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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter XXVII. - The Glenlyon Free Church


UNTIL July, when the annual Communion was, by established custom, due to be held, our Glen was wholly neglected by the ministers of both sides of the now disrupted Church of Scotland, which, in the height of power and well-doing, had been so sorely stricken. But although ministers did not come to preach to them, the people gathered regularly on Sundays to prayer meetings held by the elders, all of whom had seceded. The small handful of Moderates kept as quiet as mice, for they had no leader, unless they took the Maor Ruadh for a leader, and they knew better than to do that. They knew too well that he had done, unwittingly, service to the Free Church and disservice to his laird, and to what was now called, by those who had gone out, the Residuary Church. They were waiting for what the dispensers of Crown patronage would send them in the shape of a presentee, since Mr Stewart was not to come. Overwhelmed as they were with organising worries, the newly-formed Free Church Presbytery of Breadalbane took care that Glenlyon should have a Communion on the customary day. Of course it had to be a Communion in the open air, and it was settled that it should be held just opposite the closed and deserted parish church, with nothing but the burn and its banks between them. When the Maor Ruadh heard that this was to be done, he lost the last remnant of self-control, and took to swearing and threatening at large. The Glen church is situated on the farm of Innerwick, which was then held by my mother's brother, Donald Macnaughtou, and where his father and grandfather had been tenants before him. When the Maor Ruadh heard that a tent for the preacher and tables for the communicants were, with Donald's consent, to be placed on the field opposite the church, he at once rushed down from Meggernie to Innerwick, breathing fire and fury to forbid the proposed arrangement in the name of the laird, and to threaten Donald with eviction if he did not withdraw his consent. My uncle had a temper of his own, and was moreover a man of independent mind and spirit, who had, from the purely religious point of view, decided that it was his duty to join the Free Church, while regretting that such a duty should have been forced on him. As he and the Maor were related, he tried at first to point out to him that the place was the most central and convenient for the people to assemble at. And he went on to say that if he had not been with them, even if he had been the rankest of Moderates, he would not have refused what had been asked of him by the elders. The Maor raged on: "You had no right to grant their request. The land is the laird's an not yours. An interdict could be taken out against you and your elders." Donald's temper was now roused, and he replied hotly: "The land is mine for all purposes and uses which are not illegal or not forbidden by my contract with the proprietor as long as that contract lasts. Religious meetings are not illegal, nor is the holding of such meetings on the land for which I pay rent forbidden by the conditions of my lease. What may happen when that lease shall expire I do not know, but I know this, that I will not listen to your threats, nor believe that the young laird knows how you are taking his name in vain, and bringing discredit on yourself." The wrathful estate official having been reasoned with in vain, and then answered in wrath and defied, tent and tables were forthwith set up on the place separated from the church by the burn. Interdicts had been so often flying about in the long Church conflict, that there were some among our Free Church people who believed that the Maor had not been talking mere rubbish when he spoke about the supposed right or intention of the laird to apply for one, and who, indeed, would not have been sorry if an interdict sensation accompanied the holding of the first Glenlyon Free Church Communion.

I was at that open air communion gathering at Innerwick, as an attentive hearer and keen observer. I had read so much and listened to, or sometimes taken part in, so many discussions about the Church controversy for several years back, that, young as I was, I had formed opinions of my own upon it. My sympathies were given to the much derided "Forty Thieves." I looked upon the Disruption as a dreadful disaster which had been brought about by lamentable blunders, the first and worst of which was the attempt of the ruling party in the Church to circumvent an Act of Parliament by the wretched device of the Veto Act, instead of working for the abolition of patronage by orderly political action and legislation, and the last of which was the Pharaoh -like hardening of heart shown by the Peel Government when concession was the only alternative to the event which came to pass on the 18th of May. Yet these views notwithstanding, the almost awful solemnity of this startlingly novel communion made a lasting impression on me. Memory yet recalls the earnest faces of the people at the tables and of those who formed the outside audience. The day was a perfect summer day, and the scene was such as only a poet of the first rank could adequately describe, or a great artist adequately depict. Whether communicants or onlookers, all present felt that this was a Free Church service of consecration for Glenlyon. Two ministers of the local Presbytery, and Mr Duncan Campbell from Ross-shire, the late minister of the Glen, officiated, and there were many visitors from Breadalbane, Rannoch, and Fortingall.

Ere this Glen communion was held, the fond hope had vanished that the ministers who went out on the 18th of May would be quickly recalled and replaced by Government and Parliament hastening to pass a great Act of grace, such as the abolition of patronage would amount to. With patronage would go many other subjects of contention which arose out of it. Before the end of July many of the charges left vacant on the 1 8th were already filled up, chiefly however by the promotion of ministers of inferior charges to superior ones which meant of course new vacancies. But Government and private patrons were busy rummaging for qualified men to send as presentees to, in all cases, thinned, and in many instances, shadowy congregations, so that every vacancy should be filled up within the period of six months to which patronial right of presentation was limited. Although the hope of restoration through compulsion was in the form of a legal claim to compensation retained in the Protest, I hardly think the advanced section of ecclesiastical rulers and agitators ever entertained that hope; but it was entertained by many country ministers and by a large portion of the anti-patronage laity. So it was put in the Protest, but meanwhile wonderfully quick progress was being made for securing funds for the sustenance of the ministers who had gone out, and the building of new churches for them.

As soon as the intensely devotional and romantic open-air communion was over, the Glen Free Church people mustered their forces by subscribing a formal printed declaration of adhesion to the new denomination. They formed fully 80 per cent, of the whole population, and that population was still dense not- withstanding the Marquis of Breadalbane's Roro evictions and the steady drawing away by the voluntary migration and emigration which had been going on for a long time. Our Free Church folk were numerous enough to form a good rural congregation, and they were willing to make heavy self- sacrifice on behalf of the cause to which they had declared their devoted allegiance, and which they had now come to look upon as the Church's cause. But while ready to do their utmost, it was plainly impossible for them to stand the expense of building a church and manse like the old ones, and to provide an annual income on which a minister could live decently. Frankly recognising their financial weak- ness, they went forward in hope, saying, "We shall do all we can for ourselves, and as for the rest, the Lord will provide." The first thing they had to do was to obtain a site and to run up a building in which they could hold their Sunday meetings during the coming winter. Here the Marquis of Breadalbane came to their aid by placing at their disposal a vacant crofter's house, barn, and byre, at Balnacraig, a mile below the deserted church, on the opposite side of the river. He also gave them timber from Drummond Hill, and window-frames which had been taken out of the old Taymouth Castle and stored when the new one was built. They pulled down the crofter's buildings, quarried and carted in more stones, and set themselves methodically to build a roomy church, made without lime or mortar except about doors and windows. They had of course to attend to their harvest and ordinary farm work at the same time. So they were hard pressed, but their minds were so uplifted that they laboured incessantly without feeling the hardship of it. They divided themselves into parties so that the building should go on by relays every week-day, and every man and big lad give a day's work every week. They quickly ran up strong, neatly built, black walls, piebald with lime about the doors and windows, on which they placed a good roof made watertight by divots overlaid with a thatching of heather. The Glen people were adepts at building and roofing and thatching, for, generation after generation, they had to build and keep in repair their dwellings and farm steadings, getting nothing more than the uncut timber from the proprietors. When the shell was completed the inside fittings were taken in hand without a pause pulpit, precentor's desk, elders' square pew, and seats for the congregation. Two capable Glen carpenters, who were paid for five days in the week and gave their sixth day's work for nothing, had under them squads of assistants who knew how to use axe, saw, and plane, as well as trained men, for was there not a carpenter's bench in almost every farmer's cart-shed, and were there not carpenter's tools in every house? Our church-builders, as they had good reason to do, took an honest pride in their work, not so much because it was in itself a credit- able piece of work, as because it testified to their devotion to what they thought the cause of Christ in Scotland. There was a crowded congregation when Mr Stewart, Killin, who had scarcely settled in his comfortable manse when he went out on the 18th of May, came to formally open the humble Balnacraig place of worship on behalf of the Breadalbane Free Presbytery. Henceforward they had what, summed up at the end of the year, amounted to a fortnightly supply of preachers, although there were several weeks' gaps at times, while at other times a divinity student officiated for a month or six weeks consecutively. On Sundays without preachers, meetings for prayer, praise, and scripture readings were held by the elders, and well attended. The leading elder, Mr Patrick Campbell, Koroyare, who for many years taught the Roro school, could, if he chose to try, preach better sermons than many a minister; but he did not choose to try, because on our side of the Grampians lay-preaching was discountenanced by Presbyterians, who, whether in or out of the Church of Scotland, stuck to the old traditions of order and organisation, of which deep respect for a learned and trained ministry was a leading characteristic. "The Men," as they were called, invaded the sphere of the clergy in the matter of holding forth like preachers in Easter Ross and other places north of the Grampian line. Genuinely pious many of them were, but even the best of them were full of zeal without knowledge, and an intolerance, without charity. Such of the revivalists of the south side of the Grampians as wanted to hold forth like "The Men" in the North only found free scope for their gifts among the Baptists. Our Glen Free Church congregation had to wait for some years for a regularly trained, licensed, ordained, and inducted minister. When John Stewart Menzies of Chesthill, proprietor of the lower part of the Glen, joined them and gave them a feu for church, manse, and school, at Cambusvrachdan, they at last saw a clear way out of their long troubles and struggles. From the first they had been contributing more liberally than they could well afford to Free Church funds, and now having made an effort to increase subscriptions largely, they gave personal labour as well as money for building the stone-and-lime and slated church and manse. I am sorry to say that in clearing the site for the manse, or in trenching ground for the garden, they destroyed an ancient monument one of the round forts called "Castullan nam Fian." This one, however, like the one above the east end of Fortingall, must have been called "Fortur," an alternative name for these old fortresses, for in my early years the old house near it was named "Tigh-an-t- fhartuir," which, although slightly corrupted, meant the "House of" or "near the Fortur." Their first minister was Mr Angus Brown, who laboured many years among them, then went to Inverness, and was called thence to be Free Church minister of Fort- rose. He was succeeded by Mr Murdo Macaskill, who, when he succeeded Dr John Kennedy at Dingwall, took a prominent part in the resistance of the Free Church Constitutional party to the policy of the Rainy-Hutton combination. Mr John Mackay, afterwards of Cromarty, came next, and he was followed by Mr John McColl, whose lengthened ministry led him into the troubles of the Union of 1900, which he joined, while the portion of his people who did not join got from the Commission his church and manse.


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