Friday, February 16, 2007

The History of a denomination: XVI.

The Assembly of 1915 was very different from that of 1914. There was no procession for the Lord High Commissioner, no pomp or circumstance. The only procession was a terrible reminder of the cost of war. One hundred coffins of men of the 7th Royal Scots killed, not on the battlefields (for the men who died in France and in Belgium stayed there and were buried there), but killed in a rail disaster at Gretna a few days before. The Moderators of the Assemblies, The Church of Scotland, the United Free Church, and the Free Church, joined the procession, for members of all their churches were among the fallen.
Let me apostrophise here. What would such a disaster do to the morale of modern Britain in a war where we were bogged down, where our shores were not in danger of invasion?
It was the tenth month of the Great War when the Assemblies met under one roof in the great Assembly Hall on the Mound. The three moderators stood on the same platform and the members of the three Assemblies sat together on the benches as they joined in prayer for a nation at war. Defences were going up along the North Sea coast to protect British towns agaist German naval bombardment, and brave men from every cormer of the land were going out to fight and to die in Flanders' fields.
The shallow optimism of the first few weeks of war had gone, it was now realised this would be a long and bloody conflict. On the benches of the Assembly ministrs coud be seen in the uniforms of Army chaplains and elders in the uniforms of officers in His Majesty's Services.
The Moderator of 1915 was Dr. Alexander R. MacEwen, Professor of Church History in New College and author of a small biography of the Erskines and a very large biography of Dr. John Carns, United Presbyterian leader. Inevitably he spoke mostly to an Assembly at war.
PRAYER was in evidence as it had never been before in the Assembly, and so was patriotism. When the traditional address to the King was adopted the members joined in singing the National Anthem.
Principal T. M. Lindsay (see this blog passim) had died in December 1914. His books are still read and published today, they are his best memorial and the best evidence of his greatness - that 1900 should be able to communicate with 2007!
In the principalship he was succeeded by James Denney - the only candidate. His successor as Professor of Church History was James Moffatt.
In time of war the Chaplains' Report was of supreme interest. Dr, Patrick R. Mackay, respendent in his uniform of Chaplain-Colonel, gave the report, declaring that he was proud to say that the United Free Church had not failed Scotland in her time of need. A little over 91 per cent of eligible sons of United Presbyterian manses were serving in the armed forces. The militant suffragettes were forgotten, and the Women's Work Committee spoke of the war work of United Free Church women.
The movement for unity was inevitably retarded in some respects by the war, but on the ground it was helped forward as ministers were absent on the front United Free Church ministers looked after absent Church of Scotland ministers' flocks, and vice versa. In these circumstances the two churches became still closer. Meanwhile the Church of Scotland had sent its draft constitution down to the Presbyteries.

What the next twelve months of war brought to the United Free Church we shall, God willing, see next time.



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