Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The history of a denomination: I.

In 1900 the United Free Church of Scotland was formed by the union of the United Presbyterian Church and the majority of the Free Church of Scotland.
One of the members of that great uniting Assembly of 1900 was the Rev. George M. Reith of Edinburgh (not to be confused with Rev. George Reith of Glasgow, father of Lord Reith). For twenty-nine years George Reith was to edit the 'Blue Book', the official record of the Proceedings and Debates of the United Free Church. In 1933 he published a valuable work entitled 'Reminiscences of the United Free Church General Assembly (1900-1929). In this series it is my hope, God willing, to use Mr. Reith's book to sketch the changes that occurred in the United Free Church from its formation in 1900 as an aggressively Free Church body to the union of its majority with the Established Church of Scotland in 1929.

George Reith was not the Clerk of the Assembly in the Union Assembly of 1900, but he was a member of it. As one of the Free Church majority, he gathered with his fellows in the courtyard of New College (the Free Assembly Hall was locked to prevent the minority taking possession of it and refusing to vacate). It was raining and so the delegates carried umbrellas. Fortnately the rain stopped so that (as Reith records), the crowds "were spared the sight of a testudo of spread umbrellas" as the procession moved to the Waverley Market, the only building in Edinburgh large enough to contain both the Free and United Presbyterian Assemblies and the audience of seven thousand.
After the oldest members of the Free and U.P. Assemblies moved and seconded the uniting act, Dr. Robert Rainy, Principal of New College Edinburgh, was elected first moderator of the United Free Church of Scotland. In his address Rainy voiced the general feeling that this union was but one step in a wider union.
One of the most telling parts of the Uniting Assembly was Joseph Parker's speech. The pastor of London's City Temple and representative of the Congregational Union, could not resist a dig at the Church of Scotland in his speech. A decided English Nonconformist and supporter of Disestablishment, he declared that "it was unbecoming of the bride of Christ to be the concubine of Caesar." A loud murmur of protest broke out, and the remark was excised from the 'Blue Book' (This is another indication that the Blue Books do not represent the full proceedings, but an edited and sometimes sanitised version).
There was no official Church of Scotland delegate. Both Free and United Presbyterian ministers had been involved in attempts to disestablish the Church of Scotland, and therefore relations between the three churches had remained dstinctly cool (one may have treated someone badly in the past, but one is unlikely to change one's attitude if the offended parties anre busily engaged in a plot to burn one's house down). The minister of St. Giles', Dr. Cameron Lees, took it upon himself to be there, however, in the interests of his Church. Indeed, he suggested that there might yet be a wider union!

Thus the Uniting Assembly passed. Both attitudes, the agressive antiestablishmentarianism of Joseph Parker and the uniting temper of Dr. Lees, spoke of things to come.

God Willing, we shall look at the 1901 Assembly next time.



Blogger Jenson's Blog said...

I was at Don's (Geneva Books) recently and bought "One Hundred Years of Witness" - about the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Will you be touching on them as well?

8:53 pm  
Blogger Highland Host said...

Not in this series. They'd already (as you know) left the Free Church in 1893, and they had little to do with the United Free Church.

I have a very high regard for the Free Presbyterians, and I use their materials in my research for Free St. Georges.

12:11 pm  

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