Newmills, Fife, My First Parish
In August 1933 The Very Rev Dr Donald Fraser, D.D., wrote and informed me about a vacant Parish at Newmills, Torryburn, near Dunfermline. I found out that over a score of applicants had applied. Mr Adamson, the local headmaster, a most delightful gentleman, told me repairs were urgently required to the church and fourteen-roomed manse; also the congregation was only a handful and had no funds. A short list of three was drawn up and I was the first to preach.
Later, the voting results were Mr Caseby, 46, Mr X, 0 and Mr Y, 0. My appointment was unanimous.
We moved into the manse in early October, 1933. My wife was happy. For three years we had bought articles of furniture at sales and had it stored. When we saw the huge manse, twelve fine rooms and two large attic rooms, we set about furnishing them to live in. Friends came to our aid. Most work done, painting, papering and decorating was done free. There was a huge garden.
The day we settled in the church was packed. So too, the social evening that followed. It was a red letter day for Newmills. To my wife and myself, we were joyful- before us lay a new adventure in evangelism. The manse, overnight, became a home of beauty. My wife, with her accustomed good taste, soon had carpets down, furniture sited and curtains up. Visitors marvelled at the transformation. So too with garden, paths and lawns. Within three days of arrival, all was neat and tidy. Friends came with winter plants - broccoli, savoy and leeks; and for the borders, wallflower, forget-me-not and sweet William plants. One gardener brought a box of about two hundred tulips and daffodil bulbs.
After my first service in church there was an overflow problem so I intimated special meetings for those willing to help in some capacity such as Elders and Deacons or organizers for a planned Women's Guild, Bible Class, Sunday School, Band of Hope and for choir members. At the same time I appealed for a permanent organist and a Beadle. To my surprise over a hundred people waited after the service and all my invitations to individuals to do particular duties were willingly accepted and a system of steering and organising committees was formed and early dates agreed for their first meetings.
God moved that congregation to service like a rushing wind, blessing everything we attempted with success.
It was just nine thirty p.m. on my first Sunday. Feeling a bit exhausted and pleased with the day's events I was about to sit down to a cup of tea when the back door knocker sounded. Two men on cycles arrived with a note from Valleyfield Colliery asking me to come at once as two miners were trapped underground.
The headmaster took me in his car to the pit. The manager gave me details of the two men and their injuries and as the ambulance had only a driver I accompanied the injured men to Dunfermline Hospital, waited until I had the surgeon's report, returned by ambulance to the two homes and assured the wives that all was well. It was my first contact with the homes of miners, a privilege I have cherished for all of my life.
Midnight was chiming on the manse kitchen clock on my first Sunday in my new parish. No one was needed to sing me to sleep that night. I was back into harness and felt happy.
Within six weeks, eight elders and six deacons were appointed: a permanent organist took up duty and gathered around him a choir of sixteen. The Women's Guild, under the direction of my wife, enrolled twenty-four women. A Church Officer was taken on; ten teachers supervised the Sunday School of sixty children; twenty young teenagers attended my Bible Class; eighty-four youngsters joined the Band of Hope and forty joined the Mixed Fellowship each Sunday at seven thirty p.m.
In the same period of six weeks, the Church membership increased from fifty-eight adults to exactly two hundred. My first communicants class numbered forty. Financially, my wife and I had a struggle as I had to work three months before the salary became due. The money gifts I received on my appointment from many friends took a heavy burden from my wife's shoulders and to add to our joy, the Foreign Mission Committee, acting on pressure from two of my African colleagues, Very Rev Dr Robert Laws and Very Rev Dr Donald Fraser - granted me an invalid allowance of £120 in excess of my annual ministerial salary of £120. We were actually down to our last £1 when a cheque for £30 arrived, the quarterly payment of my invalid allowance.
I was in front of three medical consultants in three months in an attempt to find a cure for my ailments and each report said, 'This patient is suffering from tropical disorders. Must lead an orderly, quiet life'.
As we neared Christmas 1933, three months from my appointment, I had made a hurried visit, with elders, to all in the parish. There were many aged, infirm, disabled and sick under my care. I was able to help most in many different ways. Hospital patients alone numbered on average thirty per week.
One Sunday a little boy was absent from Sunday school and his parents from evening service. An office-bearer told me the child had tonsillitis.
After my fellowship meeting I walked to the next village and called at the child's home. The parents were very distressed. The doctor suspected something worse than a cold and enlarged tonsils. He took a swab and sent it by special messenger to Dunfermline Fever Hospital. I stayed in the room with the boy. He lay as if in a coma.
Two friends called to be with the family so I left about ten o'clock, to be roused at eleven thirty p.m. The boy had died from diphtheria. I hurried to the house of mourning. The parents were sitting stunned, unable to move. Their friends were terribly upset. Upstairs I found the boy lying curled up, covered by a sheet. I felt limp as I turned the little corpse over, straightened out the curves, placed the hands and arms across the body. The boy looked so very beautiful, a smile on the little lips. I had known death in many forms, of all ages, in Africa. But this was my first real testing.
I prayed with the parents who were the local school headmaster and his wife and other friends who had gathered, including the doctor. All I remember was the father rising up, clasping me in his arms, saying, 'Thank you. I understand. I must be brave, my faith counts now.
I got home about three a.m. I felt confused and exhausted. Having a family of our own we were very sorry for the parents. We tried everything in our power to bring a sense of consolation and sympathy to them.
By way of vivid contrast, that Monday afternoon I was called to the house of a lady, aged ninety-five. She told me in a strong voice, 'I pray every hour to be taken back to my Lord.'
At the child's funeral hundreds of folks wept, there were masses of flowers and gloom hung over the village.
At the old lady's one the next day there were one dozen relatives as mourners exchanging happy reminiscences afterwards and just a single wreath to mark the end of a life well spent.
At odd times I was drawing up a rota of schemes for 1934. Already, the finance of the congregation in three months exceeded the previous two years.
On Christmas Eve 1933, I was called to Valleyfield Colliery office. The general manager told me he appreciated all I had done to help the miners and their families. As a thank-you offering and a token of regard, he was allowing me, free of charge, two tons of No. 1 coal each quarter and any extra coal required at half price. Also all the coal required for the church furnace would be half price.
On 1st January 1934,1 had planned a full programme for the year. Seven students and three lay preachers had promised to stand in for me if I did not feel well. For all other organizations, twenty-two people, with many talents, agreed to speak and help me. People were very kind and as far as possible, I was willing to help them. Newmills Church was known beyond the Presbytery of Dunfermline and Kinross. Ministers were eager to exchange pulpits with me. They knew they would get a full church and hearty singing.
In February 1934, my wife gave birth to our fifth child. Like the other children, he was a sturdy, lovely baby, a boy. We called him Charles John, after his two grandfathers. I loved children and was always pleased to be in their presence. We had made many friends and we were fortunate with the kindly people who came to assist in the home.
One evening I exchanged pulpits with a Dunfermline minister. He was in our manse when I returned.
He asked me, 'How have you managed to have such a large congregation and so generous collections? I saw office-bearers tearing up envelopes, so I asked one what the collection came to. He told me morning £12, evening £1 1.'
I gave him the secret. Unnumbered freewill envelopes. He had never heard of them.
He told me he had eighteen in the choir and 107 in the pews and he loved every minute in my pulpit. I had had no choir and only twenty-one in the pews in his church. He said that was about the usual out of 580 members.
I was short of good books in my study. I had a list of ten books I desperately needed. In an Edinburgh book shop, I saw all ten priced at £18. I had not mentioned the list of books to anyone. One evening the headmaster said, 'Would you like a car run to Kirkcaldy?' I was free to go. We arrived at a house.
A retired minister once stayed here. His daughter wondered if I required books.
On a large table stood piles of books. After a cup of tea I was told to choose my books, all were free. There was one bundle of ten, exactly the ten I had on my list, the ones the bookseller wanted £18 for. In all, I got sixty valuable books free. The books were indeed an answer to my prayers.
One afternoon I came home soaked to the skin. I had three funerals in three different cemeteries: a miner, young woman and an elderly man. All were sad events.
Our family doctor was vaccinating our youngest child. When he had finished, he said abruptly, 'Get to bed at once. I'll be back in ten minutes.' He came back from the chemists with powdered quinine, etc. He examined me: 'Your pulse is far too high, your spleen too big, your temperature is 101 degrees.'
I was never so glad to rest. Dr McDougall gave me a 'shot in the arm'. I woke up next day at ten a.m. To my surprise my wife had arranged for friends to take services on two Sundays and others to fall into line in other organizations.
The children loved Daddy in bed. It was, 'Tell us another story,' and I obliged by creating the character of Cleekum and inventing new adventures for him and them over many years.
In June 1934, after a medical check-up in Edinburgh, I decided it was time we had a holiday. At the beginning of July, I took the family to Balbie (pronounced Ba'bee) Farm, a few miles from Kirkcaldy and fairly high up. It was an ideal spot. The Lawries, who had the farm, were charming; house and appointments were first-class and food excellent. The children loved the animals, fields, rocks and hedgerows. We played all sorts of games outside and came in hungry at mealtimes.
I carried a notebook with me every day, writing stories, poems, sketches, children's yarns and sermons.
On Sunday I walked down the hillside about one mile to get the Kirkcaldy bus in good time for services at Inverteil church, where I had arranged to preach during July. I enjoyed the services. Most of the sermons were ones I had composed and preached in Newmills.
NOTE: Appendix 5, Part 6,
'Obituary for Dr Robert Laws,' records a sad duty lovingly done.
NOTE: Appendix 5, Part 6, 'Obituary for Dr Robert Laws,' records a sad duty lovingly done.
This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993. All rights reserved. Used here by express permission.