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Scots in Argentina
The Story of St. Andrew’s, Buenos Aires


For Readers in Scotland
(Published in "Other Lands", October 1932).

A bird’s-eye view of a parish furth of Scotland, over 6,000 miles from Princes Street, and about thirty times the size of Old Scotia. Well, the bird will have to keep flying high, so that detail may disappear and only the bigger things stand out.

Ten years after Waterloo, just as ten years after the World War, times were bad. New worlds were sending out long-distance calls. So, despite the meetings of the General Assembly, the good ship Symmetry set sail from Leith on May 22nd, 1825, with some 250 souls on board. They hailed mostly from the shires of Roxburgh, Berwick, Lan-ark, and Dumfries. True to their racial instincts, they took with them a schoolmaster and a doctor, and the minister — recommended by Dr. Chalmers — followed soon after, the Rev. William Brown, Artium Magister, a native of Leuchars, and a graduate of St. Andrews University. They formed a sort of communistic colony at Monte Grande (big wood), some twelve miles from Buenos Aires.

The colony, as a colony, did not last long, and the minister came into the city of good airs, and in March 1829 held the first Scots Church service. He founded better than he knew, and bigger than he thought. The Chair of Moral Philosophy at St. Andrews called him in 1850. His successor was Dr. James Smith, "Padre Smith," 1850-83, the friend of all, and well beloved. In 1883, Dr. J. W. Fleming, O.B.E. (who had been assistant for four years) became minister—an ecclesiastical statesman of Cabinet rank. In 1925, the year of Dr. Fleming’s death, the work which had begun as a local work, with one minister and no church, had then its minister and five assistants, its stately mother church, and six suburban and daughter churches, all complete with halls and caretakers’ houses, and many a preaching station all over the Republic. Another daughter suburban church has just been built.

St. Andrew’s has been a union church for a hundred years. Some of her most loyal and generous members have been members at home of the United Free Church, the old Free Church, the present Free Church, and, perhaps most of all, United Presbyterians. Distance dims, and then defies and defeats denomination. We have also solid contributions in membership from English, Irish, Canadian, and American Presbyterians. Nor am I conscious that any of them have ever felt uncomfortable in Old Zion on the banks of the muddy River Plate.

To give an impresion of the scope of the work, it will probably convey more if, after a brief description, I translate names and distances into the language of home.

Buenos Aires — the Paris of the South, and sub-tropical in climate — is a city of about two and a quarter millions. The British population in city and suburbs is reckoned at 25,000 — the second largest British population (after Paris) outside the Empire and English-speaking world.

But our parish is the whole Republic. From Mar del Plata and Bahia Blanca, in the east, to Mendoza at the foothills of the Andes, in the west, is a stretch of over 600 miles, very roughly from the east coast of Scotland to the west coast of Ireland, including the sea.

Then from the sub-arctic icy gales of the Magellan Straits in the south of Patagonia, to the cotton fields and sugar-cane plantations and orange and banana groves of tropical Jujuy ("who-whee") in the north, is 2,500 miles — roughly, Iceland to Marseilles. It has been a great privilege to say, "Let us worship God" in all four corners of the parish.

St. Andrew’s, Buenos Aires—let us call it (for the sake of happy memories) St. Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh. Then this is something like the situation. Two services (10.30 a.m. and 8.30 p.m.) every Sunday in St. Cuthbert’s; one every Sunday in churches at Corstorphine, Liberton, Leith, Musselburgh, and Dalkeith; one every month at South Queensferry, Haddington, North Berwick, and Dundee; five city and suburban services in Spanish every Sunday, conducted by our Spanish assistant (our own foreign missionary) and several lay preachers. The country in the Argentine is always called the camp ("ci campo"), and our camp chaplain, whose work is shared at intervals by the minister, has quarterly services at Glasgow, Aberdeen, and London; half-yearly services at Perth, Dumfries, Manchester, and so on; yearly services at Paris and Marseilles, and numerous small settlements. Then in the last few years, and at the request of the Colonial Committee, we have conducted missions during the summer months (November to March) amongst our countrymen in Patagonia, corresponding roughly to Orkney, Shetland, and Iceland.

Our Sunday schools number twelve —seven English and five Spanish—with about 500 and 400 children respectively. What a band of loyal superintendents and teachers we have—we must have, for the ministers are in travellings oft on Sundays.

All this, you will say, sounds expensive. It is. The communicant membership is 1,100. Those "connected" with us number many more than our communicants. Yet such are the warm hearts that the £5,500 required annually for church, charity, missions, education, pensions, passages, and secretarial work have been regularly forthcoming. And the humblest Scots laddie, alike with princes and dukes, has given us his support, and sung with us "I to the hills."

Colonial chaplains who try to keep the most royal of all standards flying in the far outposts — what a tender spot they have to touch in the wistful hearts of Scots of the Dispersion.

Will not the General Assembly decree St. Andrew’s Day (or the Sunday nearest) as a day of prayer for all Scots abroad, that in the name of the God of Jacob, and for the honour of the old Church and the old Homeland, these their wandering children may never renounce nor remove the ancient landmark which the fathers have set?


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