Filling Vacancies post-Disruption

Filling Vacancies post-Disruption

The purpose of this article is to find out what happened to the pastoral vacancies in the Church of Scotland, occasioned by the departure of ministers to the Free Church at the Disruption of 1843; and to see whether there is a discernible pattern in the movements of ministers at that time. In other words, we want to take a snap shot of ministerial movement at that special time of readjustment.

We are starting here from what we have already developed in the article on this web-site entitled Disruption Ministers. There we came to the conclusion that there were actually 477 pastoral ministers in Scotland, who had attached themselves to the Free Church. What happened in the vacancies which resulted from their departure? We are considering the situation up till the end of 1846. If these charges were not filled by then, they are being counted as “vacant”.

At that time there were various types of ministerial charges: parish churches, chapels of ease, Parliamentary churches, Gaelic chapels etc. For convenience here, all the charges which were not parish ones are being called quoad sacra churches.

The following data give a summary of the situation.

Category Number
By the settlement of a probationer 176
By the settlement of a minister from within Scotland 134
Congregations that remained without a minister 74
Congregations which no longer existed as Church of Scotland congregations 51
By the transference of a minister from outwith Scotland 31
Other 11
Total 477


This categorisation requires clarification and discussion.

By the settlement of a probationer

There were 176 cases of probationers being presented to the vacant charges we are considering – the most common way of settling these vacancies. There are three factors worth commenting on in regard to this category.

Firstly, Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae (FES) do not often supply the date of licence of probationers when recording the first settlement of a minister. But using the data that they do provide in this connecton, we can see how many years these men had served as probationers before ordination.

Years as probationer Number of probationers
25 1
17 3
16 2
14 2
13 1
12 1
11 1
8 3
7 1
6 3
5 1
4 6
3 3
2 6
1 7
0 5
Total 46

This means that on average these men had to wait 6 years before they were settled in a congregation.

Because of the lack of comparative date, it is difficult to assess the significance of this information. It is well known that at that time men might have to wait several years before being settled. They had to serve as assistants, or city missionaries to get well known. They often were engaged in teaching, waiting in hope. Or if they were tutors in the families of men of influence, they could secure a presentation through that influence. It is generally recognised too that there was an over-supply of ministers. The natural tendency in that situation is that a probationer has to wait for a presentation for years and if he doesn’t get one after a few years of trying, the likelihood is that he isn’t going to get one.

That being the case, the 6 years on average that these men had been waiting sounds to me quite normal; but the spread – from 0 till 25 – is probably not normal. The average may be normal but it is only so because the 12 that get a charge almost immediately are offset by the 11 that have had to wait over ten years.

Secondly, we only have information on the year of licensing for about a quarter of the probationers that were settled within the time frame we are discussing. We may, therefore, also conduct a similar exercise not on the basis of the number of years as a probationer, but on the basis of age at ordination. This is more satisfactory insofar as it includes almost all of these probationers – 173 out of 176. Some of these ages are approximate – as approximate as the ages given in the censuses. The data are as follow:


Age at Ordination Number of that age
21 1
22 1
23 4
24 4
25 12
26 7
27 7
28 13
29 11
30 8
31 8
32 8
33 6
34 8
35 7
36 1
37 6
38 6
39 3
40 10
41 5
42 8
43 7
44 5
45 4
46 3
47 2
49 1
50 2
51 1
52 2
54 1
68 1

This means that the average age at ordination was just over 34. Again, lacking comparative data for other periods of history, it is impossible to reach definite conclusions. Nevertheless, we notice the remarkable spread of ages: from 21 to 68, suggesting that the pressures of the Disruption led to men being pressed into service in some cases soon after training and in other cases, close to an age when many people in those days were thinking of retiring.

Thirdly, there is little information given in FES regarding what probationers were doing prior to ordination. The data we have here cover every case in which the previous employment of the probationer is stated in FES. It is unlikely that the Disruption had any impact on the normal pattern of probationers’ employment. Nonetheless, for what it is worth, here is a summary of the information we have.

Occupation Number
Teachers 21
Tutors 5
Professors 1
Assistants/Missionaries 19
Total 46

A final matter that we can mention is that 29 probationers became minister of quoad sacra churches. The rest therefore became ministers of parish churches. Parish churches obviously took priority. More information along these lines is considered later.

By the transference of a minister from within Scotland

There are 134 cases of Scotland-based ministers taking up a charge, vacated at the Disruption.

Again we do not have full data on every ministerial movement, but one way in which we can analyse this information is to consider the types of congregation that there were – parish churches or quoad sacra churches.

The situation is:

Ministers who moved from a parish church to a parish church 75
Ministers who moved from a parish church to a non-parish church 1
Ministers who moved from a non-parish church to a parish church 36
Ministers who moved from a non-parish church to a non-parish church 4
Total 126

The obvious feature of this analysis is the relative unpopularity of non-parish churches. It must of course be remembered that there were significantly fewer non-parish churches requiring a minister after the Disruption than before it – a large number were closed or seceded to the Free Church and so ceased to need the services of a Church of Scotland minister (see below). Moreover, the ministers of such charges had had their right to form Kirk Sessions and to sit in the courts of the Church removed by the Church of Scotland General Assembly of 1843: the Chapel Act, which had given them these rights, was no longer to be operative.

An obvious question to ask refers to the popularity of city charges over against non-city charges. A difficulty, of course, is to define a city and then decide which churches were city churches: many charges which nowadays would be within the city, would not be so regarded at that time. Because of this difficulty, figures in this connection are somewhat subjective. But I would say that almost as many ministers moved from the city as moved to the city. This, I suspect, is to many counter-intuitive: to move to bigger, busier charges would be the normal – so this pattern of movement which we have post-Disruption requires explanation. And the explanation is really quite simple: those who moved out of the city all moved from quoad sacra congregations to parish churches. The nature of the congregation – whether a parish one or not – is therefore a major factor in determining the way vacancies were settled.

It is obvious that the above analysis is far from complete: it deals with only 116 out of 134 cases. What of the other cases? There were eight men settled in charges who were, prior to the Disruption, ministers without charge. We do not know the circumstances of all of these men but a couple of them returned to the ministry from teaching or farming: one resigned his charge to go abroad – and then took a charge in Scotland instead.

There were also three men who returned to the Church of Scotland so promptly that they were treated as if they had never left.

Congregations which no longer existed as Church of Scotland congregations

There were 51 cases in this category. None of them had another Church of Scotland minister settled over them: the seceding minister was not replaced.

Of these, 6 were considered to be still in existence after the Disruption but were then officially closed – some in 1843, others after several years of seeking to revitalize the work.

In a typical parish set up, the church buildings did not belong to the church: they were provided by the heritors for the use of the community. These buildings were automatically given up by the seceding ministers. However, the buildings of quoad sacra churches, generally speaking, had been paid for by the givings of the people of the congregation. Such congregations, on secession, were not automatically given up, the people feeling that as they had provided the money for their construction, they had a moral right to retain them. We must remember also that in 1839 one of the branches of the Secession Church – the Old Light Burgher branch – had returned to the Church of Scotland. In 1843, there were therefore a number of these congregations within the Church of Scotland and they had title to the buildings that they occupied.

The framers of the Act of Separation and Deed of Demission were conscious that the church buildings that they used were not all held on the same terms. They expressly give up any claim to buildings provided by the state: “[they] did, and thereby do, abdicate and renounce the status and privileges derived to them, or any of them, as parochial ministers or elders from the said Establishment, through its connection with the State, and all rights and emoluments pertaining to them, or any of them, by virtue thereof.” At the same time, they made it clear that they reserved the right to claim other properties that they thought they might have right to: “…farther declaring, that this present act shall noways be held as a renunciation on the part of such of the ministers foresaid as are ministers of churches built by private contribution, and not provided or endowed by the State, of any rights which may be found to belong to them, or their congregations, in regard to the same, by virtue of the intentions and destination of the contributors to the erection of the said churches, or otherwise according to law; all which are fully reserved to the ministers foresaid and their congregations.”

In not a few cases there was litigation over these buildings. Some congregations in their constitution said that the property belonged to the congregation, connected with the Church of Scotland as by law established. If they had renounced their connection with the Established Church, the congregation could be deprived of their building, even although they had built it themselves. In many cases, these buildings were restored to the Established Church, often after litigation. But there were some cases where these congregations retained their buildings as Free Church congregations. Generally if most of the congregation had seceded and if they retained their building, then there was nothing left which the Church of Scotland might claim as a congregation of their church. This accounts for the remaining congregations in this category.

There was one congregation, formerly a Secession congregation, which left the Church of Scotland with their minister; the minister moved to another Free Church and the congregation joined the Reformed Presbyterian Church.

In 44 cases the congregation passed fully to the Free Church. In 19 of these cases, the congregation was formerly a secession congregation. There were of course no parish churches which passed wholly to the Free Church: those congregations that did were all quoad sacra churches.

By the transference of a minister from outwith Scotland

Of the 31 in this category, 18 were drawn from Presbyterian congregations in England. There were 8 recruited from Canada and one each from Ireland, Madeira, Demarara, Antigua and India.

We cannot say more about these, though it would be interesting to know: did they come to Scotland to help the National Church in its time of difficulty or did they see this as an opportunity of moving to a more congenial sphere of service? We would also like to know whether this rate of return from England and the colonies was normal. But these matters fall outside the scope of this article.

Congregations that remained without a minister

There were 74 congregations in this situation. The most outstanding feature of this statistic is that all but two of these 74 congregations still vacant by the end of 1846 were quoad sacra churches. Only two parish churches, whose ministers had left at the Disruption, were still vacant by the end of 1846.


There are some cases about which there is simply insufficient information in order to slot the congregation into one or other of the previous categories. Some men, we are told, were admitted to a charge, but FES does not say whether they were ministers or probationers or what they were doing prior to accepting a presentation. In these cases, recourse has been had to the relevant Presbytery records, but even then there remain some that, at least for the moment, can only be classified as “others”.

There are also four cases where two ministers leave – for example, an old minister plus his colleague and successor – and only one replaces them.

Included here too is the case of Marnoch where there were in effect two ministers in place at the time of the Disruption: one minister, rejected by a majority of the male heads of families in accordance with the Act anent Calls but ordained by the majority of the Presbytery by the instruction of the civil courts. The other minister was ordained by the minority of the Presbytery under the instruction of the Church courts. The second minister became Free Church at the Disruption; the other was declared by the General Assembly to be the minister of the parish.

There was one man who was received into the Church of Scotland from the United Secession Church and who took up a pastoral charge in the aftermath of the Disruption.


A problem with this study is that it is a snap-shot of the movements within the Church at a particular period of time – indeed, at an unusual and critical period in its history. Without a similar study of other periods of its history, we cannot know, for the most part, what is unusual at this time and what is normal. Without such a study we cannot know for sure that the distribution of probationers according to the number of years of their probationship is unusual. Without such a study, we cannot know whether the rate of inflow of ministers from England is abnormal. However, what keeps these data from being simply ecclesiastical trivia, is this fact: that there is clear evidence that the status of quoad sacra churches was an important factor in the pattern of settlement. That is a theme worth pursuing.

The Church of Scotland and quoad sacra churches

There is good ground for saying that parish ministry emerged from the Disruption with only minor damage – only two parish charges remained without a new minister by the end of 1846. The serious blow caused by the Disruption had, even at that early stage, been all but healed as far as the parish ministry was concerned. On the other hand, ministry in the quoad sacra churches was seriously damaged. To lose 51 such charges entirely and to have 72 others still without a minister by 1846 represents a severe blow to this type of ministry. Moreover, 36 ministers were drawn from the quoad sacra churches to fill the pastoral vacancies in the parish churches. Of these quoad sacra churches thus vacated, 13 were still vacant at the end of 1846. Indeed two of them closed permanently.

It is clear that the Church’s priority was to fill the pastoral vacancies in parish churches and that men preferred parish ministries to quoad sacra ones. It is not difficult to see why. Financially, there was more security in the endowed parish churches. There was also a greater status connected with the parish churches. Moreover, the privileges which had been accorded to quoad sacra ministers through the Chapel Act – a Kirk Session of their own and a seat in Presbytery – were withdrawn after the Disruption in the light of the ruling of the Stewarton Case which declared the Chapel Act to be illegal. In that respect, the Free Church had the advantage over the Established Church. There was no distinction made between ministers: all had the same ecclesiastical privileges. By remaining in the Church of Scotland, quoad sacra ministers suffered significant loss of status. No doubt, they were grieved at having to suffer in that way; no doubt they thought it worth it on a point of principle or because it allowed them to remain within the establishment and kept open the prospect of a parish ministry in an endowed charge. There was also the prospect that these privileges would be soon restored to them.

Indeed every encouragement was given to them to think that their privileges would be restored. On 29th May, the Church Scotland Assembly discussed the Chapel Act and associated legislation. Their judgement was that “having been incompetently passed … [these laws were] of necessity repealed.” At the same time, the following motion was agreed: “At the same time, this House, deeply impressed with the vast benefits which have been thus obtained for the people of this country, by the extension of the blessings of religious instruction by means of the services of the quoad sacra ministers, and feeling most anxious that those great and useful services should be secured to the country on a proper and permanent basis, desires to express a sincere hope that measures will be taken to have these unendowed districts created legally and properly into parishes, and endowments granted to their ministers; and that a select committee be appointed to draw up a loyal and dutiful Address to the Queen, praying that her Majesty would be graciously pleased to take the same into her serious consideration” (Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, p.209.)

The consequence of the repealing of the Chapel Act was that the names of ministers in quoad sacra charges, were removed from the roll of their Presbytery. In some cases, when this was done, appreciation was expressed for their work and hopes were expressed that the privileges they had for a time enjoyed would soon be restored to them. At the meeting of Ayr Presbytery on 31st May, that process was gone through “according to the instructions of the Assembly, the Acts permitting them to sit in the Church courts ‘having been incompetently passed’. It was then proposed by Mr Paton and unanimously agreed to that in acting in obedience to the General Assembly, the Presbytery resolve to record their sense of the important service which the Ministers of these Chapels have rendered to the cause of religion, and their earnest hope that these Chapels may soon be put on such a footing, that the end for which they were erected may be permanently and effectually secured – that of increasing the means of religious instruction and pastoral superintendence of the people of Scotland.” Similarly, the Presbytery of Dumbarton on 6th June, 1843, removed quoad sacra men from the roll and added: “[They] hereby do declare their sense of the important service rendered to the interests of religion by these brethren in their respective districts, the high esteem which they entertain for them personally, their regret that they cannot at present recognize them as members of Presbytery consistently with the Laws of the Church, and their hope that they may be able to do so at no distant period.”

Some Presbyteries, prior to the action taken by the General Assembly, had already removed quoad sacra men from their roll. On 21st March, 1843, in the Presbytery of Chirnside, it was moved that “in obedience to the decision of the civil court in the Stewarton case”, that the name of John Robertson, a minister of a quoad sacra charge be deleted from the roll. At the same time, tribute was paid to his “ability and efficiency” and the hope was expressed that he would soon be restored to his position in the Presbytery “in a regular and constitutional way.”

These hopes may have encouraged quoad sacra men to stay in the establishment, but the fact of the matter was that ministry in this area post-Disruption still remained seriously depleted at the end of 1846.

The Free Church and quoad sacra churches

We may raise here the question of the status of ministers who left the Church of Scotland for the Free Church: how many – and what proportion – were parish ministers? How many – and what proportion were quoad sacra ministers? There are two contemporaneous sources available to settle this question – slightly conflicting, though not radically different in their conclusions. The one is the account given in James McCosh’s The Wheat and the Chaff gathered into Bundles. The other is List of the Clergy of the Kirk of Scotland, as on 18th May 1843, published in Edinburgh in 1844.

The two lists differ from one another in several details. The most common discrepancy is where one source or another has omitted a name or misidentified the nature of a congregation (parish or quoad sacra). However, there are a number of cases where the difference is due to whether or not one accepts that the civil court has authority to execute its decisions in the church. We have tried consistently to follow the rule that where the church had deposed a minister, the deposition stood until a church court had pronounced his deposition removed. This is a view, of course, which the Free Church leaders adopted but it was a view by no means confined to them. When the Strathbogie ministers, who had been deposed, were accepted as members of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1843, dissents were offered. Adam Tait, minister of Kirkliston, gave in his dissent: “while highly disapproving of the Acts of Assembly of 1840 and 1841, suspending and deposing from the office of the holy ministry the major part of the Presbytery of Strathbogie, I do nevertheless hold that the foresaid sentences were the judgments of the Supreme Court of the Church, and necessarily, therefore, require to be recalled or rescinded by the authority of the same Court, before the parties affected by them can competently perform any of the duties of the ministry within the pale of this Church, or take their seats as members of any of her judicatories.” Similarly, Robert Storie of Roseneath dissented “on the ground that the Strathbogie ministers having been regularly deposed, the act of deposition could only be rescinded by an Act of the Assembly” (Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 1843, p.207).

Following this principle, we exclude the members of the Presbytery of Strathbogie who had been disciplined; as also the ministers of Culsalmond, Stranraer and Cambusnethan. At the same time, this does not make much diffence to the figures which may be seen from the analysis below, where figures are given with and without these men whose standing was called in question. Counting these men, the number of parish ministers is increased by 13 and the number of quoad sacra ministers remaining in the Establishment is reduced by two.

Out of a total number of 958 settled parish churches, the ministers of 290 (or 30.27%) seceded; and out of a total of 236 quoad sacra churches, the ministers of 164 (or 69.49%) seceded. Out of an overall total of 1194 charges, the ministers of 454 (or 38.02%) adhered to the Free Church.

Counting in the men from Strathbogie and others mentioned above, out of a total number of 971 parishes churches, the ministers of 290 (or 29.86%) seceded; and out of a total of 234 quoad sacra churches, the ministers of 164 (or 70.08%) seceded. Out of an overall total of 1205 charges, the ministers of 454 (or 37.67%) adhered to the Free Church.

The non-intrusion movement was clearly much stronger in the quoad sacra churches than in the parish churches. It is easy to suggest some reasons for this. Given the tendency noted above – that ministers tended to move from quoad sacra churches to parish churches – we would expect that quoad sacra churches would be staffed by younger men. And the disruption movement had a higher proportion of younger men than older men, as McCosh clearly shows: The Wheat and the Chaff, p.109. It may also be argued that the evangelical mindset was more favourable to missions designed to reach the unchurched and therefore quoad sacra churches were specially dear to those of evangelical persuasion. But surely the great attraction for non-intrusionists for ministry in quoad sacra churches was that the patronage system did not operate there. It might be thought that there was no compromise with Erastianism in the quoad sacra set up – therefore non-intrusionists were happier there.

If there was amongst non-intrusionists such a bias in favour of quoad sacra churches, why did not more leave than the 70% who did? After all, to continue in connection with the established church involved the loss of status that these ministers had begun to enjoy. It is true that to remain in the establishment gave ministers in these charges the opportunity of elevation to the more settled and secure position of parish church ministers. What they lost in the immediate future by remaining in the Church as by law established, would be more than compensated by the future benefit of being promoted to a parish church. Perhaps, there was a calculation of a profit and loss type; perhaps they were just committed in principle to an established church.

The Chapel Act and the Disruption

Considering the significance of quoad sacra churches sketched out above, we might well question how the Chapel Act (and the Stewarton case connected with it) affected the Disruption: was it a big part of the conflict or did it not make much impact? That question is perhaps worth fuller consideration. But for the moment we can make the following three points.

The Stewarton Case clarified the issues in the Disruption
For the leaders of the Disruption, the matter which led them out of the establishment was not non-intrusion or patronage but what they considered to be state interference in spiritual mattershe – what they called the spiritual independence of the church.

After the Disruption, certain landowners were refusing sites to Free Church congregations. Accordingly a Select Committee was set up to report on the subject. See First Report from the Select Committee on Sites for Churches (Scotland). One of the witnesses called was Robert Gordon. He had been senior minister of the High Church, Edinburgh, at the time of the Disruption, a leader of the non-intrusion movement, and highly respected for his integrity. He was asked time and again by members of the Select Committee about the reason for the Disruption:

1013. A very important point in dispute between the Free Church and the Established Church which you have left, is the efficacy of the call by the hearers of the clergyman to be appointed? — The main question I hold to be the spiritual independence of the Church; the interference of the civil authority with matters purely spiritual.
1014. Is not the call a very important check, among others, against the abuse of patronage, in your opinion? — No doubt, but the question that led to the disruption was the question of the independence of the Church.
Later the same question is raised by another member of the Committee:
1028. Mr. F. Maule.] The question of patronage was not that upon which the Free Church separated from the Establishment? — Certainly not.
1029. It was a question entirely as to the spiritual jurisdiction of the Church? —Yes.

And again the matter is raised.

1061. Mr. Brotherton.] Can you state in a few words what is the precise distinction between the Free Church and the Established Church with regard to religious doctrine and discipline? — In regard to the confession, the doctrinal confession, there is no difference; that is to say, every minister, upon being admitted into the Established Church, subscribes to the same doctrines, the same views of spiritual doctrine which the Free Church do. We both subscribe the Westminster Confession of Faith.
1062. Then what is it that causes this separation to such an extent, that you consider one Church to be directly opposed to the truth? — Because we think they have misinterpreted their own standards.
1063. Have they changed within the last seven years? — We think they have admitted the civil power to interfere in spiritual matters, so that the spiritual liberty of the Church has been sacrificed.
1064. In what respect? — In permitting themselves to be dictated to in spiritual matters by the civil authorities.


The measure of the civil courts’ supremacy over the church may be gauged by the words of the Lord President in the first Auchterarder case: “That our Saviour is the Head of the Kirk of Scotland in any temporal, or legislative, or judicial sense, is a position which I can dignify by no other name than absurdity. The Parliament is the temporal head of the Church, from whose Acts, and from whose Acts alone, it exists as the National Church, and from which alone it derives all its powers” (quoted in Catechism on the principles and constitution of the Free Church of Scotland, by Andrew Gray, p.92). That the national Church was a creation of the state was not an interpretation of history that the non-intrusionist leaders accepted.

That there was perceived to be increasing interference in the spiritual affairs of the Church may be seen from the Culsalmond case. The Presbytery had ordained William Middleton to the charge of Culsalmond, despite the veto of the people, despite the instruction of the Assembly that all disputed settlements had to be referred to the Assembly and despite an appeal to the Synod. The Commission of Assembly suspended Middleton from preaching until the Assembly should pronounce on the matter. But Middleton appealed to the civil courts. At first, the judgement went against him: there was no obvious “civil interest” in the matter and so it fell outwith the jurisdiction of the civil court. That was the way the Church had always understood the situation.

But on appeal the Lord President found a “civil interest”: by his suspension “a gross stigma had been fixed on Mr Middleton and his sacred character as a minister of the gospel”. Consequently, the matter came within the jurisdiction of the civil courts.

On this, John R. McIntosh commented that, on that judgement, any ecclesiastical sentence which reduced personal status in the eyes of the community would become a matter for the civil courts to decide upon. The Church would be unable to take any disciplinary action against any of its ministers, office-bearers, or members (Christian Study Library, The Disruption). The Church had always acknowledged the right of the state to judge on material matters connected with Church affairs. Now they are seeing the authority of the state being extended over areas they had never before interfered with. Little wonder that someone likened the situation to King Edward saying to Robert the Bruce: “You can be king in Scotland and I’ll be king in England – but I’ll decide the boundary line.”

To the leaders of the non-intrusion cause, in the Stewarton case, King Edward made another adjustment of the boundary line in his favour. Areas that they had never thought to be subject to state control were brought under the review of the Court of Session.

The Stewarton Case made the Disruption inevitable
The battle lines had already been drawn up long before the issue of the Chapel Act came to a head in the civil court’s decision in the Stewarton case. Already a disruption was probable; what the civil court’s decision about the Chapel Act did was make it inevitable. Presbytery after Presbytery had already split before the 18th of May, 1843. The Disruption had begun – and the issue that brought these disruptions about was the Chapel Act not the Act anent Calls.

After the decision in the Stewarton case was delivered, Presbyteries had to decide whether or not they would respond to the decision by expunging the names of ministers and elders of quoad sacra from the roll of Presbyteries and Synods. Different Presbyteries acted in different ways.

One of the first to respond was the Edinburgh Presbytery. Two men, leaders on the evangelical side, took the lead. On 25th January, 1843, Robert Candlish of St George’s, Edinburgh, moved and Robert Gordon, High Church, seconded that the matter be referred to the Commission of Assembly for advice. Despite opposition this was carried. A meeting of the Commission of Assembly had already been called for 31st January and came to the following decision: “[they] recommend to the Presbytery in all disputed and litigated causes the decision on which would carry civil consequences to stay proceedings and to refer these to their superior courts but in all other matters and causes advise them and all other inferior judicatories to perform their functions as usual.”

This was only advice and some Presbyteries took that advice and continued business as usual. Others however did not, and whether or not ministers and elders from quoad sacra should be removed from the roll of Presbyteries and Synods occasioned debate and in some cases a real division. Here are a few examples illustrative of the confusion and disorder that resulted in Presbyteries over the matter.

In Lochcarron Presbytery, the matter was relatively straightforward. On 4th April, 1843, it was moved that the names of the quoad sacra men be removed from the roll. There was a motion made to the contrary. The first motion carried by a majority. Moreover, they felt that the presence of quoad sacra men invalidated all decisions made so they homologated the proceedings of the Presbytery for the years in which quoad sacra men had sat in the Presbytery. I haven’t found any other Presbytery that did this.

Another unusual case occurred in the Presbytry of Uist. On 29th March, 1843, John Bethune, minister of a Parliamentary church wrote a letter tendering his resignation as a member of the Presbytery of Uist in consequence of recent decisions before the civil courts in regard to quoad sacra ministers. The Presbytery sustained this letter and drew up their roll with constitutional members only on it. I haven’t found any other similar case in which a quoad sacra took the initiative in giving up his privileges.

On 29th March, 1843, the Perth Presbytery met. Their situation was unusual inasmuch as the “moderate” members had acquired an interim interdict which prohibited the quoad sacra men from “sitting, voting or in any way whatever acting as Members of the Presbytery of Perth at any meeting of the said Presbytery in any causes, matters or proceedings whatever now depending or which may hereafter come to depend before the said Presbytery.” It was moved that the Interdict was an invasion of the liberty of this church as a church of Christ … and much more of a similar tone; and that in these circumstances the Presbytery is incapacitated from the due discharge of its functions; and that the whole matter be referred for advice to the Synod and that the Presbytery immediately adjourn. This was carried over a motion to proceed to elect commissioners to the General Assembly. A protest was made and the Presbytery adjourned. However, no progress was made at the Synod of Perth and Stirling. There on 18th April, 1843, a similar Interdict was presented. The Moderator was George Monilaws, minister at Tulliallan – a man who remained in the Church of Scotland at the Disruption. He said he did not deem it advisable for the good of the Church, for him as Moderator, now to break the Interdict, and thereby furnish a weapon to the Church’s enemies. At the same time, he could never conscientiously obey such an Interdict. He therefore left the chair. After a “considerable pause”, the Clerk suggested the senior minister present should lead in prayer and the members of Synod should disperse. This was done – there was prayer and the members dispersed without conducting business.

What happened in the Presbytery of Irvine is of special interest for two reasons. In the first place, Stewarton was within the bounds of the Presbytery of Irvine, therefore the judgement in that case had immediate and particular reference to the Irvine Presbytery. Secondly, it is claimed that the division which took place in the Presbytery was the first case in any Presbytery. Here the Disruption began.

On 31st January, 1843, papers referring to the Stewarton case were presented. It was moved that in the light of these, the Presbytery “purge its roll of all unqualified members, viz., the minister and elder of the new Church Stewarton, who have this day, in violation of the Interdict … taken their seats in the court, and also other ministers and elders of quoad sacra churches, to whom the same judgement equally applies.” It was also moved that the matter should be referred to the Commission of Assembly for advice and that the Presbytery should adjourn till the 1st Tuesday of March without conducting any other business. Before a vote was taken, a protest was made against the quoad sacra men being allowed to participate in the vote. The second motion was declared carried by a majority. Some members dissented, but the Presbytery adjourned.

At the meeting of 7th March, the Clerk reported that he had received no information regarding their having referred the matter to the Commission of Assembly, which had met on 1st March. Again it was moved that the names of the quoad sacra men be removed from the roll. This time, without the benefit of advice from the Commission of Assembly which they had sought at the previous meeting, it was moved that these names be retained on the roll. The second motion carried by 18 votes to 16. A protest was made affirming that, counting the votes of the “legal” members of the Presbytery, it was the first motion that had carried.

At their next meeting on 21st March, the division occurs. The Moderator was Norman Mcleod, minister at Loudon. He declared that he could only allow the names of “legal” members of the Court to be called and he intimated that if there were any interruption, he would withdraw with the legal members and constitute the court elsewhere. As the quoad sacra men refused to leave and as their action was supported by other members of Presbytery, Norman Mcleod and his followers withdrew to the Council Chambers and constituted the meeting again there, while the original Presbytery continued its meeting. Thus the separation, which made a disruption on 18th May inevitable.

The Stewarton Case changed the pattern of the Disruption
Prior to this case arising, the ideal situation for the non-intrusionists to bring matters to a head would involve, gaining a majority in the General Assembly, agreeing a motion to break off their relationship with the state and then adjourning to meet elsewhere as the Church of Scotland Free. The judgement of the Stewarton case prohibiting quoad sacra men from taking their places in the courts of the church changed all that. Most of the non-intrusionists’ strength lay in the quoad sacra churches. They could never hope to attain a majority of what the courts of law would consider constitutional members of the Assembly. Moreover, with the divisions that had taken place in the Presbyteries, the drawing up of the roll would be a messy business. There were double returns from the Presbyteries that had divided. Which was to be accepted as valid? There was no peaceful way of coming to an agreement on any roll – much less one that would contain a majority of non-intrusionists. The Stewarton judgement had derailed any prospect of gaining an undisputed majority of evangelicals in the Assembly.

In the event, I don’t think it made much difference. If the Stewarton case had never taken place and the non-intrusionists had gained a majority in the Assembly and repudiated the state connection, they might well have gained support from certain sections of society. As it was, they organised matters to attain a clean break with the state and the dramatic walk out and resulting procession, certainly won the admiration and the allegiance of many ordinary people.

The Stewarton case perhaps caused a change of plans, but it did not materially affect the outcome.