A brief history of Helensburgh Baptist Church
The first Baptist congregation existed as early as 1831, founded and led by Mr Robert Dickie, a retired Glasgow businessman. The congregation met in a small chapel near the east burn where baptisms were held. There was a revival there in 1859 which impacted the whole town. John Bowes, editor of The Truth Promoter wrote “Great work at Helensburgh Eastburn Chapel too small, overflowing every night, and scores if not hundreds unable to get in. The meetings were then held in the Ragged School and there were in excess of 500 listening, with frequent sobbing and brothers Steadman and Dickie helping. The people are flocking to the Gospel like doves to their windows.”
Most of the revival converts, however, settled in other churches in Helensburgh. It is likely these Christians preferred to attend churches led by formally trained Ministers, rather than the “Scotch” Baptist church which was led by lay Elders.
The Baptist congregation dwindled and eventually broke up after the death of Robert Dickie, but was restarted in 1881. The present building which was erected in 1886 was commented on in the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times: “The building is Gothic in character and has a spire of about 100ft. The building is to accommodate 300 and will cost around £1,000. Owing to the evangelistic efforts of Mr Wilson, Mrs Sale and others a large proportion of the money has already been subscribed.”
Mrs Elizabeth Sale, the first missionary to obtain access to the Zenanas of India (apartments in which the women folk of high-caste families were virtually imprisoned), became a member of this Church in 1884 when she retired to Helensburgh. Her daughter, Mrs Young, presented the beautiful stained glass window at the front of the church in memory of her father and her mother who had founded the Zenana Mission (now merged into the B.M.S.).
During the two world wars the church ministered to many in the Forces. Seventeen members of the church, including the pastor, served in WW1 and there is a memorial to the five who lost their lives. In WW2 the building was used as a refugee centre after the Clydebank Blitz. It was packed with refugees sleeping there night after night until better arrangements could be found. Some of the refugees were also put up in the homes of the members. Thankfully the church did not suffer any loss of life as it had in WW1.
In the 1960s Helensburgh as a town continued to grow as the Royal Navy began to make this area one of prime national importance. This in turn brought new people to the town to work. A number of families came into the church at this time and the new navy housing estates also gave an opportunity for Sunday School expansion.
The church became a listed building in 1993. Since then several improvements have been made to the interior, and a new modern entrance was created at the side of the church.