How it all began
I thought I had noticed in Ewing’s Annals that, as the 19th century progressed, the rate of ministers resigning seemed to increase. I wondered if this was because of the theological liberalism which was creeping into the Free Church at that time. I decided that, when I retired, I would set myself a project: “Ministerial Drop-out in the Free Church, 1843-1900”. I could work on that project when I wasn’t working on my family tree.
And I started on the project. I decided that the easiest way to identify those who had resigned was to scan Ewing’s Annals and I could then more easily search it for resignations. Once I got it scanned, I thought I might as well tidy it up; and once I tidied it up, I thought it would be foolish to keep this to myself. But in what way should I do that? As I reflected on the matter and having built up a bit of experience doing my family tree, the idea of enlarging on the families of these ministers came to mind. And other possibilities of what could be done in making available basic resources about Free Church ministers kept coming to mind – and the result is ecclegen.com.
I have been so busy with the web-site that I have not yet made any progress with “Ministerial Drop-out in the Free Church, 1843-1900”. Besides, I very quickly saw that Ewing did not provide adequate information for me even to begin the study.
It seemed obvious that I could start by looking at all the men whom Ewing describes as having been suspended or having resigned. But when I did that I discovered that often Ewing does not give reasons why a man was suspended. David Sievewright Smith, minister of Langholm, was suspended, but Ewing does not record that it was because he eloped briefly with a married woman living in the town.
To “resign” covered a wider variety of situations. Ewing tells us that some resigned for health reasons, or because they have changed their doctrinal views. But in many cases we have to go elsewhere for further information. William Alexander Burton resigned only to take up work in England; and the Presbytery Minutes give the impression that it was because of difficulties over the provision of a Manse that he resigned. Peter Douglas is said to have resigned: actually he was suspended amid charges of intemperance.
A study in “Ministerial Drop-out in the Free Church, 1843-1900” is almost as far off as ever. Instead we have ecclegen.com. I hope that researchers may think that what has emerged is better than what I originally planned to do.