Church of God in Scotland

This the story of Margaret McCormack, now 80 years of age and living in  Melbourne, Australia. Margaret (known to all as Meg) was born on  January 25, 1916, to Marion McKay at Coylton Woodside in the shire [county] of Ayrshire, Scotland. Her father, John McKay, died during World War I, killed in action on the Western front in 1915. Marion McKay suffered a mental breakdown and went to live with her father, Willie Young, on the island of Arran.

Arran, along with the islands of Milport and Rothesay, are part of the Brute Shire at the mouth of the Clyde River and at that time, belonged to the Duke of Montrose. [NOTE: There is no such thing as the "Brute shire."  Presumably he means "Buteshire," but Arran used to be in Ayrshire. Just to confuse you even more, "Rothesay" is not an island but the capital of the isle of Bute. Likewise, Milport is the capital of Great Cumbrae, not an island itself.] Meg’s grandfather, Willie Young, was a farmer and lived at Lamlash. He was a Sabbath-keeper who belonged to the Church of God. He raised Margaret and she attended the Church of God which held services at Whiting Bay, about three miles from Lamlash. Services were held on Friday evenings after sunset, Saturday mornings, and again in the afternoon. Members did not attend all three, but chose the time that suited them best.

The Church was simply known as the Church of God, with members on all three islands. Also on the island were members of a United Church and Presbyterians who observed Sunday. There were no Catholics on the island, as no one would employ them. All business was closed on the Sabbath. There was one full-time minister, Ebenezar Muchie, and three elders who were not employed by the Church. One was John McDonald. Meg cannot remember the names of the others. The building where the congregation of about 200 met, was made of sandstone and built with donated labor on a farm. Services consisted of songs, a sermon expounding the scriptures, and lasted about one-and-a-half hours. The Passover was kept on the 14th, and the Night to be Remembered was kept in individual homes. Unleavened Bread was observed and homes were unleavened before Passover. Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement (also known as the Fast Day), Tabernacles and The Last Great Day were all observed. However, no one traveled off the island to keep the Feast. Baptism was by immersion, unclean foods were not eaten; although some pigs were raised and sold to nonmembers. The only part of the pig used was fat to grease the boots. There was a saying that "that was all a pig was good for."

It was clearly understood that man’s destiny was to be born into the family of God at the resurrection, if one remained faithful, where one would be a Son of God. The Church knew that Britain was Ephraim, the U.S.A.—Manasseh, and parts of France —Reuben, Holland—Zebulun, Belgium —Asher, Sweden—Naphtali, and they believed Scotland to be Simeon. They also understood that Germany descended from Assyria. The Catholic Church was the Great Whore of Revelation and the Pope was the False Prophet. While they knew of other Churches of God in the Ukraine, Scandinavia, Chile, and China, they were unable to establish contact with them, as they wished to remain isolated.

The Church knew of Jeremiah coming to Ireland with two of Hezekiah’s daughters, a harp of special significance, and King David’s coronation stone. At that time there was a land bridge connecting Ireland to Scotland called the Giant’s Causeway. Jeremiah walked over to Scotland and taught the people there. This was dismissed as myth by people outside the Church.

A form of tithing was practiced, a member paid according to his resources and what he considered fair. There was no hard and fast rule. The money was put into a large wooden box in the Church building on the Sabbath. The income was used to pay Church expenses and to help the poor and those in need. There was no "Social Security" in those days. No money meant no food or medical treatment. The Church members kept to themselves, considering the people on the mainland as deceived and "in the world."

It was in this environment that Meg grew up, accepting everything she was taught as the truth. In 1934 at the age of eighteen she married Hugh McKenzie, a Church member and ten years older than herself. Hugh owned Auchenrowen farm, about a mile from the Church at Whiting Bay. His whole family were Church members. Hugh and Meg had six children: Hugh, Marion, Jack, Ann (1941), Mary (1946), and Avril (1948). It was a very unhappy marriage, as Hugh was an alcoholic. Meg was baptized in 1936 at the age of twenty.

In 1949 Meg inherited 6,000 pounds from a relative and left Hugh, moving to Loch Gilphead where there was a Church of God with about sixty members. She met a member there, Duncan Turner, whose brother had migrated to Australia. Some years later, Meg contacted the brother where he was living at Box Hill, a suburb of Melbourne. His name was Jimmy Turner. At the time, he was still keeping the Sabbath on his own, as he found no Church of God to attend.

About 1951, Meg divorced her husband, who subsequently died around 1953. She met Alexander Whemond McCormack, then working for British Electricity, after serving for twelve years in the Royal Navy, and surviving fourteen ships sunk beneath him during World War II, an astounding story in itself! She had known Alex for years and they were married, having one son, whom they named after their father. Alex (senior) then took a job in forestry preservation so he could be at home. In 1959 they migrated to Australia, arriving in Fremantle on the 26th of August of that year. Alex was then employed by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) and his job caused them to move to Shepparton, a town in Northeast Victoria. Alex was a Presbyterian, and Meg accompanied him to church on Friday nights for a while, but was not very happy about doing so. He left the Presbyterian church after being told by the minister not to take any notice of the Bible, except for the Gospels. Meg then just kept the Sabbath at home, until she heard Garner Ted Armstrong on the radio in the early 1960’s, what was then the Radio Church of God.

They wrote for all the literature offered and started to tithe, and commenced the Bible Correspondence Course. Around 1967 they were visited by Bob Fahey, a minister in the Church, and began attending the Worldwide Church of God at Ballarat, Victoria. In 1975, Alex was baptized for the first time and Meg rebaptized by Bruce Tyler.

As time went on, both of them became increasingly unhappy about the constant appeals for money and the hierarchal form of government; in particular, Herbert Armstrong’s claim to be God’s chosen Apostle. Meg’s two youngest daughters were also attending Worldwide. After the death of H.W. Armstrong, the Church started massive doctrinal changes. By around 1990, both Meg and Alex had lost interest and confidence in the WCG and stopped attending. In January of 1992, Alex died, which left Meg greatly distressed as it had been a very happy marriage.

Meg and her friend Lily Morgan started to look around for a Church where they could still find the Truth of God. Both attended the Global Church of God for a short time, Meg only going twice. Then hearing of the Christian Biblical Church of God, they wrote for, and received, Care Packages, which they studied carefully. Meg attended the CBCG Feast of Tabernacles in 1994, her first for five years. Sadly, Mrs. Lily Morgan’s poor health prevented her from attending, and she died only a few days after the Feast, aged 83.

Here were two elderly widows, with little or no money, in bad health, who would not go along with the false teachings flooding into their Church. Rather than accept them, they chose to risk losing all their friends of many years, and "go it alone." This must surely be a fine example for those in the WCG who are willing to sit back and go along with false doctrines which are now being preached.

I felt strongly that this story should be told. — John Morgan, January 26, 1995

Additional Notes

There has been a great deal of interest in the story of Meg McCormack and her life in the Church of God in Scotland. Here are answers to questions some have asked.

Q.Does the Church on the islands still exist?

A.Meg has never returned since she left in 1949, and has lost contact with the people there. She was told that the Church building at Whiting Bay had been turned into a museum. About twenty years ago her daughter, Marion, did return only to find that the Church had been demolished, and there seemed to be no members left. It would also appear that there was no Church (which was a wooden building) left at Loch Gilphead, where Meg moved after leaving Arran.

There is now a Catholic church on the island, but a priest only comes over in the holiday season, when the population is increased by tourists.

Some time in 1994, Meg cut part of an article out of the Scottish Daily Record. It was about a family of 22 children on the Isle of Skye, 300 [150?] miles North of Arran. Unfortunately, she did not keep the whole article or record the date. However, what it said is interesting. It reads:

The family has been raised in a croft [small farmhouse] and when all the bedrooms were full, the children slept in caravans in the garden. Their Wee Free upbringing meant, among other things, no work or play on the Sabbath.

The Church of God was also known as the Wee Free Church. "Wee," because it was small, and "Free" from John 8:32, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." So it is possible that there are some members in Scotland today.  [NOTE: The Wee Free is probably the Free Presbyterian church, which is strongest in the Outer Hebrides and is nothing to do with the "Church of God." They were never strong in Arran. They are strict sabbatarians. They are very well known, unlike the Church of God (which name is used by many churches).]

The problem was that the Churches kept to themselves. Meg had never heard of a Church on Skye, but then she never knew there was a church at Loch Gilphead until she left Arran.

While living at Loch Gilphead, a Sabbath-keeper from the village of Machair Scarnish on island of Tiree, in the shire of Argyle, came to stay with Meg. He had traveled to Oban for medical treatment and wanted to be with Church of God people. His name was Neil McNeill, and has since died, but Meg believes his wife, Cathie McNeill, is still living at Machair Scarnish.

Q.Was the Church persecuted?

A.Early this century, Arran was very isolated and the Church members made up a large part of the population, so they had things pretty much their own way. In the 1930s the Scottish and English education departments were amalgamated. The schools were then forced to open on Holy Days (with the exception of Atonement) and the children force to attend, or risk being taken away from their parents.

Q.How long had the Church been on the island?

A.Church tradition has it that Jeremiah came over from Ireland and instructed the Scottish people. They believe that Jeremiah is buried in Ireland. As far as Christianity is concerned, Meg’s father-in-law, Hugh McKenzie, Sr., said his family had been in the Church of God for many centuries. As far back as records, written or oral, go. Hugh McKenzie’s family Bible had a list going back many generations.

Q.On what day did they keep Pentecost?

A.Meg cannot remember if it was Sunday or a Monday. She just grew up in the Church and accepted everything she was taught.

Q.Did they use the Hebrew Calendar?

A.Again, Meg has no idea. She just followed the teaching of the Church.

Q.How were the people baptized?

A.By complete immersion after counsel with a minister. People were around twenty years of age, or older, at baptism.

Q.Was foot washing done at the Passover?

A.Yes, the service was the same as we know it today.

Q.As Meg’s father was killed in WW I, did Church members take part in war?

A.Her father, John McKay, was not a member. He was a Presbyterian from Broka in the Scottish Highlands. As far as Meg can remember, no one joined the military forces — the farmers were exempted from military service in WW II, and others joined the land army.

Q.Did they have contact with the Church of God, Seventh Day in the United States?

A.No. As already mentioned, they kept to themselves. They did know of Churches of God in Europe, China, and South America, but were unable to establish contact with them. Some of the Young family, including Meg’s uncles, migrated to Massachusetts in the U.S.A. During WW II, three U.S soldiers came to Arran to see where their family had come from, but there was no further contact after that.

Q.What was their belief in healing?

A.Meg said she was never sick. As far as she knows, one went to the doctor and called for the minister who prayed over the sick person. She is not sure if the minister anointed or not.

Q.Did members use alcohol, or not?

A.Some did, mostly in moderation. Some also smoked.

Q.What type of Church government was there?

A.There was one full-time minister, on a very small salary, who lived in a Church house. Three other ministers were unpaid, and there was a council of 24 elders. The council would meet to discuss Church matters, but under no circumstances could they change Church doctrines. There was no "hierarchy."

Q.What happened to Meg’s children?

A.All of her children came to Australia with her, and are living in the state of Victoria. Her two youngest daughters attended WCG with her, but no longer go because of all the changes.

Q.Does the WCG know about the Scottish Church?

A.When Meg started attending WCG, she would tell people about it. Some did not believe it, and some would say, "That was the Sardis era, and they were spiritually dead." After that reaction, Meg said very little. Alex McCormack did write to Herbert Armstrong telling him about the Church, but did not receive a reply.

Q.What did they believe about the fate of the wicked?

A.They know of the First Resurrection at the return of Christ, and of the Second Resurrection for those who never knew the Truth. There was no understanding of a Third Resurrection; only that the wicked would become ashes under the feet of the Righteous.

— John Morgan, PO Box 30, Glenhuntly 3163, Victoria, AUSTRALIA, March 31, 1995.

Revised with two NOTES, 5 May 2001, which are the comments of Ray Bell, Edinburgh/Dun Eideann, Scotland.