Our History 1827 to Today

The congregation in the village of Chesley, Ontario owed much to the efforts of Adam Scott Elliott, who was born at Hawick in the Scottish Lowlands in 1807, and came to Canada with his father at the age of ten. They were among the families brought over by a British government eager to settle loyalists in southern Ontario, as a buffer against American encroachment in the period after the War of 1812. The Elliotts resided at Perth, Ontario, where already in 1827 Elliott’s father was protesting the introduction of uninspired hymns alongside the Psalms in the worship of the local Presbyterian church.

Adam Scott Elliott

In 1858 Elliott purchased two hundred acres where Chesley now stands, and established a saw mill and a grist mill on the North Saugeen River. His family and other families of Scottish descent were visited frequently by Reformed Presbyterian ministers. In 1873 Rev. Thomas Hannah organized a congregation of the United Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at nearby Williamsford, where Elliott was then living. The congregation and its families relocated to Chesley, and Elliott served as an elder. At Chesley in 1880, Elliott reprinted the classic critique of Isaac Watts’ hymns: An Essay on Psalmody, by William Romaine, eighteenth-century leader of the Evangelical party in the Church of England.

In the years that followed, the Chesley congregation changed its affiliation in order to find pastoral care. The present church building in Chesley was constructed in 1904.

Church in Chesley

Church in Chesley

In 1912 the congregation was received into the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and called a minister from Scotland to be their pastor. Already in 1901 several groups of Presbyterians in the nearby Ontario communities of Lochalsh, Kincardine, East Williams and Brucefield, petitioned the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland to be recognized as a part of the mission field under its care and jurisdiction. By 1918 the congregations at Chesley and the other villages had come to operate under one kirk session, and were known as the Ontario congregation of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

The pastorate of William Matheson in this far-flung congregation commenced in 1919. Matheson was a native of Lochalsh, Ontario, but went to Scotland to train for the ministry, under the auspices of the Free Presbyterian Church. During his years in Scotland one of those who responded warmly to his preaching in the Highlands was a young Free Presbyterian named John Murray.

John Murray

Murray went to Princeton Seminary in 1924 to study theology. In preaching visits to Canada during his student days the friendship with Matheson continued to grow. Both men were eventually caught up in a controversy within the Free Presbyterian Church, when its Synod determined that use of public transport on the Lord’s Day for the purpose of attending worship services was grounds for debarring church members from the sacraments. The result was that by 1931 the Synod had broken its ties with Matheson and the Free Presbyterian Church of Ontario. And when Murray completed his studies at Princeton and returned to Scotland, he found that the door to ordination in the Free Presbyterian Church was closed to him, because his views coincided with Matheson’s. In these circumstances Murray accepted a call to teach at Princeton, soon became an instructor at Westminster Theological Seminary, and in 1937 was ordained to the gospel ministry in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

William Matheson ministered to the Chesley and Lochalsh congregations, and to extensions elsewhere in Bruce, Huron and Elgin counties, Ontario, until his death in 1957. Murray traveled to Chesley to conduct Matheson’s funeral, and to pay tribute to him as his dearest friend. Murray continued to preach at Chesley and Lochalsh from time to time until his retirement from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1968. Writing after a communion season at Lochalsh, Murray said, “I think I feel most at home here and at Chesley of all the places I visit.” There had been some consideration that upon leaving the seminary, Murray might take a pastorate in the newly-formed Presbyterian Reformed Church, but the infirmity of his aged sisters at the home place necessitated his return to Ross-shire, Scotland. Murray died in Scotland in 1975.

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