Page 43 - Presbyterianism in Old Cape Breton
ISSUE : Issue 42
Published by Ronald Caplan on 1986/6/1
and adaptability for the expression of profound and sublime sentiments as in the mother tongue of the Scottish Highlanders. Be that as it may, the fact remains that those who engaged in public prayer--and only the elect were so favored or per- mitted--often succeeded in raising their respon? sive audience into the realms of ecstatic mysticism. But the great event in their religious life was the Open Air Communion, held once a year, and known in the vernacular as "the Sacrament." The place of meeting, in the three or four localities where such events were solemnized, was invariably on the gentle slope of a rising piece of ground, at the foot of which was a plain where were e- rected the communicants' "tables" and the minis? ters' "tent," somewhat resembling a large military sentry box. Near by, also, was to be found a rip? pling brook of clear cold water, shaded by over? arching trees; and thither old and young repaired frequently, always presumably to slake the thirst that was sure to occur between 11 o'clock in the forenoon and 3 o'clock in the afternoon when the services closed for the day. This religious gathering occupied five days, com? mencing on Thursday and closing on Monday. But at? tendance necessitated, for some people, absence from home for over a week, as for such it meant a journey of forty or fifty miles. During the months of July and August, each year, there would be five or six of these gatherings held in Cape Breton; and as the leaders in each congregation were sup? posed to attend all of them, their presence indi? cated much sacrifice of time and energy. These leaders were men of sterling character and marked natural ability: their names have been yery suitab? ly enshrined in a small pamphlet issued some years ago by Rev. Malcolm Campbell, latterly of Halifax, but for many years an ardent preacher of the Gos? pel in Cape Breton, under the aegis of the Presby? terian Church. (The pamphlet is entitled Cape Bret? on Worthies.) Besides these leaders a great many of the "faith- ful" made the complete tour of "the Sacraments;" while all classes from the neighboring parishes were in evidence, almost to the full extent of the adult population. People coming from a distance be? yond six or seven miles had to be accommodated within two or three miles of the meeting place; the stress and strain attending the efforts and the anxiety to provide such accommodation would, in these days, be considered preposterous. The a- mount of food consumed, without money and without price, was remarkable; while the ingenuity em? ployed to devise sleeping conditions was equally remarkable. As uncomfortable as they were original, all such inconveniences were overlooked and disre? garded in the exhilaration of the occasion. At the same time the labors of those ministering were ten? dered with the highest grace in the assurance that, on a future occasion, they would be recompensed by similar courtesies to be rendered by those to whom they were now catering. Types of the manner in which the old time Sacra? ment was celebrated continued to be observed in Cape Breton until about forty years ago (that is, about 1900), but latterly they were little more than miniature types. As a young boy, led by my fa? ther's hand, I am pleased to confess that I was an ardent observer of this great ceremony on more than one occasion, probably in the days of its be? ginning declension, though it was still capable of much religious radioactivity. Among many and deci? sive episodes in my experience that of the open air Communion occupies a prime position in my mem? ory, and the impression made thereby, on my plas? tic imagination, has contributed as much as, or more than, anything else in shaping my realization of the philosophy of life. As I have already stated, preparations were being made, for weeks before the meeting, to accommodate the expected crowd. The people came from far and near, some (only a yery few) in carriages, some on horseback, but most of them on foot. The universal? ly recognized church people arrived at their desti? nation on Wednesday, the day preceeding the com? mencement of the services; but the crush was not consummated until Saturday afternoon and evening. Danena's Restaurant and Take-Out OPEN 7 DAYS A WEEK: 11 A.M. TO 8 P.M' Home Cooked Meals * Home Baking 383-2113 South Harbour On the Cabot Trail near Cape North located 2 miles south of Cheticamp at 'St, POINT CROSS ~': Largest display of Cheticamp Hooked Rugs -Oil paintings by local artists- -Quality Souvenirs- Featuring: Handcrafted Clothing section -Tartans & Kilts- Sweaters, Jacl
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