Scotland in the Age of the Disruption

By Stewart J. Brown; Michael Fry | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
The Sociology of the Disruption

P. L. M. HILLIS

The wee Kirk, the Free Kirk
The Kirk wi'out the steeple
The auld Kirk, the cauld Kirk
The Kirk wi'out the people 1

THIS CONTEMPORARY RHYME suggested a bleak future for the Church of Scotland after 1843. Although slightly less pessimistic about the strength of the 'auld Kirk', Thomas Chalmers confidently predicted that in the Free Church 'the great bulk and body of the common people, with a goodly proportion of the middle classes, are upon our side, though it bodes ill for the country that the higher classes are almost universally against us'. 2 This chapter tests Chalmers's claim that the Free Church had the support of the 'common people' and a large part of the middle class. It will show that, not only was the contemporary rhyme too dismissive of the Church of Scotland, but the situation was also more complicated than Chalmers's statement would lead one to believe. The sociology of the Disruption varied according to region and according to the different social groups within each region. Moreover, social composition was not the sole determinant of religious adherence since other factors, including the personality of the local ministers and local traditions, played an important role in deciding who stayed in and who went out of the Established Church in 1843.

In order to test Chalmers's thesis the chapter will look in some detail at the social composition of Established and Free Church congregations within the three most obvious regional divisions: Highland, Lowland rural and Lowland urban. The parishes chosen within each region were those whose extant records allowed a direct comparison of the Churches' social make-up, for example Durness Parish Church and Durness Free Church. These findings are supplemented by an analysis of a range of individual congregations within the relevant region. The most detailed source for studying a congregation's social composition would have been the communion roll book but few roll books remain in existence. Therefore, baptismal registers

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