One day in March 1871 a young man called John Ritchie walked into a shop in Inverurie and noticed a small bill in the window advertising gospel meetings in the town. Two evangelists, Donald Munro and Alex Carnie from the Northern Evangelistic Society, were to visit the town. This society had been founded the previous year by Donald Ross who had been the local superintendent of the North East Coast Mission, and he had been deeply involved in the 1859/60 revival in the North East of Scotland. Ross had resigned from the NECM on the basis that ministerial control had grown excessive, and he founded the Northern Evangelistic Society with ‘no committee of directors, owning allegiance only to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and relying wholly on God for support’. The society focused on the inland parishes of Aberdeenshire, and so it was that the two evangelists were to be in Inverurie.
John Ritchie was no stranger to the gospel – he had Christian parents and had attended Sunday school – but it was mere curiosity which took him to these meetings in Inverurie. During the meetings there was significant opposition, and many attended to scoff and disrupt. One of the evangelists later recorded, ‘There was such an exhibition of the devil I had never seen before. During our prayer time the scoffers hissed, cheered and shouted so that we could hardly hear our own voices’. John Ritchie returned to the meetings two weeks later, on the news that some of his friends had been saved, and, on 2nd April, in his own words he, ‘through grace passed the boundary line of the devil’s empire and entered the kingdom of God’.
On the following Monday, John told his employer that he had been saved and asked to be excused from selling drink, or, if that was not possible, that he be relieved from selling altogether. His employer was not prepared to make these exceptions and therefore ‘let him go’. John, however, soon found employment with a local Christian.
A number of other conversions followed John Ritchie’s, and, by the time the two evangelists left, there were around thirty believers who continued to meet on Sunday mornings for prayer. Similar things were happening across the north-east at that time. During this time, tension developed between the Evangelistic Society and the denominations in the area. Donald Ross had ceased to take communion at the Free Church, because the saved and unsaved were together. Throughout the area those who had been converted began to search the scriptures to establish a way forward before God.
In Inverurie the small group of believers underwent some serious persecution – their own ministers preached against them, and they continued to search for the right way according to the scriptural pattern. They began to practise believer’s baptism, using the River Don for the purpose. This proved a turning point as a number who had been associated with the group left. The believers got to know of a small group of Christians who were breaking bread in a nearby village – Old Rayne – and they decided to make a visit. What they witnessed had a profound impact on them. In John Ritchie’s words, ‘It was a wonderful gathering – the first of its kind we had seen – the meeting was held in a joiner’s shop, planks of wood for seats supported by logs, a plain table covered by a white cloth on which the bread and wine were set. There was no platform, no chairman, and no speaker. We had often gone to hear the Lord’s servants minister the word but here we had come simply to meet the Lord himself – to see no man save Jesus only’.
The Inverurie group continued to meet several evenings each week to study the scriptures and to seek a way forward. Eventually, twelve young men left their churches and set up a small assembly. They were soon joined by others, and a flourishing assembly was established. At around this time John Ritchie moved south to begin his own publishing business, and, though the assembly felt the loss, others stepped forward to fill the gap. Donald Ross held regular conferences bringing many good Bible teachers to the area which helped to establish the testimony and the believers involved.
The assembly was formed indepen-dently of any contact with other assemblies. John Ritchie wrote – ‘The name of “brethren" was unknown to us – we had never heard or read of such a group’. The practises of the assembly were arrived at through a fresh reading of the word of God.
By the grace of God a thriving assembly of around sixty believers still exists in Inverurie, with active outreach programmes. In August this year, God willing, they will hold their 139th annual conference. There is a good mix of age groups, and, over the years, they have known the Lord’s hand in blessing. At the weekly family service they regularly see attendances of 100, including good numbers of local people who still need the Saviour. They have a thriving children’s work, supported by a local full-time worker, Graham Smith. Graham’s school visits mean that around 1300 children every month are exposed to the scriptures, and these visits are augmented with Holiday Bible Clubs and annual Bible Exhibition visits.
Also, around 1500 Jubilee New Testaments were distributed to the schools around the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Bible teaching is carried on with regular consecutive programmes and house study groups, which the assembly see as providing opportunities to extend their reach into the community.