel campaigns and door to door visitation and to the ministering brethren who have faithfully taught the Scriptures. Our prayer is that the testimony will be preserved until the coming again of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.