HISTORY OF NEWPORT AND THE PARISH OF FORGAN ; AND RAMBLES ROUND THE DISTRICT, by J. S. Neish, 1890
PART IX. PROGRESS OF INDEPENDENT AND OTHER CHURCHES
When Mr. Taylor resigned his office the brethren applied to Mr. Innes of the Dundee Tabernacle for advice. Since their formation into a congregation, five years previously, they had increased from sixteen to twenty-five members, a small increase, it is true, but sufficient to show that they were not destitute of vitality. Mr. Innes counselled them to select one of their own number to the pastoral oversight of the church, and, acting on his advice, their choice fell on Mr. Thomas Just, who was accordingly set apart for the work of the ministry in the year 1806. The better to qualify himself for his life work, Mr. Just attended Mr. Haldane's theological classes in Edinburgh during the winter of 1806-7, his place at Newport being temporarily supplied by Mr. Elder of Leven, Mr. Just crossing the Forth every week to supply Mr. Elder's church.
The first place in which this interesting congregation met for worship was the ground floor of the house occupied by Mr. Just's father. Old Mr. Just was very proud of the part taken by his sons in connection with the congregation, and he kindly granted them that part of his residence for their meeting house. Some time afterwards the old gentleman got indignant with the 'brethren' regarding their action in a case of discipline which came before them, and as they would not yield to his opinions, he turned them out of the house and left them to shift for themselves. Next they rented a small cottage on the banks of the Tay from a shoemaker, one of the conditions being that they should allow an old woman to live in the cottage. The 'brethren' agreed to put up with the old woman, and she did not take up much room. At their own expense they paved the floor, put in large windows, and otherwise repaired the cottage. The cottage was situated near Seamyl[n]e in Newport, and, though now greatly enlarged, is still known by the name of Chapel House, and was occupied by the late James Smith, Esquire. Here the congregation continued to meet Sabbath after Sabbath till the year 1822, when they built a small chapel, the cost of which was almost entirely defrayed by Mr. Just and his brothers. This chapel, which is still in existence, is situated in West Newport, and stands on the south side of the road leading to Woodhaven. There is a shop on the ground floor, which is presently occupied by Mrs. Murdoch. The sanctuary, which was but an 'upper room', was entered by a door at the south side of the east wall. The congregation, which had been slowly but steadily increasing, were now enabled to meet for worship in far more comfortable circumstances than had been their lot hitherto. For upwards of thirty years they worshipped in this little Zion, till it became too small to accommodate their increased numbers. A new church was built in 1868, when the chapel was sold, and the upper sanctuary is now used as a clubroom.
Mr. Just laboured with great zeal in the cause of Christ. He generally preached three times each Lord's Day in his own chapel, and, in addition, he conducted services in two neighbouring villages once a month. He was ever ready to assist his brethren in the ministry. It was not uncommon for him, after preaching in the forenoon in Newport, to come over to Dundee and assist some of his brethren there in dispensing the communion, and then return home and preach to his own people in the evening. Mr. Just was a humble, consistent Christian, and, while preaching the Gospel, he also 'lived the Gospel'. Two years after he entered on the office of the ministry, serious divisions arose among the Congregationalists on the subject of infant baptism, which led to the separation of Mr. James Haldane, pastor of the Tabernacle Church of Edinburgh, and others. But Mr. Just and his little flock remained loyal to the principles of Independency. In course of time Mr. Just married, and at his father's death he inherited the property of Broadheugh, which he cultivated himself, maintaining his family off the income derived therefrom. After a life of earnest and devoted labour in the cause of Christ, he died at Newport on 1st November, 1844, in the sixty-seventh year of his age, and the thirty-eighth of his ministry. His remains were interred in the old kirkyard of Forgan, where his dust mingles with that of several generations of his forefathers.
He was succeeded in the office of the ministry by his son Thomas Just, who studied at the Theological Academy at Glasgow. Mr. Just, junior, resigned his charge in 1849, and for a time he left the ministry. For three years the congregation was ministered to by Mr. Farley, when Mr. Thomas Just returned to Newport and resumed his duties as pastor of the congregation. Some years later Mr. Just left Newport and went to reside in England. In the year 1865 the Rev. John Tait, of Blairgowrie, was called to Newport. Under his pastoral care the congregation flourished so well that it became absolutely necessary to provide a more commodious and suitable place of worship. Funds were subscribed and a feu was secured in Kilburn Place, overlooking the old harbour, on which a handsome church was erected, from plans prepared by the late Mr. Mackenzie, architect. The building, which is quite an ornament to the village, is in the pointed Gothic style. It has a small graceful spire, and is internally fitted up with the most improved heating and ventilating apparatus, and a small organ has also been added. The cost of the building, including a commodious hall, did not exceed £2000.
The new chapel was opened on Wednesday, 23rd April, 1868. The opening services began at noon, when the Rev. Dr. Lindsay Alexander of Edinburgh preached an appropriate discourse from Ephesians iv. and 10: 'He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things'. In the evening a social meeting was held in the church, when the Rev. John Tait, the pastor, presided. The church was crowded on this occasion. In addition to several eminent ministers connected with the denomination from Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, the Rev. David Thomson, parish minister of Forgan, and the Rev. N. M'Leod, Free Church minister, Newport, were also on the platform. The proceedings were very interesting. Amongst those who addressed the meeting were the Rev. Messrs. Thomson and M'Leod, both of whom congratulated the congregation on the opening of their new church, and bade them 'God speed'. On the evening of Tuesday, 15th June, 1869, a soiree was held in the Church on the occasion of the inauguration of the new organ. The Rev. Mr. Tait presided, and several clergymen from Dundee and elsewhere addressed the meeting, and, in the course of the evening, selections of music were played on the organ.
In November, 1877, the Rev. Mr. Tait resigned the pastorate of Newport Independent congregation. His reason for taking this step was failing health. He had been forty-three years a minister of the Gospel - thirty-two years in the Congregational Church in Blairgowrie, and eleven years in Newport - and he felt himself no longer able to discharge the duties of the office with satisfaction to himself and acceptance to his people. The congregation reluctantly accepted his resignation, and in May of the following year the present pastor, the Rev. Mr. Allan, was chosen and ordained to the office. Mr. Tait still continues to reside in Newport, where he doubtless enjoys his well-earned repose after a life spent in the service of the Master. Though now released from the active duties of the ministry, he still evinces a deep interest in the welfare of the congregation, and is ever ready to lend a helping hand to his successor, and to aid in the furtherance of all the schemes connected with the congregation.
The Rev. Mr. Allan has now been nearly ten years settled in Newport, and during that time he has continued to labour with much zeal and acceptance amongst his people. The Independent congregation of Newport is now in a highly flourishing condition. It has upwards of one hundred members in full communion, a large Sabbath school and Bible classes, and its church and manse are entirely free from debt.
Dissenters did not appear to have thriven well in the parish of Forgan. We have seen what a hard struggle the Congregationalists had to maintain an 'independent' existence; and as for the other bodies, known in the early times as Relief, Burgher, Anti-Burghers, and Original Seceders, neither of them had any corporate existence in the parish. The three first-named denominations were united in 1847, and under the name of United Presbyterians they have become a powerful Church, and have lately been 'lengthening their cords and strengthening their stakes' in all parts of the country. In 1878 a congregation connected with the U.P. denomination was formed in Newport, and though still in its infancy it gives token of a vigorous manhood. As yet it may be said to have little of a history, but still the circumstances connected with its origin are worthy of being recorded.
In May, 1878, the Dundee U.P. Presbytery opened a preaching station at Newport for the purpose of supplying ordinances to their adherents during the summer, and to test whether it would be advisable to form a congregation there. The meetings were held in the Blyth Hall, and were so successful that a meeting of the friends in Newport was held on the 10th September of the same year, when it was agreed to petition the Presbytery to sanction the formation of a congregation in Newport The Presbytery, after considering the prayer of the petition, agreed to form the station into a congregation. On the 1st April of the following year (1879) the congregation gave a call to the Rev. J. S. Scotland, U.P. minister at Errol, to be their pastor. Mr. Scotland accepted the call, and was inducted at Newport on 10th September, 1879. In less than a year the congregation had been fully organised, and had a minister settled amongst them. The next important matter they had to face was the building of a church, and to this work they set themselves with great vigour. A building committee was formed, and eventually their labours were so far successful that a site was procured. The plans prepared by Messrs. G. & L. Ower, architects, Dundee, having been accepted, and subscriptions raised, the building was then proceeded with. On Saturday, 20th August, 1881, the foundation stone of the new church was publicly laid by Admiral Maitland-Dougal of Scotscraig, in presence of a large concourse of spectators. A sealed bottle containing copies of the Dundee Courier & Argus, Dundee Advertiser, Edinburgh Scotsman, and Glasgow Daily Mail, all of that date, and copies of the August numbers of the Missionary Record, and the Children's Missionary Record of the U.P. Church, was put into a cavity of the stone. In addition, the vessel contained lists of names of the members of Kirk Session, Church Managers, and Building Committee, and a brief history of the congregation. In name of the minister and congregation Mrs. Borwick presented the Admiral with a silver trowel, with which he performed the ceremony of laying the stone. Addresses were delivered suitable to the occasion, and the proceedings were opened and closed with praise and prayer.
In 1883 the members of the Episcopalian body residing in Newport began to take steps for the purpose of forming a congregation. With the sanction of the Diocesan Synod, the Bishop of St Andrews opened a mission in Newport, and placed it under the charge of the Rev. S. B. Hodson, who had for some years filled the office of diocesan chaplain and canon of St Ninians, Perth. Services were conducted for a time in the small Blyth Hall. The little flock increased rapidly, and at last it was resolved to erect a church. An appeal for funds was promptly and generously responded to by numerous friends, more especially by Miss Stewart of St Fort, and the Misses Guthrie, who subscribed largely to the building fund. A site was obtained from Mr. W. Berry of Tayfield, in a central and commanding situation adjoining the public steps leading from the pier road to Kilburn Place. The foundation stone was laid on 26th August, 1886, the ceremony having been performed by Miss Stewart of St Fort. The building was designed by Mr. Cappon of East Newport. It is named St Mary's, and is a neat little church in the early Gothic style, and is seated for 240. It was consecrated and opened for public worship by Bishop Wordsworth of St Andrews on 28th April, 1887. A fine organ has since been placed in the church.
There is now no lack of Dissenting places of worship in the parish of Forgan, and the conscientious adherents of the different denominations will not require to cross the water or walk to Tayport, as they had to do in the beginning of the present century. There was a Relief Church at Tayport in those times which the members of that body in Forgan sometimes attended, but, as the distance from Newport or Woodhaven was four or five miles, it was only the real staunch Seceders who made the pilgrimage every Sunday. In the olden times it was a prevailing custom throughout Scotland for the people to flock in large numbers from distant parishes to attend the services at communion seasons. The Relief communion at Tayport attracted great numbers from Newport to the little church which then stood near the beach. To accommodate the great influx of worshippers, a tent was erected in close proximity to the church, where, throughout the entire day, sermons were preached by ministers from distant parts of the country, who were engaged to assist the stated pastor at the sacramental services. Such customs have long been abandoned, but they serve to show how high the tide of religious feeling rose in the days of our forefathers.
Many of the strictly orthodox amongst the Scottish peasantry were highly indignant at the 'moral' preaching of the 'Moderate' party in the Established Kirk, and in their own quaint and expressive phraseology they were not slow to criticise the ministrations of the clergy. A residenter at the 'Waterside', after the induction of Dr. Maule as minister of Forgan, declared that he had attended the parish kirk for six months, and during all that time he never heard the name of Christ mentioned by the Doctor, except when he
finished a prayer with the phrase, 'for Christ's sake. Amen'. At length, the worthy man, disgusted with the Doctor and his moral disquisitions, began to attend the Independents, but they did not agree with his views of doctrine and practice. Probably, like Leighton's hero, he was prejudiced against them, and said to himself before he went-
'Down to the 'Waterside' we needna gang;
I'm tauld the ministers preach naething there
But cauld morality, new fangled ware,
That draps all faith and trusts to works alane,
That gangs skin-deep, but never cleaves the bane'.
We are afraid the lines are a gratuitous calumny on the Independents, but still, either from prejudice or differing with them on some other minor points of government, our worthy 'boatman' felt he could not cast in his lot with them. So he turned his face eastward and joined the Relief body at Tayport But, like Noah's dove, he could find no rest there, his rigid orthodox prejudices having been offended by the introduction of what was called singing the 'running line'; so he left the Seceders and once more took refuge under the wings of the Established Church.
Another orthodox boatman at the 'Westwater', rather than sit under the preaching of the 'Moderate' minister of his own parish, was in the habit of crossing to Dundee in his boat every Sabbath to listen to the 'pure evangel' which was proclaimed from the pulpit of one of the churches in the town. The worthy 'old salt' was a strict observer of the Sabbath, according to his own idea of keeping holy the day of rest. Crossing the Tay in his own boat to attend public worship, with his son to manage the 'lug', was in his eyes a work of necessity and mercy, and perhaps it was less a violation of the Fourth Commandment than driving to church in a carriage and pair. One Sunday morning, as he was about to set sail for Dundee, a hasty traveller came hurrying down to the pier and begged a passage across the river. Without much scruple the boatman consented, and the passenger took his seat in the boat. When the boat reached the Craig, the passenger took out his purse and offered the boatman sixpence for the fare, but the old man, with a pious shake of the head, refused the money, saying he 'couldna tak' siller on the Lord's Day'. The traveller did not press the point, and was about to pocket his purse again, when the old man suddenly added, 'My son Jock's forrit there; you can see what he says aboot it'. The traveller took the hint, and 'tipped' the coin into Jock's palm, and he, less scrupulous than his father, took it without any objection, but whether he was allowed to retain it for his own use is somewhat doubtful.
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