Disruption Probationers

It seemed a relatively simple task – but it developed as time went on.

At the first General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland held in May, 1843, a probationer appeared and presented a list of 192 probationers of the Church of Scotland who wished to adhere to the Free Church. What became of these men? Did they continue in the Free Church or go back to the Church of Scotland? Did they take up ministry or turn to secular employment? I started off trying to find the answer to these questions.

But as the study progressed I discovered that there wasn’t only this Roll of probationers, there was also a Deed of Demission that probationers had signed. Where was that document to be found? Who signed that document? Eventually I discovered 13 more names on it that were not on the Roll so there were 205 in all who wished to adhere to the Free Church. An article entitled Roll of Probationers 1 – Who were the Signatories? gives these names and a brief account of most of them.

Then, when I identified about 94% of these probationers, there was a question of analyzing this information. How could these men be categorized? Well, a few, I discovered, returned to the Church of Scotland – or perhaps never really left it; some took up teaching; some ministered abroad and some remained Free Church probationers. But the majority – about 60% – became Free Church ministers in Scotland. All this is found in the article entitled Roll of Probationers 2 – What became of the Signatories?.

A question that specially interested me was this. It was generally assumed that probationers were giving up a big opportunity by associating with the Free Church in 1843. If 470 ministers left the Church of Scotland, there were all these vacancies to be filled and probationers had enhanced opportunities of getting a presentation to them.

In fact, 60% got charges in the Free Church. So, from a purely professional point of view, had they actually put themselves at a disadvantage by joining the Free Church? I tried to compare their experience with that of the probationers who hadn’t left. Between the Disruption and the end of 1846, I discovered that 332 probationers had been settled in pastoral charges in the Church of Scotland. Was that more or less than 60% of the available probationers?

I couldn’t work out an answer to that one. But what I did think of interest was that only 332 probationers got charges when about 470 men had left. If 470 left and only 332 new men came in, there must have been a shortfall. So the next stage of the journey was to try and account for what seemed to be a significant shortfall.

The first stage in taking this new direction was to find out how many ministers had left pastoral charges in the Church of Scotland at the Disruption. That was by no means as clear as you would expect it to be. There were discrepancies between the various sources of information on the subject. Ewing’s Annals of the Free Church of Scotland, for example, claimed as Free Church ministers who had “come out” at the Disruption men who never signed the Act of Separation and Deed of Demission and who aren’t even mentioned in the Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae as ministers of the Church of Scotland. So I had to assess the accuracy and completeness of these various sources. The results of this study are contained in the article Disruption Ministers. The conclusion was that 477 ministers, at the Disruption, left pastoral charges connected with the Church of Scotland.

The last stage was to see what happened to these 477 vacancies. The information gathered on this subject is contained in the article Filling Vacancies post-Disruption. Although some of the conclusions drawn are only tentative – requiring further studies to confirm them – a basic idea is, I think, quite clear. The regular parish ministry recovered very quickly from the severe blow that the Disruption dealt to it; the ministry in quoad sacra churches did not.

These four articles are accessible via the links provided above or through the main menu, entitled “Articles”.

These studies may seem to represent a slight departure from the main purpose of this web-site – ecclesiastical genealogy – that is, Scottish Presbyterian ministers in their family connections. The first two articles will be of more interest to those whose special interest is in family history; the second two of more interest to the church historian. I got great pleasure in gathering this material and hope that others were get some enjoyment out of reading it or referring to it.


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