Today we celebrate 25 years in St Peters – I wrote the following article for the St Peters website
It is a humbling and joyful thing to still be here after 25 years – in the joys and pains the Lord has preserved and blessed us.
“Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life. At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.” (Acts 5:20-21)
It was 25 Years Ago…
25 years ago myself, Annabel, Andrew and Becky arrived in Dundee to begin a five-year redevelopment post at St Peters Free Church. I have been asked to write some reflections on our time here and why we are still here. Times have changed considerably in city and church over this past two and a half decades.
Going back 25 years it is hard to convey the situation of the church that we faced. A literal handful of people meeting in a run down building that could seat 900. There seemed little prospect of the church surviving, never mind growing. Any talk of evangelism, growth, and church planting seemed a distant and fanciful dream.
We had come from a small but growing congregation in the Highlands (Brora in Sutherland) which we loved and missed. I had no idea what to do, except what became my mantra, ‘preach the Word and see what happens’. I remember being greatly encouraged on the day of my induction by seeing Donald Macleod, one of the two local elders (there were more assessor elders than congregation at that point!), with his hands down the toilet, cleaning it out. I thought with such humility and service there was great hope.
From the beginning we saw new people coming, and some returning to the church (and some leaving). It was a very slow growth over the first ten years. It was eighteen years before one ready made Christian family moving into the area came to us. Any growth that we had tended to be non-Christians, students and hurt and wounded Christians returning somewhat tentatively to the fold. They said that you couldn’t build a church on students, but they were wrong. Because several of our students stayed on, got jobs, families and have become leaders and stalwarts in the congregation. Within four years we had officially ‘redeveloped’ and I was officially appointed as the ‘real’ minister.
About every five years it seems as though the Lord has shaken up the congregation in different ways in a kind of pruning that has resulted in new growth. It has not always been easy. I do not want to give a false picture of a rosy situation. We have faced almost every problem that human sinfulness can throw up, within and without. But we give thanks to the Lord that he has been faithful and we have experienced some extraordinary and wonderful things. In 2000 there were hardly any children in the church – now there is hardly room for them! The congregation has grown to around 250-300 with it seems new people coming every week. The leadership has grown and the impact on the local community has increased. Now there are Free Churches in St Andrews, Broughty Ferry and Montrose – where there were none. And we have just started a church plant in Charleston. The building has been beautifully rbished and is now a centre for evangelism and outreach. Solas was established. People have been converted. Backslidders have returned. People have been sent out all over the world. Sunday school has developed and grown. Aspire and CAP have been set up. Music and the arts encouraged. But most of all for me is the intangible. How can I convey the sense of the Lord’s presence, especially at some of the evening services in the early years, the communions, and some of the almost miraculous happenings – including my own healing in 2011.
I would like to thank and express my love and gratitude for all the people of St Peters, and the people of this great city of Dundee. I am grateful for the elders, deacons and diaconal assistants, for the staff and for the Lord providing Sinclair Ferguson as an associate preacher and John Ferguson as an associate pastor. Most of all I want to thank my wife and partner in ministry, Annabel, who has been the Lord’s provision for me (and for the rest of the congregation) in ways that are too vast to tell, and for my children; Andrew (Caireen and baby on the way), Becky (Pete and Isla) and Emma Jane, who in the mercy and providence of God have grown up to be fine followers of Christ. Like the apostle John there is nothing gives me greater joy than to see my children walk in the truth! I came to Dundee with an appointment for five years and a promise to try and stay for ten. Twice I have come very close to leaving or resigning but each time the Lord prevented and indicated there was still a work for me to do here. But what of the future?
I don’t know. I am not a prophet. It could be that we could become complacent and die. Or just forget the Lord whilst professing to worship him, and just fade away. I hope and pray not. All I do is teach the Word of God (which I am more convinced of than ever) and wait to see what happens. I dream dreams and see visions! I would love to see the building paid off (about £600,000 to go!) so that the money can now be spent on outreach, a female pastoral worker appointed, an international students worker, diaconal work amongst the poor, Charleston established, more new churches in and around Dundee, a Christian school, our children growing up to be men and women of the Lord, our students going out to serve Christ in every capacity and our older brothers and sisters finishing better than they began!
But what I would love to see is nothing to what the Lord can do. At the end of the day our hope is not in the church, the building, the leadership, our families – or any of the other good gifts the Lord gives us. Our hope is in Christ alone. To God be the Glory – great things he has done!
Rev. David Andrew Robertson is Minister of St Peters, Associate Director of Solas and former Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland (2015-16)