Ministry At Lochs

In 1876 Mr Cameron was transferred to Lochs, a congregation to which he was no stranger, and which at that time included the whole of the Lochs district from Grimshader to Orinsay. It is said that he used to preach in the Schools even in the farthest away villages when in Lochs. The Lochs people had a high regard for Mr Cameron when he had been labouring among them during his vacations, and it was no surprise, when Rev. G. L. Campbell left them in 1875 for Glasgow, that their hearts turned to Mr Cameron. Here he was regarded with esteem and affection, especially by pious Elders, such as Murdo MacLeod, Catechist, John MacLeod, Cromore, and Alexander Maciver of Ranish.

During his five years in Lochs he experienced his own share of afflictions. A year after his ordination at Kilfinnan he had married a teacher, Miss Margaret Stuart MacQueen, a daughter of the Rev. John MacQueen, Strontian, and a sister of the Rev. Murdo MacQueen, Kiltearn. The Camerons lost two daughters at Lochs, Catherine at four months, and Annie Macinnes at four years. Two more of his children died at Back, Margaret Mary at 11 years, after swallowing a halfpenny, and Thomas at 18. His father used frequently to say to Thomas: "Eh, a laochainn, bi 'g iarraidh an Tighearna." "Eh, laddie, be seeking the Lord." The Camerons had three other sons, Donald (Dolly). John (Seonaidh Ruadh) and William. Donald was not so robust as the rest, but he became a pious Christian. Seonaidh Ruadh was an engineer in Winnipeg, Canada, and William was the renowned minister of Resolis, the father of the Rev. Hector Cameron, now of Killearnan.

Besides these bereavements Mr Cameron experienced his share of congregational trials. As long ago as 1857, Mr John MacRae. shortly after his induction to Lochs, gave a statement to the Presbytery showing the necessity of building another Church at Lochs. He pointed out the unsuitable situation of the present Church, and the difficulties the people had to encounter in coming to it, owing to the extensive roadless moors, and long arms of the sea intervening. The Presbytery, having considered Mr MacRae's statement. were of the opinion that another Church was indispensably necessary for Lochs so as to ensure a much larger attendance on divine ordinances. They said that this would make the Sabbath a day of rest. and not as at present a day of toil to many of the people, and of danger to life to which they were exposed in crossing the intervening arms of sea.

The Presbytery were also of the opinion that a Church built at Garryvard would require to accommodate 1,000 sitters, and that in an ordinary state of weather the congregation would exceed that number considerably. They were also of the opinion that Lochs would contribute the sum of £200 in two years if they got a Church at Garryvard. The Presbytery also instructed the clerk to transmit an extract minute with Mr MacRae's statement to the Trustees of the late Mr Ferguson in the hope that they would help towards the consummation of so pressing and desirable an object as another Church for the Parish of Lochs.

Rev. Roderick MacLeod of Snizort, Skye, appreciated Mr MacRae's difficulties in travelling to the outlying districts of his Congregation, and got the people of Snizort to present him with a suitable yacht, The Wild Duck, which he himself sailed to Lewis to hand it over to his friend, the minister of Lochs. When Mr MacRae left for Carloway in 1864 he left this yacht with his friend in Crobeg, Mr John MacDonald, or with his son Donald (Daniel), who later became the Land Officer at Doune, Carloway. I am not sure whether he took the yacht with him to Carloway or not, but I do know that he had a boat there, and that often when he went down there to go out fishing with it he would find it already gone, being taken by the Doune people without his permission, who on their return gave him a good share of their catch to lower his temperature!

In 1867 we find Mr Campbell, the minister of Lochs, bringing an extract minute from the Highland Committee before the Presbytery, in which it was stated that the Committee declined to grant an application from Lochs for the services of a Probationer to labour from the 1st of December for three months, the congregation offering to pay half the expenses. The Presbytery instructed the Clerk to forward Mr Campbell's application to the General Assembly, together with an extract of the Presbytery's finding.

In July 1873 we see a General Assembly's deputation meeting the Presbytery, and conferring with them on the state of the ovtlying districts within their bounds. Mr Campbell, Lochs, stated that it had become necessary for them to build a Church on the south side of Loch Erisort, where for some years a large congregation had been meeting in the open air in all states of weather. The Presbytery, being fully aware of the circumstances, approved of the proposal to build a Church in the place mentioned, and agreed to recommend this case to the Building Committee, and to the Christian public as deserving of their sympathy and aid. As Robert Hall said of Dr John Owen "He moves like a whale in a continent of mud" so we can say of these Committees, for it took them at least 20 years before anything concrete came from their deliberations so far as Lochs was concerned.

Mr Campbell was translated from Lochs to Argyll Church, Glasgow, on 17th December 1875. On 20th April 1876 Mr Cameron was inducted to Lochs. It appears that the residents of the Park district lost little time in placing their desire for a new Preaching Station being erected in their district before Mr Cameron. Although this had been mooted so long ago as 1857, shortly after Mr MacRae's induction, little progress seems to have been made; and although the Presbytery again approved of the proposal in 1867, in Mr Campbell's time, it had not yet borne the necessary fruit to bring it to completion.

The approach of the Park residents to the Lochs Session was, according to tradition, at first vehemently opposed by Mr Cameron; but the younger residents of Park were equally strong in their determination to have their own minister. They persisted in their demands, ultimately threatening to withhold their contributions to the Sustentation Fund. They indicated to Mr Cameron that these would be withheld until he submitted to their demands, and furthermore grant his consent to their request in writing. One who was present when the Sustentation contributions were brought in says: "Mr Cameron was thoroughly enraged on being told of their decision. Being closest to him at the table I retreated in face of his wrath; nevertheless we retained our contribution." This incident was repeated on two or three occasions, and whilst the contention continued, Mr Cameron denied the privilege of baptism to two persons from Lemreway for having missed three Sabbath services within a 12-month period, an action which complicated matters still further. Both parties adhered to their determination, and the youth of Park were quite determined to have their way.

Around this time a Lemreway man, who had been a crew member of a Scalpay boat, was lost at sea on a journey from Stornoway. It was suspected in some quarters that the man had been disposed of by fellow crew-members, a matter which resulted in two legal hearings in Lochmaddy. Shortly after the hearings Mr Cameron came to preach at Lemreway, and requested the heads of households to remain behind after the service. One of those involved in the above legal proceedings was a member at Lochs, and he happened to be present at the service. After the service Mr Cameron before discussing any church business, raised the events pertaining to the Lemreway man's death. But before he made any progress in this line, the member from Lochs protested, and said that he would have the first say in this matter. He stated: "I was questioned on this incident in a Court of Law, and you have no right to question me any further on it." Mr Cameron exploded, and jumping to his feet he pushed the offending member in the chest with such force, that but for the presence of the assembled public behind him he would have fallen backwards.

Later on Rev. George MacLeod, Knock, heard of this incident, he himself being a native of Habost, Lochs. When he eventually met the Lochs member, who was actually related to him, he asked for the man's permission to take the matter to Court. No doubt such an action could result in Mr Cameron being censured by the Presbytery, but the Lochs member refused his consent, stating that under no circumstances would he consider such a course, "for" he said "my soul has enjoyed such blessings under his ministry as to prevent me from giving you or anyone else the opportunity to bring him to a Court of Law. And there the matter ended.

Rev. George MacLeod was not ordained at Knock until 1886, and Mr Cameron had by then been five years at Back. Thus this incident must have taken place when Mr MacLeod was either a Student or a Probationer, Mr Cameron, of course had every right to question the Lochs member before a properly constituted Session, after due citation, even if he had been before the civil Court; for Church Courts can proceed independently of civil Courts, so far as ecclesiastical matters are concerned. Whether the Session had been called or not we are not informed. These were difficult times in large and scattered congregations, and proceedings were not always easy to carry out in strict accordance with Church Practice. As time went on Mr Cameron had become less opposed to the Park residents' request, and ultimately consented to the establishment of a separate Congregation there.

As we have seen the original proposal had been to build the church at Garryvard crossroads, but Mr Cameron had his own ideas as to where the church should be built. At a meeting convened at Gravir in connection with this he eventually won his point, so that the church was subsequently built at Gravir, where it stands to this day. It is noted that one of the Elders present suggested, "Bheir sinn Eaglais an Lic-Bhain oirre," to which Cameron replied, "Cha bhi ainm eile oirre ach Eaglais an LicBhain."

In November 1877 an extract minute from the Free Church Session of Lochs anent making an enquiry of the Church Extension Fund Committee as to the amount of aid they would grant for the erection of a Church on the south side of Loch Erisort in the event of there being a new congregation formed there, was read and ordered to be engrossed as follows:

"At Balallan, within the Schoolhouse there, the 2nd of July 1877, which day the Free Kirk Session of Lochs met and was constituted. Inter alia: In terms of the Session's resolution at its last meeting, the Elders of Keose, Laxay, Balallan and Arivruaich reported the mind of their respective districts, as to whether in the event of the present congregation being divided into two, they should choose to connect themselves with the one in the north or the one in the south of Loch Erisort. Laxay and Balallan declared in favour of the south side of the Loch; Keose sought more time to consider the matter, while the people of Arivruaich did not choose to express their mind either way.

"In view of this report it was agreed that before taking further steps in this matter, it be definitely ascertained whether they would be able to participate in the Church Extension Fund so auspiciously started at the last General Assembly, and if so to what extent. The Session being satisfied that this movement must largely depend on the character of the reply to this enquiry do refer the matter for advice to the Presbytery." The Presbytery were unanimously of the opinion that it was absolutely necessary that the present congregation of Lochs should be divided into two, the population now being close on 5,000, and spread over 24 miles square, intersected by many arms of the sea, and by fresh-water lakes, so making it impossible for one minister to perform his pastoral duties there.

The Presbytery instructed their Clerk to apply to the Church Extension Committee and to the Highland Committee as to what amount they would grant towards this important object.

The Preaching Station At Park

In June 1878 the Presbytery considered a Petition from the Kirk Session of Lochs in regard to the erection of a Preaching Station on the south side of Loch Erisort. The Presbytefy unanimously agreed to grant the prayer of the Petition, ai~l erected the said districts of Park, Gravir, Lemreway and Marvlg into a Preaching Station, but considering that this must concern materially the interests of the old Charge, it was agreed to meet at Lochs on the 25th of June for a conference with the Office-bearers and with the congregation.

Mr Cameron was appointed Interim-Moderator of the Kirk Session of the new Station of Park.

In February 1879, the Rev. Hector Cameron laid on the table an extract minute of the Kirk Session of Park, and a memorial praying the Presbytery to take steps towards the erecting of the Station into a sanctioned Charge.

The Presbytery recommended that the Station be erected into a sanctioned Charge by the ensuing General Assembly. On 25th June the finding of the Assembly was read:

"Inter alia: In the case of Park, Lochs, in the Presbytery of Lewis, the General Assembly, on the report of the Committee, with the acquiescence of parties, grant the application, and sanction this Station as a ministerial Charge, on the understanding that before proceeding to the calling of a minister the congregation shall satisfy the Presbytery, and the Sustentation Fund Committee that a sum of at least £88 be contributed to the Sustentation Fund for his maintenance."

There was also produced and read an application from the Deacons' Court of the Park Station for a grant and loan from the Church Extension Committee. To this the Presbytery agreed, and added that in their opinion this case should be given special consideration so as to receive a greater grant than a quarter of the cost. Regular services had been held in the Park district from October 1878, and the Charge was sanctioned in 1879, when the number of members and adherents was 594. The new church took a considerable time in building, as the contract, which had been undertaken by Stornoway contractors, had suffered a set-back when part of the wall collapsed during roofing, resulting in a cessation of building activity for a period of two years. Mr Cameron, however, with a threat of legal action, prevailed upon them to complete the work, and although he resigned his Moderatorship of Park in July 1880, when Mr Greenfield was appointed, it was due to his efforts that the church was eventually completed.

On 1st November 1882, two of the Elders of the Park congregation stated at the Presbytery that the church was now ready for opening, but that their Interim-Moderator was away from home, and had made no provision for the opening of the church. In these circumstances they requested the Presbytery to appoint one or more of their number formally to open it for worship. The Presbytery, therefore, appointed Messrs Cameron and Martin to go to Gravir on Tuesday first, and conduct the opening services.

At the opening service Mr Cameron, who was then at Back, expressed his great pleasure with the formation of the new congregation, and the completion of the new church.

The Park congregation did not, however, get a minister of their own until Mr Neil M. Morison was ordained and inducted there on the 27th July 1886. In October 1886, Mr Morison laid before the Presbytery a proposed plan for a new manse, of which the Presbytery disapproved. New plans were submitted on 11th November, of which the Presbytery approved.

The Congregation Of Kinloch

The erection of Park to the status of a sanctioned Charge soon produced another move for a Preaching Station. In November 1879 there was produced and read a Petition from over 600 of the inhabitants of the districts of Gary-yard, Kershader, Habost, South Keose, Laxay, Balallan and Arivruaich, Upffer Loch Erisort, Parish of Lochs, with an accompanying Petition from the Session of Lochs praying that the district be erected into a Preaching Station. The Presbytery unanimously agreed to grant the prayer of the Petitioners, "and hereby did and do erect these districts into a Preaching Station, and appoint the Rev. Donald J. Martin as Moderator of the Station pro tem".

In March 1880, the Presbytery held a conference in private upon the matter of a site for this new Station. It was agreed to meet at Lochs in order to inspect the various sites proposed, and to meet with the people thereafter. They informed the parties present from Lochs that they would meet on Tuesday at 2 p.m. at Balallan with all parties. At Balallan, on 6th April 1880, the Presbytery agreed, without a division, after conference for the site for the church of the new Station, to offer no objection to the site at Laxay Bridge, Mr Cameron dissenting for the following reasons:

1. Because the site is both uncentral and unsuitable for the interests and prosperity of the Station itself as regards especially the districts of Aline and Arivruaich.

2. Because a church placed there will be a snare and temptation to some in certain districts in the congregation of Lochs.

3. Because the erection of a church there will be much more expensive than at Balallan.

To this dissent and the first two reasons Mr Greenfield adhered.

The Presbytery thereafter met with the people when the site at Laxay Bridge was unanimously fixed upon by them.

On 28th April 1880, the matter of the site for the church at the new Station in Lochs came up for discussion again, and the following were appointed as a Committee to see the site fixed upon, and sanction it, or if not to report, viz., Messrs Cameron, Greenfield, Morison, and Martin.

The Presbytery minutes do not inform us of the report of this Committee, but, according to tradition, thereby hangs a tale. It is clear that Mr Cameron wanted the church to be sited at Balallan, as we can see from no. 3 of his reasons of dissent, and this against both the Presbytery and the congregation. His famous words, "Cha teid i suas air peircill na drochaid" are often quoted as a proof that he wanted it on the present site, but these words were probably spoken at the meeting of Presbytery at Balallan. There is a tradition that as Mr Cameron was passing along the road opposite the site of the present church his horse stopped suddenly, catapulting Mr Cameron out of the trap on to the verge of the road, and taking this as a mark from the Lord. he went no further, but conceded that this was to be the site of the new church.

In September 1880 a plan was submitted at the Presbytery for the new church at Kinloch Station, which, after a few alterations, was approved.

In January 1881 there was produced before the Presbytery an application from the Station of Kinloch to be erected into a regular ministerial Charge. The Presbytery unanimously agreed to recommend this application to the ensuing General Assembly.

Ministry at Back I...