Below are some extracts from a delightful volume by the Rev. Norman Macleod, Reminiscences of a Highland Parish (1867), providing some very romantic glimpses of the ‘auld parish way’ in the Highlands of Scotland. One can find it on GoogleBooks – http://books.google.com/books?id=DCokAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=Reminiscences+of+a+Highland+Parish. Two chapters in particular are of interest, from which these quotes come – ‘The Manse’ and ‘The Minister and His Work.’
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“The minister, like most of his brethren, soon took to himself a wife, the daughter of a neighboring ‘gentleman tacksman,’ and the granddaughter of a minister, well born and well bred; and never did man find a help more meet for him. In that manse they lived for nearly fifty years, and there were born to them sixteen children; yet neither father nor mother could ever lay their hand on a child of theirs and say, ‘We wish this one had not been.’ They were all a source of unmingled joy” (27).
“The manse and glebe [acreage surrounding the manse] of that Highland parish were a colony which ever preached sermons, on week days as well as Sundays, of industry and frugality, of courteous hospitality and bountiful charity, and of the domestic peace, contentment, and cheerfulness of a holy Christian home” (28).
“Within the manse the large family of sons and daughters managed, somehow or other, to find accommodation not only for themselves, but also for a tutor and governess. And such a thing as turning any one away for want of room was never dreamt of. When hospitality demanded such a small sacrifice, the boys would all go to the barn, and the girls to the chairs and sofas of parlour and dining-room, with fun and laughter, joke and song, rather not make the friend or stranger welcome. And seldom was the house without either. The ‘kitchen-end,’ or lower house, with all its indoor crannies of closets and lofts, and outdoor additions of cottages, barns and stables, was a little world of its own, to which wandering pipers, parish fools, and beggars, with all sorts of odd-and-end characters came, and where the ate, drank, and rested” (30-31).
“The manse was the grand center to which all the inhabitants of the parish gravitated for help and comfort. . . . The poor, as a matter of course, visited the manse, not for an order on public charity, but for aid from private charity, and it was never refused in kind, such as meal, wool, or potatoes. There being no lawyers in the parish, lawsuits were adjusted in the manse; and so were marriages not a few. The distressed came there for comfort, and the perplexed for advice; and there was always something material as well as spiritual to share with them all. No one went away empty in body or soul. Yet the barrel of meal was never empty, nor the cruise of oil extinguished. A ‘wise’ neighbor once remarked, ‘That minister with his large family will ruin himself, and if he dies they will be beggars.’ Yet there has never been a beggar among them to the fourth generation. No saying was more common in the mouth of this servant than the saying of his Master, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
“A striking characteristic of the manse life was its constant cheerfulness. One cottager could play the bagpipe, another the fiddle. The minister was an excellent performer on the violin, and to have his children dancing in the evening was his delight. If strangers were present, so much the better. He had not an atom of that proud fanaticism which connects religion with suffering, as suffering, apart from its cause” [And then in a footnote, the author writes, “A minister in a remote island parish once informed me that, ‘on religious grounds,’ he had broken the only fiddle in the island! His notion of religion, I fear, is not rare among his brethren in the far west and north. We are informed by Mr Campbell, in his admirable volumes on the ‘Tales of the Highlands,’ that the old songs and tales are also being put under the clerical ban in some districts, as being too secular and profane for the pious inhabitants. What next? Are the signing-birds to be shot by the kirk-sessions?”] (33-35).
“The minister was too far removed from the big world of church politics, General Assembly debates, controversial meetings and pamphlets, to be a party man. It satisfied him to be a part of the great Catholic Church, and of that small section of it in which he had been born. The business of his Presbytery was chiefly local, and his work was confined mainly to his parish” (111).
“He ministered to 2000 souls, all of whom – with the exception of perhaps a dozen families of Episcopalians and Roman Catholics – acknowledged him as their pastor. His charge was scattered over 130 square miles, with a sea-board of 100” (112)!
“[Arduous] land journeys were frequently undertaken, (with adventures more or less trying,) not merely to visit the sick, but for every kind of parochial duty – sometimes to baptize, and sometimes to marry. These services were occasionally performed in most primitive fashion at one of those green spots among the hills. Corrie Borrodale, among the old ‘shielings,’ ‘was a sort of half-way house between the opposite sides of the parish. There, beside a clear well, children have been baptized; and there, among ‘the bonnie blooming heather,’ the Highland shepherd has been married to his bonnie blooming bride. There were also in different districts preaching and ‘catechising,’ as it was called. The catechizing consisted in examining on the Catechism and Scriptures every parishioner who was disposed to attend the meeting , and all did with few exceptions. It constituted an important part of the minister’s regular work. Every farm and hamlet was thus visited in rotation; notes were generally kept of the progress made by each individual in religious knowledge, and he who was sluggish and careless was put to shame before his neighbors. Many presbyteries, at the time we speak of, took yearly account of the diligence of each member in the discharge of this branch of his pastoral office: a reckoning and a superintendence which, we humbly think, might, with mutual benefit to people and pastor, be revived in the present day. This ‘exercise’ was generally followed by preaching, both of course in the open air, when weather permitted. And no sight could be more beautiful than that of the venerable minister, seated on the side of a green and sheltered knoll, surrounded by the inhabitants of the neighboring hamlets, each, as his turn came, answering, or attempting to answer, the questions propounded with gravity and simplicity. A simple discourse followed from the same rural pulpit, to the simple but thoughtful and intelligent congregation. Most touching was it then to hear the Psalms rise from among the moorlands, disturbing ‘the sleep that is among the lonely hills;’ the pauses filled by the piping of the plover or some mountain bird, and by the echoes of the streams and water-falls from the rocky precipices. It was a peasant’s choir, rude and uncultivated by art, but heard, I doubt not, with sympathy by the mighty angels who sung their own noblest song in the hearing of shepherds on the hills of Bethlehem.
“An essential, an important, and a very laborious part of the parish minister’s work was the providing for the wants of the poor and the needy. He and his session were intrusted, under powers defined by law, with the administration of the very considerable funds contributed by charity at the church door every Sabbath. The half-yearly, or quarterly apportionment of this fund, however, formed a small portion of the labours implied in providing for the poor. They were carefully visited by minister and elders: their circumstances accurately ascertained; and in cases of sickness, or of any special trial, where the session allowance was insufficient, there was an ample supply provided by an appeal to the kindness of the more prosperous in the neighborhood; and whether food, or clothing, or cordials were needed, they were readily granted to an appeal thus made.
“Our minister’s work was thus devoted and unwearied for half a century. And there is something peculiarly pleasing and cheering to think of him and of others of the same calling and character in every church, who from year to year pursue their quiet course of holy, self-denying labour, educating the ignorant; bringing life and blessing into the homes of disease and poverty; sharing the burden of sorrow with the afflicted, the widow, and the fatherless; reproving and admonishing, by life and word, the selfish and ungodly; and with a heart every open to all the fair humanities of nature; – a true ‘divine,’ yet every inch a man! Such men, in one sense, have never been alone; for each could say with his Master, ‘I am not alone, for the Father is with me.’ Yet what knew or cared the great, bustling, religious world about them? Where were their public meetings, with reports, speeches, addresses, ‘resolutions,’ or motions about their work? Where their committees and associations of ardent philanthropists, rich supporters, and zealous followers? Where their ‘religious’ papers, so called, to parade them before the world, and to crown them with the laurels of puffs and leading articles? Alone, he, and thousands like him, laboured the very salt of the earth, the noblest of their race” (118-122).