Chignecto covenanters: a regional history of Reformed Presbyterians in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Some 30 years ago, I conducted services in the East Coast village of Port Elgin, New Brunswick. I wondered about the people whose surnames are boldly displayed in the memorial windows of St. James Church. Memorial windows have stories behind them. The families of some of those people were still present in the congregation, so the names on the windows and their stories could be readily known. Others, however, were shrouded in mystery. One of them was "Brownell." He turns out to be a former minister from 1905 to 1920. In fact, he was instrumental in enabling the Reformed Presbyterians, also known as Covenanters, to unite with The Presbyterian Church in Canada.
Who were those early pioneer pastors who came, mainly from Ireland, to found congregations across the neck of land joining New Brunswick and Nova Scotia? The fascinating story of their exceptionally arduous ministry is told with studious care and vibrant narrative by Mount Allison University professor of religious studies, Eldon Hay. Drawing on both primary and secondary historical accounts, Hay invites readers to journey into the fragile, everyday 19th- and early 20th-century world of Alexander Clarke, Joseph Howe Brownell and others.
Clarke, for instance, was told at Fort Lawrence in 1827: "Sir, you need not stop here ... unless you can live upon potatoes and marsh hay...." At the end of that century, Brownell, "the indefatigable traveller," would return home from his ministrations "so exhausted it was necessary for him to climb the stairs on his hands and knees." This was due not only to the primitive conditions of rural roads but also because Brownell was afflicted with "a club foot."
At the end of his analysis, Hay concludes that the Covenanter movement failed because its "eyes were ever on the past" while the Presbyterian Church, by adapting to the conditions of its context, grew and spread. Yet, the spirit of the Covenanters needs to be remembered, specifically their "unyielding loyalty to principle," their "stern devotion to truth" and their "steadfast courage in the face of life's great battles."
In a day when the passion for mission has, unfortunately, lost some of its fervour and an appreciation of the distinctiveness of ordered ministry has been diminished, it is genuinely inspiring to read a vivid account of almost 80 years of courageous and committed pastoral service. Because the story is not romanticized, and the flaws and failures of individuals and church courts are transparent, its import for us today is doubly helpful.
Arthur Van Seters is principal of Knox College, Toronto.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 1997|
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