The Battle of Dunbar
Side lights on the conflicts of Methodism during the second quarter of the nineteenth century, 1827 – 1852
“Taken chiefly from the notes of the late Rev. Joseph Fowler of the debates of conference 1844 : a centenary contribution to the constitutional history of Methodism”
A Methodist battle of Dunbar took place, through the recommendation of the District Meeting to give up the Preacher in that historic town and to sell the chapel, but Dr. Beaumont played the Cromwell in the fight and turned it into a ” crowning mercy.”
He said : ” I object to the destroying of a Circuit formed by Wesley himself, and to the sale of its chapel without debt, which was built by Wesley, so long as we have a living Church in the place. The Circuit is the product of two generations of laborious Methodist Preachers. I should be sorry to leave not a sign of Methodism in Edinburgh and Berwick, no memorial of once glorious times. Why all this lavish sympathy for another Church in Scotland if our own children are to be left to perish with hunger ? I do protest, from the middle of my heart all round to the walls of it, against the surrender of Dunbar for the want of £25. Of the whole sum at your disposal for the relief of struggling Circuits you barely give one-twentieth to Scotland.”
Mr. McLean: ” From 1817 to 1824, when you appointed to Dunbar such men as Duncan McAllum, David McAllum, and Joseph Beaumont, and even in 1825, when poor John McLean was there, our chapel in Dunbar was crowded.”
The President interposed : “I would have Mr. McLean direct his attention to the present state of Dunbar.”
Mr. McLean : ” Well then, don’t leave the Methodist brose on the board to be lapped up by some neighbour’s dog. Let us give as much money to the Free Church as we can spare from our own people- but don’t let us hand them over too.”
Ex-President Scott : ” All that is wanted is £25 and a suitable man. We have trifled with our work in Scotland. It was found at the District Meeting that, although the Circuit stands on the Minutes as Dunbar and Haddington, yet the Preachers had only visited Haddington once during the year 1842-3.”
Dr. Newton : ” Men have gone to Scotland of late years as if it were a penal settlement, yet Methodism never was so much respected there as it is now. I will gladly go to Scotland if you will let me.”
Mr. Haswell : ” Our fault in Scotland has been the not looking after and cultivating the rural population, and the not carrying out the true Methodism of oversight, experience, and discipline. Look to this, and there will be no need to withdraw ministers or weaken Methodism in Scotland.”
Mr. Alexander Bell pleaded hard for the continuance of the minister at Dunbar.
This time, at any rate, the Conference took to the case kindly and in good earnest. From amongst the young men to be ordained they singled out a braw young Scotchman, fervid, practical, shrewd, enterprising, gallant, who had taken a course of the London Methodism of sixty years ago. So Alexander Macaulay for the space of three years devoted his redundant energies to the raising of the decayed Dunbar Circuit, founded by the Founder himself in the year of grace 1766, but now a gaunt, storm-swept relic, like its own old castle -keep upon the battered coast. And Alexander’s successors did not dissipate his little empire. To him succeeded the studious and sensitive William Mearns, and after him came Benjamin Frankland, B.A., commanding public respect and winning private confidence by his solid education, his conscientious assiduity, and his humbleness and gentleness.
There were serious difficulties in the stations. The stiffest was the appointment of Mr. Duncan to Glasgow. The minister who was then leaving Glasgow stated that Mr. Duncan would introduce gown and bands and tokens.
Dr. Beaumont: “I believe that the introduction of gown and bands has done anything but good to Methodism.”
The President: “There should be no dispute about these things. To thrust them on an unwilling people is the Puseyism of Methodism. We might wear a gown if our people generally wished it, but not otherwise.”
The President : “I wish to be relieved from the duties of Chairman of the London District.”
Mr. Scott: ” I, think that we shall never be as we ought till the President is relieved from all other work, and be episcopal in the thing though not in the name.”
The President: ” I wish a. note to be appended in the Minutes that the President has requested to be relieved from the office of Chairman.”
The President : ” Now that things are amicably settled, both amongst the Preachers and the Stewards, it is desirable that a kind letter should be sent to the disturbed Circuit, not a business letter, but an apostolic letter ; and that Mr. Fowler should write a careful and amplified letter to the friends in one of his old Circuits, who had made the unreasonable demand to have in their Circuit, at the same time, three such powerful and popular men as F. A. West, G. B. Macdonald, and F. J. Jobson. Tell them that we have taken it with the kindest consideration, but that we regard the power of appoint- ment not as a prerogative but as a trust, and that we have exercised it to the best of our judgment.”