Rt. Rev. Dr.Russell Barr at Westburn

P1040526On Sunday 29th January 2017, we were honoured to have the Moderator of the General Assembly – The Right Reverend Doctor Russell Barr participating in our Morning Worship.






The theme of the service was Vocation. It was opened by our own minister Rev Karen Harbison who welcomed Russell and his wife Margaret to our Service with the reminder that he had been the first minister of the then newly formed St. Luke’s which moved on to become Westburn Church.

At the ‘Time for Children’,  Russell took over where he produced a bag of pennies , giving one to each of the children. He then asked how they would describe the penny and what they saw on it.

This became the basis of ‘The Penny Prayer’ describing the penny and the world as round, the Queen’s head as a symbol of the people and family. The whole world, it’s people and our families should be remembered as we pray.

The Scripture readings were taken from Isaiah 6: 1 – 8 and Luke 5: 1 – 11

As the Service progressed, it was time for the Sermon, ably taken by Russell

Extracts are as follows:-

Scripture: Isaiah 6: 1-8 / Luke 5: 1-11

Text: Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go

         for us? And I said, ‘here am I. Send me!                                         (Isaiah 6: 1-8)


Margaret and I have been looking forward to this day very much indeed.

It was May 1988 that we moved into 50 Ardgowan Street and I was inducted as the minister of St Luke’s, the newly formed union of the Old Kirk and St Mark’s Greenbank

Alex Cameron and Jim Gray were the joint Session Clerks, Norman Paterson was the Kirk’s treasurer, Jack Fraser was Clerk to the Congregational Board, May McGeorge was the organist and Adam Pickett was the church officer.

Looking back to our five years in Greenock, if the building of the youth hall was one of the highlights, so too was the evening when we hosted the London Community Gospel Choir and the rafters of this historic church building shook as never before.

Today the congregation has a different name, all the principal office-bearers are different, much of the town looks very different – and with three grandchildren now so do we.

However it is a great pleasure to return to the ‘tail of the bank’ and to return as Moderator and it is my privilege to bring you the greetings, prayers and good wishes of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

As you know with its great vision of a church and school in every parish, the Scottish Reformation was always local in its outlook.

It remains so to this day and one of the great privileges of being Moderator is to see that the health and vitality of the church is to be found not in its Moderator or its General Assembly or even the local Presbytery, the courts, councils and committees of the church, but in the life and worship and activities of local congregations.

People have often asked if I always wanted to be a minister but when I was growing up in Kilmarnock what I wanted to be was a professional golfer.

Rather than wanting to be a minister, I felt called into ministry and that experience of God calling people to various forms of service is what I would like to speak about this morning.

From the Hebrew scripture we heard of the dramatic calling of the prophet Isaiah.

As the narrative unfolds the scene is one of royal majesty, a heavenly palace, as Isaiah is given a glimpse behind the scenes of God attends to the affairs of state.

Confronted by the glory and majesty of the heavenly court, Isaiah is overwhelmed by a sense of his own unworthiness. And to his greater surprise Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord asking whom he should send. Isaiah was already a man of faith but his spiritual journey was about to take him in a new and unexpected direction.

So with Isaiah, so with us all

Whoever you are, are you here in church this morning because you have always served God faithfully and well?

Do you suppose for a moment I am the Moderator because I am a paragon of virtue?

Of course not – and while I don’t want  to suggest you are all miserable sinners with no redeeming qualities whatsoever……….although looking around the congregation  I have to say …………let me say that the spiritual journey of faith and life is itself a sign and gift of God’s grace

Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?

Looking back I realize the role of other people played in awakening that my sense of calling.

There were the Sunday School teachers at what was Kilmarnock’s Henderson Church

There was the captain of the 1st Kilmarnock Boys Brigade who asked me to read the Bible at the annual church parade and then to lead the Sunday morning Bible class.

There was a history teacher at Langside College in Glasgow who took me under his wing and, long after I had left school to pursue my dream of being a golfer, opened up the possibility of going to university.

And there was the late John Weir Cook, someone with deeply family roots in this place, whose preaching on the grace of God was quite inspirational.

Rather than any thunderbolts from heaven, or even a moment of blinding conversion like Paul on the Damascus Road, my spiritual journey involved a gradual awakening of my faith, a growing sense of God’s presence and purpose in my life.

And reflecting on that journey I have come to appreciate that critical to my calling was the role of other people, people who encouraged me, people who perhaps saw in me something I did not see in myself.

So let me ask if ministry is something you have ever considered?

Would you be interested in finding out more about the various ministries of the church

Or is there someone you would encourage to think about ministry, someone in whom you recognize a potential which perhaps they don’t recognize in themselves?

Although I once dreamed of winning the Open Championship and wearing a green Masters jacket, not for a second would I wish my life back again for my calling to ministry remains as strong now as it did then, and the work of ministry remains as varied and demanding as it is frustrating, challenging, enjoyable and rewarding.

And through the opportunity it gives me to share the hopes and promises of the Christian faith with people in some of the best and some of the worst times of life, it is a privilege beyond words.

It is of course but one part of the ministry in which we all share, the ministry of our Saviour Christ, who calls us to follow and in whom each one of us has the opportunity to respond;

Here am I Lord, send me!

Now unto him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen

IMG_0021IMG_0023At the conclusion of the Service, most of the congregation moved to the main hall where a sandwich lunch had been prepared  by the Fellowship Committee assisted by members who had contributed a vast array of sandwiches and cakes.




P1040557After an enjoyable lunch with much talk at the tables, Russell rose to address our gathering. Saying again how pleased he and  Margaret were to be back, it gave him particular pleasure to see Alex Chestnut once again. This was met with instant clapping showing our appreciation of Alex. Russell also thanked Karen and the congregation for the very warm welcome he and Margaret had received.





IMG_0037IMG_0031Russell then presented to Karen, on behalf of Westburn, a Quaich enclosed in a box, suitably engraved , as a memory of the occasion.

In reply, Karen opened the box to reveal the Quaich (later passed round for all to hold). On behalf of the congregation, she thanked Russell for the gift .

As the tables were cleared many people took the opportunity  to speak to the Barr’s and the Chestnut’s. During their time here, there was much friendship and now many fond memories.