Pres­by­te­rian open-air com­mu­nions

The Victoria Standard - - Culture / Heritage - JOAN MACINNES

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.

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