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Colin of the Ninth Concession
Chapter XII - The Annual Pastoral Visit

THE Rev. Gavin McBean was a grave, solemn old man, who inspired awe rather than affection. He was brought up in the old Covenanting school, was most unbending, and maintained, during the forty years that he preached in the Ninth Concession kirk, a dignity and reserve which held the people at arm’s length. He was, however, a man of education and refinement, and, as Muckle Peter stoutly maintained against all critics, "a man o’ Goad, deeply versed in th’ Scruptures, an’ a powerful releegious controversalist."

He never, however, succeeded in getting down to the plane of the people, in inspiring their confidence, and in walking with them as a guide, philosopher, and friend. The character of his sermons was cold and generally of an abstract nature, and he invariably wound up by appeals for money to carry on the "schemes of the church." This was not the kind of pulpit pabulum calculated to inspire the religious enthusiasm and fervour of the settlers, and as a consequence the subscriptions diminished, until the taking up of the collection by the elders came to be called the "getherin’ of the coppers"; it was a rare thing to find on the "plate" a coin larger in denomination than a copper or penny. Indeed, it was the frequent custom for the adherents to call at the toll-gate on the way to service, and get their coins reduced to the smallest possible denomination.

The word "plate" is quoted, because the vehicle actually employed to "gether the coppers" was a black velvet bag about eight inches deep with a tassel at the bottom and was attached to a long stick. When this was passed along the pews, any member of the congregation could make as big a chink by dropping in a copper or even a button, as he could with a York shilling.

I have known the McNabb boys take to the barn when they saw the minister coming down the Concession on his annual round. It was all their mother could do to get them to come into the house, have their faces washed and a fresh clean smock hurriedly placed on their backs by the time the good man arrived.

Then the widow, all bustle and excitement (for the minister’s annual visit was an important event to the settlers), would stand the children in a row and question them on the Shorter Catechism.

"Now, Jamie lad," she would say, "tell me what is the chief end of man. The minister will be here in a moment, and I would be fashed to have him think that your spiritual training was neglected." Jamie gave the answer that is familiar to every Presbyterian.

"How many persons are there in the Godhead?" the widow next asked, of Willie. Willie was able to give the correct answer promptly.

"What is justification?" was the question asked of Lizzie. And when it was answered, the anxious mother asked a few other questions taken at random from the catechism, and by the time the answers were given, there was a knock at the front door, which Mrs. McNabb hurried to open, and the minister was ushered into the "front room." After a formal greeting, and a careful scrutiny of the room and its contents, he promptly proceeded to business.

"I hope, Mistress McNabb, that you are training up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."

Mrs. McNabb remained silent. It was, however, a very common practice among the settlers to remain silent and let the minister do all the talking. The practice led him ultimately not to expect any answer. Sometimes, to reply would seem to border on familiarity.

"Bring in your children," said the minister. "I should like to examine them on the Shorter Catechism and see if their minds are stored with religious truth."

The family filed into the room at the widow’s command, and took their stand with backs to the wall, facing the minister. Then the latter, drawing his little book from his side pocket, questioned the boys and girls closely on the catechism and the Ten Commandments, asked a few questions relating to the history of the Old Testament celebrities, and concluded by suggesting to the widow that it would be an excellent plan, and one which would keep the children out of mischief, if she would set each of them the task of reading ten chapters from the New Testament every Sunday.

"I would also suggest," he added, "that instead of visiting them with corporal punishment for any breach of discipline or domestic offence, you should assign them some such task as the reading of one of the four gospels, — John preferred."

The widow offered no suggestion or comment, and after the minister had prayed he took his leave, intimating that he would be returning up the line about supper time, and if she had no objection, he would drive in and sup with her and the family. Of course Mrs. McNabb readily acquiesced, for it was usually deemed quite an honour by the good housewives of the Scotch Settlement to entertain the minister.

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