Presbyterian open-air communions
From the early 1830’s to the turn of the century, the annual open-air communion was the spiritual and social highlight of the year for the Scottish Presbyterians on Cape Breton. It was a special time when people gathered from far and wide to engage in prayer and communion. It was also an opportunity to renew acquaintances, meet new people, and feast. Courtships often developed that inevitability led to marriages in the ensuing year.
By the mid-1850’s, these religious gatherings attracted astounding numbers of people – at times, totalling into the thousands. The open-air communions were held between June and October at central locations across the island. The host community looked forward to the five-day communion with elation, but also with trepidation as it was quite a daunting task to ensure that the event would go smoothly. The food preparation alone was a major undertaking. That, and the other logistics involved, made for a hectic time.
The popularity of the open-air communions began to wane by the early part of the 1900’s. A new custom had emerged as the communion meetings moved indoors and services were held in the churches of the respective communities. A number of Presbyterian congregations around Cape Breton held on to the traditional open-air format; however, by the late 1920’s, they were almost at an end.
In Summer 2012, the minister at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian church in the village of Whycocomagh, Reverend Andrew Macdonald, resurrected this old tradition.
An open-air communion held in 1941 to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the first Presbyterian church built in Baddeck. The ceremony was held on the former Maclean property on Baddeck Bay road which was adjacent to the original church property, and where Knox Cemetery is presently located. Photograph is courtesy of Donnell Beaton.