Why David Borland resigned as Church Minister


The dispute between the Rev Mr Borland and the Cairneyhill United Presbyterian Congregation in as much as its unfortunate termination – the resignation of the minister – have lessons which ought not to be overlooked by young clergymen and the members of country churches. Cairneyhill is one of the numerous villages which are rapidly depopulating, and where, necessarily, year by year the problem of how a minister is to be supported becomes more difficult of solution. The majority of people who form the congregation belong to the agricultural class, who have been accustomed to get their spiritual instruction at a cost far below the market rate – the stipend of their former pastor for many a year did not exceed £100, including the value of the ‘glebe’ – while the minority, though in a better position in respect of earthly possessions, and, like the remainder of their fellow-congregationists, thoroughly drilled in the orthodox fundamentals of the UPs, have not distinguished themselves by their appreciation of the practical outcome of Voluntaryism. However democratic they may be in their notions about the land questions, and the injustice of the monopoly of the lairds; however great their desire that as in Cairneyhill so over broad Scotland there should be no other denominational name known among men then United Presbyterianism, they are conservative enough in following the example of their douce and worthy ‘faithers’ in their limited supply of ordinances. Hence it is that money matters have had some share in the causes which led to the rupture between Mr Borland and his people; and while we cannot altogether exonerate the congregation, and have a deep sympathy with the underpaid minister, we at once recognise the difficulties of the people. Perhaps a tenth of their number have not ‘five notes in a stockin’ ‘ which they can call their own, and to the parting with a copper coin weekly is a matter of some consequence; at the same time such an apology cannot be offered for the prosperous farmers, and the better class of the congregation.

But pecuniary considerations have not been the exclusive cause of the unfortunate relations between the manse and the village. There have been influences at work since the memorable day, nearly a decade ago, when Mr Borland, a young man of superior talents and great promise, was ‘settled’ as colleague and successor to the late Mr More – a ‘house-going minister’ who won a ‘church-going people’ – a pastor of the old school, who during a ministry extending over half a century gave practical proof of his acceptance of Cowper’s declaration –

‘Tis pitiful to court a grin when you should win a soul, to break a jest when pity would inspire pathetic exhortation.’

The introduction of a young man with new and modern ways into this scene was necessarily attended with considerable difficulty. From the statements made at the Presbytery meeting where Mr Borland’s resignation was announced, it appears that his appointment to the charge was opposed from the first, and that he was not so successful as could have been desired in conciliating the objectors. Possibly he loved his home and his books to much to suit the tastes of a flock accustomed to frequent pastoral visits, and who dearly loved to converse with their minister about ‘thrums and threeds’ or their ‘horses, pleughs and kye’. Certain it is, according to the testimony of his brethren in the Presbytery, he never succeeded in gaining popularity, not withstanding his acknowledged gifts as a scholar and preacher. Possibly petty criticism put him out of temper, and created a feeling that he was superior to his situation. Assuredly his position for years was disheartening; and, while there may be blame on both sides, it seems as if the Cairneyhill congregation failed to give Mr Borland the encouragement they promised, when, fresh from the Theological Hall, he made the sacrifice which the comparative isolation of life among them involved. The congregation may have had grievances over and above those which recent proceedings have made us familiar with, but it is certain that in parting with Mr Borland, they are losing a minister possessed of great talents, a Voluntary of the soundest type, and one whose position now, though it may look like a misfortune, will prove but a stepping-stone to his speedy promotion and the benefit of a more easily-satisfied congregation. Probationers ought to think well of Mr Borland’s experience, and feeble congregations like that of Cairneyhill should learn from it to a be a little more chary of picking quarrels, and to limit their desire for personal attention. The only pleasing feature of the dispute is the amicable arrangement which has been made for the winding up of the engagement between the parties. They are separating on tolerably friendly terms – the congregation offering Mr Borland the use of the manse for a period which will prevent him being put to personal inconvenience, and the minister taking the step he has done believing that it will be for the benefit of the little village church, which he prays may prosper.


Dear blog reader

That was a very interesting insight into Cairneyhill in the 1870s. It sounds like more details of the dispute was available at the time – if I find them I will share them with you.


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