"This short history of the Convention was compiled by the late Rev Archie MacVicar on the occasion of the Convention Jubilee in 1981"
JUBILEE 1931 TO 1981
A MESSAGE FROM KESWICK
On the occasion of the Jubilee of the Scottish Northern Convention at Strathpeffer, I have much pleasure in sending warm greetings and congratulations on behalf of the Keswick Convention Council. Men who themselves had been linked with Keswick and inspired by its ministry were led by God to inaugurate the Strathpeffer Convention in 1931 and we rejoice in all that such an act of faith has led to through the years. It is appropriate that in this jubilee year you should have two Keswick Council members and a frequent visitor to our Convention as your speakers. Their ministry has been greatly blessed here and we pray that God will use them mightily among you.
These are days of great confusion. Theologically and morally many Christians are not clear in their convictions. And in an age when the forces of evil are so rampant, all of us need to know the secret of living in the power of the indwelling Christ. May the "message about the secret of Christ" (Col 4:3) be preached with great clarity and may that word "be received with honour" (2 Thess 3:1) to the eternal blessing of all who hear.
Yours sincerely in Christ
MESSAGE FROM MR T S MOONEY
I am very glad that a friend's recommendation sent me on a Scottish bus tour which had its headquarters for a week at the Ben Wyvis Hotel in Strathpeffer. After I had booked the tour, I noticed in the "life of Faith" that the Scottish Northern Convention was re-opening the weekend I was due to arrive in Strathpeffer.
When I reached the church on Saturday evening it was a great pleasure to find that my dear old friend Rev Alexander Fraser, presiding, and another good friend, Rev Tom Fitch, the speaker at the young people's weekend. Since then I think I have only missed three years at the Convention. I have made many good friends there. Some of them have now joined the Church Triumphant, but their names are still a fragrant memory.
The fellowship of the Convention I have greatly prized and I thank God for the influence it has exerted - not least on many young people. I rejoice that it has reached its Jubilee and I pray that God will continue to use its ministry for many years to come.
As an office-bearer of the Portstewart Convention which has gone on continuously since 1914, I send you on behalf of our committee - some of whom have attended Strathpeffer and some also have spoken there - our congratulations on your jubilee and our prayerful good wishes for the years to be.
SCOTTISH NORTHERN CONVENTION 1931 - 1981
The year of grace 1931, humanly speaking was one of the worst years of economic depression the Britain has known. Yet it would seem that the time was ripe for a Convention along Keswick lines to take place in the North of Scotland. The face that the Jubilee of the Convention is taking place at a time of similar depression may have something very significant to say. Chief among these is that God does not await ideal economic or other conditions before He does a new thing. Obstacles in the path become opportunities when the words "Now is the day of salvation" become a challenge to God's people. The time was ripe and the place was ready. Strathpeffer with all its hotel and guesthouse accommodation at the end of the summer season was the ideal place for the North. Also, what more beautiful the "the Strath" with autumn tints, fertile fields and wooded slopes?
Conventions, however do not just happen, and "Strathpeffer" was no exception. The prime inspiration for this and many another was Keswick, but without the vision of people on the spot, it would not have happened. An awareness of God, zeal for His Kingdom and prayer are always behind such great undertakings. It would seem that there is not a single doubt that God's chief instrument in shaping the Northern Convention was the late Rev Henry Wingate Oldham, minister of Queen Street United Free Church, Tain.
A relative of the late General Orde Wingate, the Chindit leader of World War II fame, Mr Oldham was a man of varied background and experience. Educated at Morrison's Academy, Edinburgh, Central Technical College London, Westminster College Cambridge and the University of Halle, Germany, he was ordained by the Presbytery of North London as a missionary to Amoy, China in 1904. He resigned in 1920 and the following year, he was admitted as a probationer by the United Free Church. In1927, he was inducted to Tain. Typically generous, he retired in interests of union in 1942 and returned to London to assist in Crown Court Church during the difficult war years. His fellow presbyters in Tain paid him this sincere tribute on his death in 1951, "The presbytery (of Tain) remembers gratefully Mr Oldham's gracious and beautiful like of lowly and self-effacing service, his deep spirituality, his keen interest in evangelism and his missionary enterprise."
A gradual spiritual development in the 1920s arose from Faith Mission meetings held in Tain. Two Ladies, Miss Cathi MacDonald and Miss Brownlie carried on a fellowship meeting during the church vacancy, and it received the wholehearted support of the Oldhams on their arrival. The new minister soon started meeting for young people as well. Says a helpful contributor to this background: "The pastures were green; the time had come for a Convention for the deepening of the spiritual life."
A meeting of local of local ministers to consider the forming of a Northern Convention took place in the Ben Wyvis Hotel, Strathpeffer in 1930. The result of that meeting was that the first Convention was held on Monday 28 September 1931, "in Mt Johnstone's Church" that is the former United Free Church now a dwelling house. Mr R B Steward, a Glasgow businessman, was the first chairman of the Convention meetings 'till 1938. He was chairman of the Keswick Council at that time, but was also Mr Oldham's father-in-law. A dignified and capable chairman, Mr Stewart spoke at the opening meeting of the brotherhood of the beautiful things of God and he appealed for a life of consecration.
THE FIRST CONVENTION
Denominations matter less when that consecration if present in speaker and hearer alike. It was no surprise that the chairman of Keswick was accompanied in 1931 by one of the great hearts of the Keswick platform, Bishop Taylor Smith, K.C.B., D.D., former Chaplain General to the Forces. He was the main speaker that year, though as was most due, the first address was delivered by Mr Oldham. So warmly was the Bishop received, and so brimful of joy were his messages that " a wave of disappointment spread over the meetings when it was learnt that he had to leave on Wednesday." Other speakers were Mr William Dalgetty, recently returned from the Mission Field in India; Rev Dr Robert Stevenson, Gargunnock; Miss MacDonald Todd, Edinburgh and the Chairman. Miss Todd "gave a notable address to a meeting of women on the Thursday afternoon." Such was the success of the first Convention that there was no hesitation about another one in 1932.. It is fair to say that the second Convention set the pattern which, by and large, obtains fifty years on.
For the second year, Bishop Taylor Smith was back with Principal D M MacIntyre, Glasgow. That year saw the beginning of the Young People's meeting with Jimmy Duncan, late Rev J E Duncan, Kalimpong and Fort William, in charge. The Convention communion started the same year with the Rev James Johnstone, minister of the congregation, presiding.
A VINTAGE YEAR
Attendances and interest increased, and not surprisingly, some Conventions stand out in the memory of those who were regular in those early days. The year 1936 was a vintage. Still one of the "doldrums" years for the nation, it must have been difficult for many to come long distances as there was not much money around. Yet, no material or temporal impediment deters the hand of God. It is to His intervention and not to human agency alone that the success and increase of spiritual undertakings must be attributed. To refresh the minds of those who were present in 1936, the speakers were Bishop Taylor Smith, Rev F C Gibson, Captain Reginald Wallis, Rev Alexander Stewart, D.D., and Mr Jimmy Duncan. That was truly an inter-denominational platform - Church of England, Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Brethren, Free Church and Church of Scotland. One who was present says: "I believe the culmination year was 1936, when the presence of the Holy Spirit was deeply felt. There were those who experienced a real blessing coming to know something of what is meant by the filling of the spirit and going out to learn how to walk in the spirit." Another contributor adds: "I remember so well the great 1936 convention which literally produced a 'revival.' The influence of the seventeen persons converted there has reached out over the continents. For four or five years, they were all nursed to spiritual maturity by Rev Alexander MacDonald - not one dropped out."
The eighth Convention coincided with Munich as the dread theme of the hour and so in 1938, the Banner "ALL ONE IN CHRIST" was to come down, not to go up again till 1949. As the Convention was gaining momentum, and especially capturing the interest of Youth, the outbreak of hostilities meant that an impressive list of seven speakers would not be heard. The impression of eight glad years was not to be forgotten.
MEMORIES THAT REMAIN
Some who were very young in 1931 recall vividly what the Convention meant to them. There were the well attended early morning Prayer Meetings and after-meetings when it was easier to get close to the speakers. One remembers Young Men Only meetings with Bishop Taylor Smith, with "his back to the side-board in Salisbury Guest House." The more informal large gatherings had the genuine support of the local denominations and their ministers. There was serious-mindedness mixed with king good humour, love and faith. The first singing of the first evening meeting was that of Metrical Psalm 62 verses 5 to 8 - My soul wait thou with patience upon thy God alone, etc. The singing of a simple chorus before some of the addresses was found an uplifting experience by many. Open-air meetings in the Square with Rev John Murdo MacLeod gave many young people their first opportunity to witness to their faith. The first TEXT of the Convention taken by Mr Oldham was "You in me and I in you" (St John 14). He spoke of "Our one great hope and grace to supply all our needs," also "our hope of eternal life." The apt and pithy phrases of the Bishop are on record, for example: "To preach is to reach each." The impact of experiences and deliverances related by missionary speakers from different fields was considerable. The closing address of the first Convention was fittingly bases on the words "Arise and let us go hence."
THE SECOND PHASE
It is difficult to restart even a good thing after a lapse of years. However, there were those who refused to accept that the word Ichabod was a seal upon the first glorious years. The war had halted the Northern Convention, but a great cloud of witnesses remained who looked forward to it being revived.
A news item appeared in the local papers in 1948, stating that "A group of ministers and laymen formed a working committee to plan and prepare for a Convention to be held in Strathpeffer in 1949." There were appointed to the committee, Dr D Fraser, Rev R Fraser, Rev D Leitch, Mr J MacKay, Rev D MacLeod, Mr H MacRitchie, Rev I MacRury, Mr H Morrison, Rev J R Muirden, Rev M Reid and Rev R Smith. As fairly said that the cause of the Northern Convention has been all along in the hands of those committed to its advance among young and old in their generation.
In all, thirteen committee meetings were held before the first Convention re-opened in 1949. One of the decisions of the committee was to hold a Pre-Convention Rally in 1948. That took place on 30 September and the speaker chosen was the Rev G B Duncan, who was to be a frequent speaker in succeeding years. The average attendance at the evening meetings in the Parish Church in 1949 was 300. "Speakers were a notable team - Rev Tom Fitch, Rev George Duncan, Rev A Fraser (Tain), Mr Fred Mitchell, Chairman of Keswick Council and Rev G Swift, Gateshead. Three great gains shared by all who were present were a new awareness of fellowship across denominations, new respect for the Bible as a living book by which God is able to lay hold on the lives of men and women, and a new vision of Christ in all His grace and winsomeness and beauty - the vision and the awareness of Christ actually present in the lives of men and women for their healing and their saving." (Walter Reid and Iain MacRury.)
The new committee took two notable decisions right away. Regular Prayer Meetings were arranged in different districts, and they invited the Rev Alexander Fraser to be Convention chairman. Although he was near eighty, his zest and flair were much in evidence. The committee consulted him for guidance and held him in much esteem to the end his illustrious life. In 1961, they made a presentation to him as "one of the chief pioneers of the Convention." That was the occasion of his diamond Jubilee as a minister.
OFFICE - BEARERS
The first chairman after the war was Rev Iain MacRury, Strathpeffer. When he moved to Glasgow, Rev Duncan Leitch, Dingwall, succeeded him. His was a long and distinguished term of office, from 1959 to 1974. The Rev John Murdo Macleod followed but regrettably died before the 1975 Convention. He had been at the first one and like My Leitch, his contribution was not confined to the chairmanship. On the death of My Macleod, Rev Alasdair Macdonald, Contin, became chairman. The first secretary after the war was Mr James MacKay; he left in 1949 to take up work with the City Mission in Perth, and was succeeded by Rev A J Morrison (late D.D.), Logie Easter, till he moved from the district on his retirement in 1963. The chairman conveyed to him the well deserved praise of his colleagues at his last meeting. The Rev John Moore, Inverness, took up the office of secretary till he moved to Prestwick early in 1966. The chairman paid tribute to him for his able assistance and zeal for the Convention during his ministry in Inverness. Fourth in line was Rev Tom Robertson, Dingwall, secretary till 1970. He continued a vital link with the Northern Convention for some years after he left when he and Mrs Robertson acted as house-parents for the Scripture Union Houseparty at Balmoral Lodge. Rev David Innes was secretary for a short time until he left Portmahomack for Kirkwall in October 1971. The present secretary Rev Arthur Skinner, took over from David Innes. The fac that there have been to date only three treasurers since 1948, indicates that the office has been the responsibility of men more permanently resident in the area. Former Bank of Scotland manager Mr Hugh Morrison, Dingwall, was treasurer until he moved away in 1957. His valued and efficient services were acknowledged by the chairman. Mr Hugh K Robertson, Dingwall was treasurer for the next twenty years. Like his predecessor, he earned the sincere gratitude of his colleagues for his long and devoted
Service. The present treasurer, Mr Fred Leed, is proving a worthy successor, who is tackling his task well at a time of national inflation.
LINKS WITH OTHER CONVENTIONS
The most obvious link and the longest has, of course, been with Keswick. Many speakers from the Keswick platform have made a great spiritual contribution in the North; it is a joy that three such men - Rev Philip Hacking, Rev Eric Alexander and Rev George Duncan - are present to give the addresses at the jubilee. Mr Duncan was a regular speaker in Strathpeffer until his translation to St George's Tron, Glasgow. Over the years, many people from the North made their way to the Lake District in July and received much refreshing of spirit. The two-way traffic was encouraged by the setting up of a Scottish Ministers' House party in 1951, in which George Duncan featured prominently. A House party calls for house parents and that role was ably filled on several occasions by the late Chairman of Strathpeffer, Rev Duncan Leitch and Mrs Leitch. Some of the present committee are regular visitors to Keswick. An ever widening link is through the Keswick tape ministry.
A message from Mr T S Mooney is a reminder of links with the Portstewart Convention and the Church in Northern Ireland. Frazer of Tain went to Portstewart first in 1924 and after that went seventeen times in twenty-five years. Rev Duncan Leitch followed Frazer as a regular and favourite speaker. It has to be admitted that visitors from among us to Portstewart have been fewer than from them to us. However, the connection going back to the twenties, has meant that a number of able preachers of the Word from Northern Ireland, names such as Gibson, Craig, Dunlop, Carson, Grier and Glavelle, have made a lasting impact on our people. It is not too much to say that Mr Mooney himself one of the long and effective links in the chain of friendship, with his lifetime of devotion to the welfare of Youth, who has missed only three "Strathpeffers" since 1949.
FELLOWSHIP AND OUTREACH
Before the influx of so many motor cars, and the high cost of living, there were many Houseparties, organised by Missionary and other Christian Societies. That provided an opportunity for fellowship and contributed greatly to the deepening of the spiritual life. Links of friendship were forged between the home churches and missionaries on furlough or retired. From the very beginning, Strathpeffer can take credit for its missionary emphasis. All that can be said n this brief summary is that the work of a large number of Societies has been reported on by people from different fields each year as well as the overseas work of the Churches. That there is a considerable interest in missionary work of all sorts in the Convention area, is due in no small way to the regular challenge of the two missionary meetings of the Convention, one for the Young People and one at the General Convention. In the sixties, a Ministers' Houseparty was run for a few years proving the concern of the Committee to stimulate fellowship. A gaelic service was also held for some years for the benefit of those who came from different gaelic speaking areas. That service was replaced by a Ministers' Meeting on Wednesday afternoon addressed by one of the guest speakers.
UP TO DATE
Is there anything new from Strathpeffer? There is a desire to encourage young people by a greater involvement of there own resources at the Youth Weekend services. Their Group Singing is a delight. The tape Ministry is new, helped into being by the expertise of Mr Donald Macleod, headmaster of Fortrose Academny, and now operated by the treasurer. The Jubilee is new; it comes but once in a lifetime. It is good to expect great things from God, at such a time as this. More young people came from distances, undeterred by expense and the shortness of their stay. Balmoral Lodge, their house party venue organised bu the local Scripture Union Committee with Mr and Mrs Ian Lowe as house-parents, is for them a real and lively community. Balmoral is the only house party during the week as well. Time and again the Minutes of the Convention include reference to many individuals responsible for the smooth running of the Convention - stewards, organists, leaders of praise, the Strathpeffer ministers and the Kirks Session making the church available. Gratitude to God has dominated the closing remarks of every chairman. "He alone doth wondrous works in glory that excel."
"And what shall I more say? For time would fail me to tell of --------." Great souls not mentioned, though dead yet speak. Sufficient is it to say "we have a goodly heritage," so "let us arise and go hence."
This short summary has been compiled with the authority of the 1981 Convention Committee. For different reasons there are obvious gaps and omissions. It is hoped, however, that someone will be encouraged to do more research into the subject and add a further chapter to "Scotland's Keswick."
On behalf of Publicity Committee
Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following, who have provided matters of interest with much willingness.
Mrs N Beattie, Tain
Rev A G MacAlpine, Minister emeritus of Tain
Rev Ian Montgomery, Kyle
Mr John Macpherson, Glasgow
Rev A M Rennie, Ardgay
Mr George MacGillvray, Dingwall
Mr Alex Ross, Strathpeffer
Mr Hugh MacHardy, Muir of Ord
"North Star" Dingwall
"Ross-shire Journal "