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Hector MacKinnon, A Memoir
Chapter IV - Stornoway


O Shepherd with the bleeding feet,
Good Shepherd with the pleading voice,
What seekest Thou from hill to hill ?
Sweet are the valley pastures, sweet
The sound of flocks that bleat their joys,
And eat and drink at will.
Is one worth seeking, when Thou hast of
Thine Ninety and nine?"
CHRISTINA ROSSETTI.

STORNOWAY is the largest and most important sea-port town in the Outer Hebrides, and the centre of the fishing industry of the Western Islands. It had at the time of which we write a population of almost 4,000, but during the herring season this number would be trebled. There is a capacious harbour, and the town, with its well-built houses and air of general prosperity and comfort, presents a welcome appearance to the storm-tossed voyager across the Minch.

The busy season of 1894 had just begun when a small company of us wended our way through the streets of the clean little town to the Sunday afternoon service in the Parish Church. The morning service we had been told was in Gaelic; but the principal service, in the afternoon, was always in English. The church was crowded, a very large number being strangers and visitors from many parts of Scotland; and as the young minister ascended the pulpit steps, it was quite apparent that he was regarded, not only with affection, but with pride, by the members of his flock. "You will be sure to like our new minister," they had said with enthusiasm. And indeed there was something very arresting about this dark-haired, bright-eyed Cell, with his fervour and his freshness. What struck one very forcibly, as the service proceeded, was the spirit of deep reverence, and the largeness of sympathy in the prayers so simply and beautifully expressed. The entire demeanour gave the impression, "I am here as God's messenger; woe is me if I preach not the Gospel." The praise, led by an excellent choir, was hearty and spontaneous; all sang because they wanted to. Then as the young preacher rose to announce his text, there was a hush of expectation which was not disappointed,—"For I KNOW that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth."

It is not possible in written words to convey an adequate idea of the absolute conviction expressed in the word "know." He knew, this earnest young preacher, and he wanted you to know. Nor is it possible, after the lapse of twenty years, to give any detailed account of the sermon, although the memory of it is quite vivid. Sometimes in a flow of burning words, which seemed to come like the swift rush of a mountain torrent, sometimes in slow, softened tones, he reasoned and pleaded with his hearers to believe in God as their personal Redeemer, and not to be ashamed of their belief.

When the service was over, an open-air meeting was held down by the water's edge, for the stranger fisher-folk, at which the parish minister and others gave short addresses, and Sankey's hymns were sung. These meetings were conducted regularly throughout the weeks, sometimes at the market square, sometimes at the quay head, and were very well attended and much appreciated by the fishermen and others. As parish minister, Mr. Mackinnon felt his responsibility with regard to the influx of people during the fishing season, and he moved about amongst them in a free and friendly way throughout the week. "That young man's heart is in the right place," said one weather-beaten fisherman to another after a friendly talk with the minister.

On Sunday evenings it was usual to conduct services in rotation at Laxdale, Knock, Sandwick, or some other of the out-lying districts.

With the close of the fishing season there would begin the "autumn manceuvres," and preparations for the winter's work. Only those who knew Mr. Mackinnon can imagine what a keen disappointment it was to him to be laid aside for nearly three months, as he was, during his first winter in Stornoway. A weak ankle, which had troubled him before, again presented itself as a "thorn in the flesh." It seemed clear, however, that the recurrence of the trouble had been caused by his having strained the leg while carrying a heavy bag from the pier to the manse, which was some distance from the town. There was much pain and ultimately necrosis, but he was fortunate in having the attendance of a clever and careful doctor. Ever afterwards he had a deep and most touching sympathy with all who had to suffer physical pain. It was a weary time, but he read and wrote incessantly, received his parishioners, and also made minute and careful preparations for a special mission, which was to begin in his parish in the end of January. When the time arrived he was very thankful to be able to walk about, though temporary lameness prevented him from doing all he would have desired to do.

Of the mission itself one of the missioners, the Rev. A. C. Watson, B.D., of St. Boswell's, has most kindly sent us a very interesting account :-

I went to conduct the first week of the mission. From the outset I was much impressed with Mr. Mackinnon's strong personality. At that time he was suffering from lameness, which prevented much walking, but did not interfere with his work. All the arrangements for the mission had been carefully and thoroughly made, and during its progress every one came under the spell of his earnestness and lofty enthusiasm. It was a time of much blessing for all who had enjoyed the earlier part of Mr. Mackinnon's ministry; and it marked a new departure in the lifework of the young minister himself. I may say we both learned, as we had not before known, the true secret of that power which he possessed in such a marvellous degree —the power of God's Word in hearts that are opened to receive the Holy Spirit, and in lives that are fully yielded to Him. At the distance of twenty years my recollections of Stornoway itself are not very vivid, but I remember the band of hearty, earnest workers whom your husband had drawn around him—the kindness, especially of Mr. Robertson, of the Bank, and the genial spirit of good fellowship, of which Mr. Mackinnon himself was the centre and chief promoter. If ever man served the Lord with gladness and hearty enthusiasm, it was the young Highland minister from the Western Isles, who was one day to win by a brilliant ministry the hearts of thousands for himself and for his Master."

In a letter, published in the General Assembly Reports for 1896, Mr. Mackinnon himself thus describes the mission and its results:-

Our mission time lasted a fortnight, including two Sabbaths. The preacher for the first week was the Rev. A. C. Watson, B.D., of Renton; and for the second, the Rev. Thomas Millar, of St. Paul's, Leith.

"Each evening a prayer meeting was held in the church hail from-.8 to 8.30; the evangelistic meeting following immediately in the church. For a quarter of an hour thereafter we had an after-meeting for prayer, and further guidance of anxious souls. After the first two evenings the great majority of those present at the general meeting remained for the after-meeting, and- during the last few nights hardly any went away.

"Our effort has, I am bound to say, been a great success, for which we give God all the praise. I had previously been told by some members of my congregation that owing to the novelty of the movement it might be regarded by many with disfavour sufficient to seriously interfere with a good attendance. But not only was the attendance well maintained from beginning to end—all the Presbyterian churches being nightly represented—but when the mission time came to a close much regret was expressed on all hands that the meetings were not continued for a still longer period; and the earnest hope was cherished that similar meetings might be held as soon as possible again.

"We looked for more than mere attendance, however, and I am thankful to say that we were not disappointed, for we had very definite results. The presence of the Holy Spirit was clearly manifest, and the message so earnestly and pointedly delivered was sealed on the hearts, I firmly believe, of many more than I yet know of. It is within my knowledge that several have made profession of conscious acceptance of, and surrender to, the Saviour, and many more, I am convinced, decided for the Lord Jesus in the secrecy of their own souls. Personally, I can testify that I was much benefited by these meetings, and humbled by their results; and I cannot but express on behalf of my congregation and myself my deep sense of indebtedness to the sub-committee on mission weeks for sending to us in succession the ministers of Renton and St. Paul's, Leith.

"The booklet by the Rev. Dr. Bruce, of Banff, was found very helpful by all who read it.

"I may add that some of the meetings were attended by the neighbouring Free Church and United Presbyterian Church ministers, and that a number of East Coast fishermen sojourning at Stornoway at the time were in attendance as often as was possible for them."

The second missioner, to the great sorrow of all who knew him, was suddenly called home not very long afterwards ; but his brother, the Rev. Gavin Millar, of Methven, recalls with what deep interest and enthusiasm he always spoke of these Stornoway visits.

From the pen of another Lowland minister come the recollections of ministerial work in Stornoway during the fishing season of the following year.

In looking back on Mr. Mackinnon's Stornoway ministry, one feels that he is dealing with the time when he was, as it were, in the making, and was unconsciously being prepared for the effective and powerful ministries which he was to perform in the larger and more influential fields of Campbeltown and Glasgow. At this period of his life, as indeed always, he appeared to his friends to be a man of great physical strength, and one who enjoyed the best of health. His well-built figure, the glowing freshness of his countenance, the sparkle of his keen eyes, the strength and ring of his voice, all induced one to think that many years of usefulness were in store for him. Yet we remember that at this particular time he was laid aside for some months with trouble in his leg. On his recovery, and through the kindness of his people, he was presented with a pony and trap to enable him to visit throughout the parish. On several occasions he preached with the affected leg resting on a chair. But what rousing sermons they were! We imagine no other preacher of his years could quite move an audience as did Hector Mackinnon. To look at him in his Stornoway pulpit, to listen to him, as with wonderful power he preached the everlasting Gospel, there was not an auditor present who failed to admire him as a typically strong man. Years afterwards, we heard him preach in St. Ninian's Church, Port Bannantyne, where he was taking duty for a month. The writer was staying at the Hydropathic, and on Sabbath morning the conversation amongst the guests turned as to the preachers in the town. There were three specially mentioned, of whom he was one; and a prominent Glasgow elder expressed a desire to accompany the writer to St. Niniari's. The church was crowded, and all were in a state of expectation to see and hear the man whom every audience loved. The intervening years had dealt kindly with him, he seemed gladder and happier than of yore, and those who knew him marked how his spirituality had grown and deepened. His text was—' Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Christ Jesus.'

"At the close of the service, we found our way to the vestry, and the Glasgow elder, after congratulating him on his discourse, laid his hand on his shoulder and said twice, ' Mr. Mackinnon take care of yourself.' It seemed gratuitous and unnecessary, for he was the very picture of health, but it may have been said out of admiration for his ability.

But we were writing specially of the impressions left during a visit to Stornoway in the summer of 1896. It was the time of year when the town was busiest. The fleet of herring fishing boats had taken up their position in the harbour, the number being specially large that year. It was calculated there were in all 800 craft, and each boat carried, on an average, a crew of eight men and one boy. Along with this vast concourse of men there were hundreds of women and girls from various parts of Scotland, engaged in the curing of the herring.

"There were ministerial delegates of the Church of Scotland, the Free and United Presbyterian Churches, and the Wesleyan, besides lady workers who looked after the spiritual and temporal needs of their own sex. It is not too much to say that Mr. Mackinnon was the soul of all the work undertaken on this occasion. As he walked along the quay every one looked with respect and affection on him; all felt he was their minister and friend. There was no undue familiarity, but yet a strong tie uniting them to him was undoubtedly formed. When he preached, they listened to him attentively, as to one who spoke with authority and power. Never shall I forget these open-air services, nor my friend's preaching at them. In the Gaelic he was particularly impressive, and one felt this, though he could not understand much of what was being said. The preacher was evidently winning his way to the hearts of his audience; his voice reached every one in the vast crowd, and the torrent of words that flowed from his lips showed him to be a master of his native tongue. And the same could be said of his addresses in English. There the crowds were larger, sometimes numbering several thousands. A ring would be formed, and the people mostly stood, but some sat on the empty barrels which were arranged in tiers, so that a kind of improvised gallery was formed. What singing! What enthusiasm on these calm and lovely summer nights! The delegates, with the ministers of the town, were all there, and the parish minister took his place amongst them without any affectation or presumption. He got it in virtue of his own personal qualities. The delegates had each his turn in addressing the crowd, and I\'Ir. Mackinnon usually took some part. One felt proud that the Church of Scotland had such an outstanding man representing her in the Lewis.

"Evangelical in the best sense, his addresses were received with manifest appreciation by people of all denominations. There was not one present who did not feel that the Gospel which the young preacher so forcibly presented was what he needed. For while Mr. Mackinnon was deeply attached to the Church of Scotland, yet his preaching and attitude made him acceptable in all the churches. He was quite at home in any religious assembly, and even in this northern island of Lewis, where denominationalism existed in a very marked degree, he was loved and respected by people of all the churches, from the one end of the island to the other. There was always the kindly, natural, human touch about all that he said or did. There was also that enthusiasm which goes far to defeat the criticism of those who would not otherwise be friendly disposed.

"And all this secured for him a place of deep affection and trust on the part of his own people and the Presbytery of Lewis. Was there ever a minister more warmly loved, more eagerly listened to than he? One had only to be in the town a short time to realise the incomparable position which he had in the hearts of the people. And there was not a minister in the island who did not feel that in virtue of his disposition and gifts he was destined to fill an important position in the Church.

"While in Stornoway he had several opportunities of promotion offered him, and when at length he decided to go to Campbeltown, his departure was received with sincere regret by the people and the Presbytery. If we are not mistaken, a request was made to the Presbytery to refuse the translation on the ground of the loss with which the Church in Lewis was threatened. No greater compliment could have been paid him than this, but yet this man who, like his Master, could not be hid, had to yield to the call of the Church for service in a wider sphere than the parish of Stornoway.

"One feels that something should be said of his home life during his Stornoway ministry. He always had hosts of friends, but yet to be admitted to the intimate circle who sat with him in his own home was indeed an unspeakable joy. There was freshness and brightness in his conversation, and one always felt the better of being in his company. A kinder host there never was, and the writer can recall the visits which the minister of Stornoway paid to his Lowland parish on several occasions after the summer of 1896. While there was no more considerate host than he, there was likewise no more welcome guest in any home which he visited. Like the typical Scot, you saw him at his best in the home circle. This interchange of visits will ever remain in the writer's memory as among the pleasantest and most profitable experiences of his life.

"And yet the Mackinnon of Stornoway was the same man in his two succeeding parishes—the same human, kindly man, with his enthusiasm as fresh, but with his power and effectiveness as a minister matured and developed."

Mr. Mackinnon was deeply touched by the kindness of his people in Stornoway. When they made him the recipient of a handsome presentation in the shape of a pony and trap, it was very difficult to say on which side the greatest pleasure was felt—the givers, or the receiver. And although at times the stable duties, or rather the supervision of them, were apt to be a little irksome to one of his studious habits, it was nevertheless with very keen regret that he was obliged to part with his first presentation on leaving for Campbeltown.



 


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