Helmsdale Free Church

"Our Mission is to be followers of Jesus and joyfully share the good news of Jesus Christ with the people of Helmsdale and beyond.”


Our Mission Statement says it all...

"Our Mission is to be followers of Jesus and joyfully share the good news of Jesus Christ with the people of Helmsdale and beyond.”

And we love to joyfully share the good-news of Jesus Christ...

We are a small, but gently growing congregation. Our simple little church building is the old Helmsdale police-station.

However, thanks to bequests and donations. our church has been modernized into a warm and comfortable place of worship.

There's always plenty of tea and coffee on the go whether we are gathered together for a Sunday service, Bible study on a Thursday or simply a coming together in fellowship and friendship.

So, if you have any thoughts or an impression of a stern, black-suited, joyless and laughter-less church, we want to tell you that outdated stereotypes like that are banished here.  This is definitely not a picture of Helmsdale Free Church in the year 2018.

But just for a moment, let's look back in time to our church's beginnings.

There has been a church in Helmsdale for well over 1.600 years. 

St Ninian planted the first church we know about in Navidale as far back as the year 390 AD. 

The name Helmsdale comes from the Viking word for 'Dale of the Hamlet' Hjalmundal - and Tacitus the Roman historian and senator mentioned Helmsdale in his writings in the 1st century AD.

But between 1811 and 1831, as part of the infamous Scottish Clearances, the population of the Strath was decimated from 1574 people to a mere sprinkling of 257.

Emigration depopulated the area, the village and of course the churches.

The Helmsdale "Emigration Monument" mutely and poignantly tells the story of a family of four, leaving their land forever.

Whilst the mother looks over her shoulder back up the Strath where their ancestors lived, worked and died, she nurses her new-born baby and and in fear and longing is forced to leave her old life behind.

A young lad looks to his father, he just doesn't understand any of it. All he feels is excitement.

At the same time, the man of the house, the father, stares into the unknown, out to sea where they, and people like them, will travel and help to build America and Canada. Never to return to the land of their birth.

This is forced emigration of the worst kind. Hearth and home, custom and inheritance, all abandoned at the whim of the landlord so the land could be used for sheep with little or no thought for the men and women whose lives had been invested in the land for generations

The Strath of Kildonan and the village of Helmsdale would find it almost impossible to recover...

Later, new roads and bridges, new jobs and accommodation for the workers was created at the coastal village of Helmsdale in an effort to make the land clearance easier.


Herring fishing was the new crofting -and many other job opportunities were created from the then vibrant fishing industry.

Everything looked rosy for quite a while. Fishing was a booming industry and Helmsdale was ideally placed to be right in the middle of it all.

And the call was not only for fishermen. 

Hundreds of girls and women followed the herring too. They were the "gutters." Today we would probably call them "fish processors" in our constant search for political correctness.

Anyway - before too long the riches turned to rags as boom turned to bust due to the vast amount of fish being caught. All too soon the new 'buzz-word' was 'over-fishing' and the fish supply just dried up. The rapid decline of the herring industry bit hard, and the "boom" was over...

However, the Christian community felt the blessing of the boom while it lasted with new building works soon underway.

Like many other coastal towns and villages, large church buildings were erected, some, like Helmsdale Free Church, could seat around 1,400 people.

1,400 was said to be bigger than the local population of the village and the Strath of Kildonan put together at that time.

Yet for a while, these churches were full with visiting fishermen and the girls and women workers who hailed from other deeply religious communities elsewhere.

Despite all the years in-between, and despite the herring boom, Helmsdale and the Strath, still suffers from the tragedy of the clearances even though it happened so long ago.

Emigration stripped the land of what would have been the ancestors of today's population. But alas. their descendants  are now part of the population of America and Canada.

But our gently growing congregation is bucking the trend in Scotland where many churches are seeing ever-shrinking congregations.

This is in no small part due to the dedication of the loyal worshipers who are the core of this congregation.

They kept the church going for seven long years without any minister at all.

But Rev. Roddy (Barvas) Macrae, his wife Marina, and Colin, Alasdair and Lorna of course, came almost three years ago like a breath of fresh air. Marina and the youngsters (far too big to call children) all play an active part in the church, which is lovely to see.

And we have been blessed as more and more children start to come back to our church.

The GBH youth group are also a very special blessing as they meet in a different venue every Sunday evening.

These are the youth of three villages. Golspie, Brora and Helmsdale (hence the name, "GBH").

But rising above the every-day is Roddy's gifted preaching.

We believe the Lord speaks to us through his preaching.

And his sermons often, so touch the congregation, that it's not unusual to see surreptitious handkerchiefs on view as his sermons conclude.

We recently persuaded Roddy to video his sermons, you can see them by clicking here.

One of Roddy's passions is football ('soccer' in the US), and he is a very active Chaplain to Brora Rangers, a semi-pro team from the nearby village of Brora.

Lastly, this page would not be complete without a mention of our 'Mission to Kenya' which is Roddy's other passion.

He recently went On Mission to Kenya and is returning there this year to do more good works with a people he grew to love and care about.

Read all about his whole 'Kenya Experience' by clicking in the top menu on the link 'Kenya'.