History of the Perth Baptist Church

History of the Perth Baptist Church

Article was accompanied by photos of the old Baptist Church and the “present” Baptist Church, Rev. Dr. Fife and Rev. J. P. McLennan

Perth Courier, November 16, 1917

Compiled and read by Mrs. Hugh Robertson at the annual thanksgiving offering meeting of the church held on the 5th November following the 75th anniversary.

On this the 75th anniversary of the Perth Baptist Church it has been thought fit that a sketch of its origin and history should be given at this meeting and the preparation has been allotted to me.  As a consideration, part of the contents of this paper was read in this church several years ago those who remember will bear with us if we repeat some facts.

We cannot claim to be the pioneer Baptist Church in the County of Lanark.  The earliest of which we have trace is the one in North Sherbrooke not far from Dalhousie Lake.  This first church was organized by Rev. Mr. McAlpine, grandfather of Rev. W. S. McAlpine, who two years ago gave up his charge at Delta to enlist and is now in France.    The services at North Sherbrooke were held at the home of the late Francis Davies of Perth until a meeting house was built.  In those days the fever for moving westward seems to have taken hold as it did here before the war began.  Many of them moved to western Canada and the U.S.  Consequently, this once prosperous church became extinct.  Were it in existence now it would soon celebrate its 100th anniversary as our friends the Presbyterians did lately.

In 1819 Rev. Duncan McNab, grandfather of the Misses McNab and Mrs. C.A. Farmer came to this country with his family and settled in Beckwith.  He preached on the Lord’s Day as he had opportunity besides working hard at his trade during the week.  In 1833 he organized a church in his own home, then in Elmsley, the membership numbering five.  Before there was a Baptist Church in Perth some of our parents would go there occasionally and worship with this little band.  In 1863 this church of thirty members was transferred to Smith’s Falls Church with the exception of Duncan McEwen’s family, who united with the Perth Church where some of the children are now members.  The Lord richly blessed Mr. McNab’s efforts—four Baptist churches sprang from his efforts—Beckwith, Carleton Place, Drummond and Smith’s Falls.  The Drummond church was closed for a time most of the members coming to Perth—the Campbells, Davisons, McLarens, Sinclairs, Mitchells, and others were regular attendants driving over very rough roads most of them in not very comfortable conveyances.

In 1841(?) through the generous efforts of some friends in and around Perth a Baptist Church was built on the site of this present building.  This structure was a plain, unpretentious building void of paint—the original subscription list was in the possession of the late William Allan of Allan’s Mills (father of Mrs. W. S. Robertson).  The names of members and adherents of all denominations appeared on this list and their subscriptions were paid in pounds, shillings and pence.

From time to time the Baptist minister visited Perth and preached in the stone school house which stood on D’Arcy Street where Jas. Moodie now lives.  The late Mrs. A.C. Sinclair (mother of P.R. Sinclair) remembered about the first meeting there when she was sent around with notes to announce it.  Meetings were also held at the home of Donald Campbell, Drummond (father of Mrs. James Gould).

The Rev. Robert Alexander Fife began his missionary labors in September of 1842.  The church was duly organized by him on October 31, 1842 with a membership of 25.  On this occasion Mr. Fife preached from 1 Cor 12-25 “that there should be no schism in the body but that the members should have the same care one for another”.  The following are the names of the charter members:

Mr. and Mrs. John McDiarmid

Jeanette McDiarmid

Donald Campbell

John Campbell

Mary Campbell

Mr. and Mrs. Peter McLaren

Isabella McLaren

Mr. and Mrs. R. McCallum

Jas. McCallum

Mr. and Mrs. N. McFarlane

Catharine McFarlane

Jane Galbraith

Jane McQuarry

Mr. and Mrs. Robert Kellock

Mrs. McMillan(?)

Thomas Davidson

Mrs. McEwen

Twenty one of these had been members of the Beckwith Church and letters of dismissal had been given them in order that they might unite with others in establishing the Perth church.  The Rev. R.A. Fife, the first pastor, received a salary of 60 pounds where half of which might be paid in country produce or store goods.  Three deacons, a clerk, a treasurer and five trustees constituted the first office holders.  The first deacons were Hugh McDiarmid, Neil McCallum and Robert Kellock.  Trustees were Hugh McCallum, Donald Campbell, Neil McFarland, Hugh McTavish and John McDiarmid.  The first clerk was John Campbell and the first treasurer Robert Kellock

These were to continue in office until the last Saturday in December when Murdock McDonald was chosen clerk, Robert Kellock re-elected treasurer and William Richie, John McDiarmid, John Campbell, John Richie, Francis Allan were appointed trustees and T. Davidson presenter.  It is recorded in the minutes of this business meeting that one of the male members volunteered to attend to the heating of the meeting house.  The keeping of it in a decent state was left to the women of the church who were expected to attend to it in rotation.  Rev. Fife continued his ministry for a year when he was called to Montreal to take charge of the Baptist College in that city.  Before he left the Sabbath School was organized and this has been a feeder to the church ever since.  The Sabbath School was then held before the main service.  The regular church services were held in the morning and in the afternoon many from the country remaining for the afternoon services.

The parsonage was built shortly after the church was erected.  This building still remains.

Rev. Fife was succeeded by Rev. James Cooper (afterwards Dr. Cooper).  In 1847 Rev. Peter McDonald became pastor but left the following year when Rev. R.A. Fife resumed the pastorate.  Owing to Mrs. Fife’s ill health they were forced to leave Perth after another year’s service.  Mr. Fife (afterwards Dr. Fife) was the founder of the religious educational system of our denomination.

Then followed Revs. William Porterfield, Robert Hamilton, John Cameron (father of Rev. Carson Cameron), William Ashton, James Mac - - e, Thomas Henderson (father of the late Mrs. J.F. Kennedy).  Mr. Henderson’s body lies in Elmwood Cemetery.  It was during Mr. Henderson’s time that the Sunday afternoon service was changed to evening, the Sabbath School meeting in the afternoon.  After four year’s service Mr. Henderson was succeeded by Rev. Richard Nott.  Then followed Rev. William Caldwell, author of Mick Tracy.  In 1872 Rev. Joseph Forth began his ministry which extended over eight years.  After him Rev. J.W. Thorne and then Rev. Douglas Laing whom we expected to be with us tonight but serious illness prevented his coming.  After four years successful work, Mr. Laing moved to Kingston and has just retired after serving the First Baptist Church there for 28 years.  In 1890 Rev. Ernest Grigg became pastor of the Perth Church but left after two years with his wife for missionary work in Burma.  We had hoped to have Mr. and Mrs. Grigg with us at this anniversary as they are now on furlough but Mr. Grigg is in France doing his bit.  He is doing hut work.  Mrs. Grigg is in England.  Rev. G. C.. Rock came next and was pastor from 1892 to 1907.  He was followed by Rev. R. G. Blundell who came in 1908 and left in 1912 for Medicine Hat, Alberta.  In May of 1913 our present esteemed pastor Rev. J. P. L. McLennan began his labors.

18 pastors in 75 years.  The shortest was Rev. Mr. Porterfield, 6 months; the longest was Rev. G. C. Rock, almost 15 years.  We would pay tribute to the worth of these men as shown in the devotion to their work and their self-denying labor.  Many of them attained high positions in the denomination.

The old building in its lifetime had undergone repairs and additions as circumstances demanded.  In 1851 the addition of a town gave it more ecclesiastical balance.  In 1874 the organ was introduced to aid in the singing. The presenters were:  T. L. Davidson (afterwards Dr. Davidson), John Campbell, D. Campbell, J.W. Adams and Thomas Farmer (father of Messrs. G. B. Farmer and C.A. Farmer of town; Dr. J H. Farmer of Toronto; and Rev. S. J. Farmer of Ottawa).  The organists have always given their services for free.

In 1857 a vestry was added to the rear of the main building.  But the time came when the old chapel must give place for a new one.  During the pastorate of Dr. Laing in 1888 the contract for the new edifice was set and the old historic church in which the Baptists had worshipped for two generations when so many had been brought to a knowledge of a better life, the scene of many hallowed memories, was torn down; while the new one was being built the congregation met for services in the music hall.

On the 28th June, the cornerstone was laid by Mrs. (Col.) McMillan, aunt of Miss Mary Davies, the oldest member of the church, assisted by Miss Hattie Kennedy, now Mrs. Arthur Jackson, Gananoque, and Miss Margaret Robertson, the two youngest members.  The Canada Central Association met with our church at that time consequently we had a number from other Baptist churches who witnessed this important ceremony.  Services appropriate to the occasion were held; sermons being delivered by Dr. Castle of McMaster College.

The seats were installed by Mr. W. J. Pink of Perth, a number of friends, Baptists and others, contributing to the furnishing of the church. The total cost of the building was $7,000.  During the year the congregation, aided by a few friends, handed over to H. S. Lockie, Treasurer of the building fund, $4,000 and it was not very long before the balance was paid off. 

The members of the building committee were Dr. J.D. Kellock, H. S. Leckie, Robert Richie, J.F. Kellock, and William Allan.  Two of those who took such an active part in the erection of this building were H. S. Leckie and Dr. J.D. Kellock, were in a few years after its completion called to their rest.  Only two members who witnessed the erection of the first building survived to see the building of the second—Mrs. McMillan and Mrs. James McLaren, mother of Mrs. John Flintoff of town and Mrs. D.A. McLaren of Drummond.

The opening of the new church took place on the 31st May, 1889, Rev. Douglas Laing, pastor.  At 9:30 a.m. prayer meeting presided over by H. S. Leckie, commenced with opening services.  The service at 11:00 was conducted by Rev. Joshua Denovan of Toronto.  At 3:00 in the afternoon Rev. James Ross preached..  Then at the evening service Mr. Denovan again occupied the pulpit. The opening services extended over to Monday evening when Mr. Denovan and the resident ministers of the town addressed the meeting and extended their congratulations.  Dr. Kellock gave an interesting and concise form of the history of the church since its formation.  This was published in the Courier at that time and from which we have taken some extracts.  The collection during the services were liberal amounting to $151.

On the 9th June the baptistery was used for the first time and the following persons were baptized on profession of faith:

Fred Adams

C. H. Lyon

James Malcolm

Alexander Robertson

Annie Ferguson

Gertrude Lyon

Rockcliffe Lyon

Now, when 50 years had rolled away since this church was organized by Rev. Robert Fife on the 31st Oct., 1842, it was thought advisable that the semi-centennial should be observed by special services.  On Sunday, 30th October, 1902 the pulpit was occupied both morning and evening by Rev. Joseph Forth, a former pastor – in the evening address from Heb. 13:8.  Services moved the hearers by the remembrances of the past and the pathetic illusions to the men and women in the history of the church.

In the afternoon Prof. J. H. Farmer of McMaster University, Toronto, son of the Perth church and a native of Perth, addressed the people speaking from Os. 138:2.  The speaker himself as well as the audience were deeply affected as he reviewed past manifestations with the wonderful grace and love of God in connection with the first fifty years.  The discourse of Prof. Farmer naturally took a personal tinge to some extent for it was here at the age of 16 years that he received the light of the Gospel and like David in the Psalm could not forget the benefits coming to him from it.

On Monday evening the last of the services in connection with the jubilee were held.  As we were without a pastor, Mr. G. B. Farmer occupied the chair having with him on the platform Rev. J. Forth and Prof. Farmer.  The Rev. D. Laing of Kingston and Rev. A. H. Scott of St. Andrew’s Church, town, being unable to be present, conveyed their good wishes to the meeting in letters, which were read.  Dr. Kellock gave an historical sketch of the church since its formation fifty years ago  Many letters from absent friends were read by Prof. Farmer and Dr. Kellock. The first letter read was from A.P. McDiarmid, then Foreign Mission Secretary of the Baptist Convention.  His letter was of great interest as he was a son of Hugh McDiarmid, formerly a resident of 6th Line Bathurst who with his wife and son and daughter and his son’s wife constituted the first five names on the Perth church roll.  Many letters followed.  All sent their kindly regards and best wishes as old friends who remembered the old church home.  Brief addresses from Rev. J. Forth, Prof. Farmer and John Irons, of Moody Institute of Chicago brought these successful services to an end.  About $150 was received from the collection.

Above the arch of the alcove behind the pulpit is a commemoration of the day and occasion decorated with a scroll bearing these words:  Jubilee 1842-1902 and at one side is a photo of the old church building and on the wall nearer the entrance was another frame containing the portraits of some former pastors who labored here a long time ago.  They were the Revs. Fife, Hamilton, John Cameron, Thomas Henderson, W.A. Caldwell, J.W. Thorne.  A full account of the Jubilee services was in the Perth Courier of 4th November, 1892.

It is impossible owing to the imperfect records to ascertain the whole number of members on the rolls of this church since it was organized in 1842 but we find in some of the early records that have been kept the names of many men and women, poor and humble, yet rich in faith.  The great majority of these people have passed away.

The Perth Church is not only an historic church but she has also been a mother church, has nurtured sons and daughters who going from this their first church for help to promote the cause of Christ in our won and other lands.  From this church have gone out Rev. T. L. Davidson, Rev. Allen McDougall, Dr. J. H. Farmer, Rev. W. H. Weir, Rev. S. J. Farmer, Rev. George H. Brock (India), Mrs. Ballard (India), Ernest and Mrs. Grigg (Burma) and many others. 

The church has always been self sustaining as well as regular in its contributions to the various denominational interests.

The oldest member now living is Mrs. Robert Hendry, upper Scotch Line.  Mrs. Donald Robertson comes next on the church rolls.  Mrs. George Cherry, Sr., Otty Lake, was for many years the oldest member but she died some time ago.

Present officers of our church include A.H. McLaren, clerk.  He has been appointed recently to take the place of the late Dr. J.F. Kennedy who passed away May 6, 1917.  Mr. McLaren is a grandson of the late Mr. and Mrs. Peter McLaren whose names appear among the charter members.

Other officers: 

Treasurer W. S. Robertson, son of the late Donald Robertson.

Deacons:  G. B. Farmer, Jas. Ewart, Jas. Dennison, W. S. Robertson and John Hendry.

Trustees:  C. H. Lyon, Alexander Robertson, Thomas Sharpe, and Hartley Kenyon.

Ushers:  C.A. Farmer, C. H. Lyon, T. J. Farmer, John Flintoff, Earl Scott, Colin Farmer and Hugh Robertson.

Organists:  Misses Mary Davis and Emma Robertson

The women’s foreign mission circle was organized 12th Jan., 1866.  At the same time the mission band was formed and later on the young people’s society.  These are all in connection with the church.

Like all other congregations, the war has taken from us.  However, we who remain believe that the Lord has a work for us to do for Him here and He will not fail us if we do our part.  He is faithful who promised and His promises are Yea and Amen in Christ Jesus.

In thinking of the story of the church, we ask ourselves what lessons has the past for today?  If we believe that God has been with us, let us recall the saying of Moses:  “Thou shalt remember all the way that the Lord thy God let thee”.  Trusting Him and looking up to Him for guidance in the future may we say:

So long Thy power has blest me

Sure it will lead many on

O’er moor and fen o’er crag and torrent

Till the night is gone.

Or, with Robinson

Here I raise my Ebeneezer

Higher by Thy help I am come

And I hope by Thy good pleasure

Safely to arrive at home.