The history of the church in Scotland started when Alexander Wright and Samuel Mulliner arrived at Greenock on 20 December 1839. Within the month the Hay family were baptised in the River Clyde 14 January 1840, by Samuel Mulliner - the first converts in Scotland. On the 19th the newly baptised couple were confirmed by the laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost. Brother Hays' children were also blessed, and the sacrament administered for the first time in Scotland by divine authority in this dispensation. After those first baptisms, journal entries show significant growth. James Ure, who was baptised 10 April 1840 by Alexander Wright,lists 31 units within a 10 miles radius from Bridge of Weir, including Beith/Kilburnie.
The quarterly conference of the Church in Scotland held in the Mechanics Institution, Canning St, Glasgow on 25 March 1849, show that the gospel was taught in the Garnock Valley with a unit of the Church in Kilbirnie and Dalry with 131 members total, including 7 Elders and 2 Deacons in' Kilbirnie and 6 Elders in Dalry. The unit leaders were Bro Baxter, Kilbirnie and Bro. Rowan Dalry. In that year they were blessed with 13 baptisms in Kilbirnie and 18 in Dalry.
A New Era for Beith Branch
As President Robert W. Watson dug the golden spade into the cold earth on Sunday 29 December 1996, he started a new era for the church in the Beith Branch, but the story began over thirteen years before.The church introduced a program in 1983 where small units with enough members and with adequate priesthood leadership would qualify for a small rural meeting house. President Alexander Cumming, Stake President at that time, had a number of small units meeting throughout the Stake: Thornliebank, Barrhead,Largs, Campbeltown, Oban, Saltcoats, Stranraer and of course the Beith Branch. The programme intended to take the church to all the small units who were working to spread the gospel in each of the areas. Many great characters came from that era, men like John Kineard, Tommy Hanson, Richard H. Foye, Scott Gibson, Douglas Yates, Ian Black and many more. These brethren served as Branch Presidents in small units.
The Beith Branch was formed with a few families that resided within the Garnock Valley, who up until then were members of the Johnstone Branch. The ﬁrst meeting was held in the Beith community centre on 8 May 1983. President Peter D. Cameron, 1st Councillor in the Paisley Stake Presidency, presided at the meeting, and Brother Alan Lauchlan was called as the ﬁrst Branch President. The membership was small with only 16 in total attending, but the sacrament of the Lord was administered in the Beith Branch again for the ﬁrst time. It had been many long years since missionaries had been here to teach the gospel in this beautiful valley.
This was the ﬁrst suggested building for the Beith Branch. In 1985 President Alan Lauchlan was asked to look for ground and he and brother Jim Jackson identiﬁed a site in New Street, but the District Council gave no planning permission, and we were back to square one. However with much persistence and some help from Town Councillor David Dickie, the ground was found at Auldlea Road. The land was owned by two people, who were both happy to sell the ground to the church. Pres. Lauchlan made the ﬁrst approach and a ﬁgure was agreed, but for whatever reason, the church did not act on the work done by Alan and Jim for another year, and by then the cost had risen to £50,000.
The church recognised the beneﬁts of the site, and the land was ﬁnally purchased. Despite the ground being partially cleared and prepared, it would be some time before the ﬁnal decision would be made on the design of the building that would be built on the site.
The ﬁrst drawings were approved by May 1987 which would be a standard plan meetinghouse. Pres Peter Cameron, now the Stake President along with local leaders, worked tirelessly to get the Beith Branch meeting house built.
July that year was the 150th Anniversary of the church in the United Kingdom. Among the celebrations, a meeting was held in the Beith Community Centre on Saturday morning 25 July 1987, and an honorary lunch was followed by an address by Elder David B. Haight to the Saints in the Beith Branch, bestowing on them an Apostolic Blessing. An outstanding service was also held at a site on the grounds of Erskine Hospital where a bench and a commemorative plaque was unveiled to celebrate the baptism of Alexander and Jessie Hay, the ﬁrst Scottish converts to the church
On Sunday 26 July, a conference was held In the Usher Hall, Edinburgh. The theme was taken from Doctrine and Covenants 65:5. That his kingdom may go forth upon the earth, that the inhabitants thereof may receive it, and be prepared for days to come, in the which the Son of Man shall come..
It is a theme that the Beith Branch could well adopt as they embarked on a new era with their new chapel. Speakers at the Sunday meeting were Pres. Alan Lauchlan,Councillor David Dickie (Beith Town Councillor), Sister McKellar (1st Counsellor Beith Relief Society), Bernard P. Brockbank (First Quorum of the Seventy) and Apostle David B. Haight.
The building work for the Beith Chapel was due to begin in January 1988, but suddenly things started to go wrong. After rising to the challenge and meeting the criteria for a building several times, everything came to a halt. The Church Policy for rural facilities had changed, budgets were tight, and facilities department decided that a building was required more by the Saints in Montrose than by the Saints in Beith. Undeterred by this blow at the last minute, President Lauchlan and President Cameron continued to exert their efforts to have the Saints in Beith worship in their chapel. In May 1988 a new building, type SP-1-24 was approved, but again Beith Branch's application was rejected. It was a demoralising blow for the Saints.
We now move on to 1996, President Ian Black, the third Branch President of the unit after Alan Lauchlan and Martin Cardy has recently been released, and Peter Weston is' the current Branch President. President Watson, Paisley Stake President, received a letter on 8 November giving formal notiﬁcation that the building work would begin two weeks before Christmas, the Area Architect for the Church. Brother George Dracocardos phoned President Weston and advised him that plans for the new building were available. They were displayed in the local library along with a model of the proposed design built by Scott Gibson. Local interest from the people of the town picked up, and suddenly the Saints in Beith realised that they were about to get the Christmas gift of their lives. On 20 December, Brother Alan Lauchlan was starting his day and called into the local garage for some petrol. The owner of the garage who knew Alan was a church member just happened to comment on the fact that she had seen workers at the building site a few minutes earlier with a large JCB digger. Alan takes up the story:
I almost ran out of the garage without paying. I drove around the corner to the site. A section of the perimeter fence had been ﬂattened by this J CB, which had already started to clear the ground. It was a wonderful experience. I'll cherish 'those minutes I spent there and the feelings I had. It was Christmas and birthdays, and the cup ﬁnal all rolled into one. I drove round to my ofﬁce and went on my knees and thanked my Heavenly Father, then ﬁghting back the tears of joy. Called Janice my wife, then my Father and Mother and the Jackson's, then left a message on Peter Cameron's answer machine. I wanted to tell the world!
Plans were made for a ground breaking service to be held at the site on Sunday 29 December 1996 with President Watson presiding. Finally, the dreams of those few members who started off the Branch in 1983 were about to be a reality. Almost ten years after Elder Haight's visit to Beith, when the site was prepared for him to see it, the ground breaking was happening. The efforts and prayers of the members of the Branch from those early days in the Spring of 1983 and through the years had been rewarded. Fourteen years of meeting in each other's homes and an often cold community centre, having to carry home the hymn books and lectern each week and wives having to walk home with their children while their husbands drove around the valley dropping off other members. It all seemed hard at the time. But in hindsight it was little sacriﬁce to pay for the beautiful building we were about to receive.
It was a beautiful clear winters morning, the sun was shining in the sky above us, and the High Church bells peeled as around 50 members gathered together in the heart of the building site.
The whole site had been cleared for the ground breaking, and a golden spade was provided. Sister Maureen Gibson led the music as we gave praise and thanks to our Father in Heaven. President Watson conducted the service and prayers were offered by Brother Jim Jackson and Brother Alan Lauchlan. President Les Cairns, Councillor to President Watson, spoke on how we were not only about to embark on a new year but an era. That we were standing on this plot of land by virtue of the Latter-day Saints who endured to the end and who stood the test of time for the Saints in the Beith area, and because of the faithfulness of those members who paid their tithes and offerings.
President Cairns went on say how the Sacrament of the Lord would be administered here to our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren, and they would be a blessed people because of what had taken place here. After the ground breaking ceremony took place, President Watson in his dedication prayer thanked the Lord for the wonderful opportunity that the Saints in Beith had been given, receiving this chapel to worship in and how the community would be blessed.
The dedication of the site took place Sunday the 29 December 1996. In the dedicatory prayer, President Watson gave thanks for the rich and wonderful blessings the Lord had bestowed upon the Saints, for the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the growth of the church, and for the great prosperity we each enjoy as we live the Gospel. He dedicated and consecrated the site,that it may be a holy and a hallowed plot of land such that a building may be built here, a place of worship for the Saints of the Beith Branch. We are grateful now to accept this opportunity to build a wonderful Chapel here for the Saints to worship.
He also asked the Lord for a rich blessing in as far as missionary work is concerned, and that many people will attend here when a building is built. They will feel of Thy Spirit and come to worship Thee in the Beith Branch building.
He prayed for protection for all who worked on the building, and for the land itself, that it will bring forth trees and shrubs and beautiful ﬂowers and grass, that all of these things may beautify the building and that it will be a great centrepiece in this area.
One of the most iconic photos from the building project was one where no members were in attendance, as we did not know it was happening. It was the steeple being put in position. It’s just like topping off a building or the Angel Moroni topping off a Temple. It happened 11th June 1997 and a local resident realised its importance and took photographs. Unfortunately, we do not know the name of the person but we are grateful to her for providing photos of this important event.
On Sunday the 27th May 2018 a realignment of the boundaries between Paisley ward, Irvine ward, Pollok ward took place and the Beith branch was discontinued. The building was put in mothballs, the Branch leadership were released and two new bishops were called: Paisley ward Bishop Alan Lauchlan. Pollok ward Bishop Andrew Keir. However the Beith chapel had served the branch for thirty years, and may well serve again.In years to come, when time has played its part in the scheme of things, this may all be a distant memory for some old member sitting in the back row of the Beith Ward building, who will be able to say 'I was there'. So let's never forget the people who worked so very hard to make Beith what it is, members and missionaries alike, people like Ian Black now the Paisley Stake Patriarch who would rather have six strong Priesthood holders than a building or Andy Lauchlan and Walter Denholm who in the 70's would be out there rain hail or snow doing their Home Teaching. Elders James Are and Elder Charles Hamilton who would stand and defend the church in public. Samuel Mulliner, Alexander Wright and Elders Lesher and Matson who gave the Branch those ﬁrst vital baptisms, giant missionaries moulded in the mood of Alma. Matt Barr, a Beith man who faithfully attended Johnstone for almost 20 years until the Beith Branch was established. George Russell, who sadly like Matt never lived long enough to see the building. Maureen Gibson who loved the sweet sound of the organ and the Saints singing and taught herself to play for the beneﬁt of the Saints. Betty Lauchlan with her great love for her family and the Saints. Derrida Hicks who would bring a bunch of wild ﬂowers every Sunday for the stand.
Editor’s note: Scott Gibson has written a book about the history of the Beith branch, from which this article is extracted, and which ends thus:
It was never my intention to miss anyone out from this book or to offend anyone. It is my way of telling the story that needed to be said not only for the Saints of today and tomorrow but for Alexander and Jessie Hay who on that cold January afternoon in 1840 started it off.