North Ronaldshay (1860-1861)

For many weeks now the movement has been progressing in North Ronaldsay; and in none of the islands has the awakening been more remarkable. We now present a concise statement of the principal facts since its commencement down to the 27th of December and our information is chiefly derived from the communication received by the Reverend James Walker, second minister of Saint Magnus and kindly handed to us by him. It should be observed that the movement began while the Reverend Mr Wilson of the Free church was absent in Sanday, where he was detained for nine days by stormy weather and the work consequently devolved at first entirely on the Reverend John Keillor of the Established church.

it appears that no effort was made by either Mr Keillor or Mr Wilson to produce any excitement, but as they had often together lamented the apathy of their people concerning religion, they had doubtless been preaching with increased earnestness and doubtless they had been praying earnestly for a change of mind among the people. While matters were in this state information reached the island concerning the revival on Sanday; the people conversed on the subject and someone began to ask, "will we not get a share of this great blessing?" On sabbath, November 23, after the forenoons exposition, the Rev Keillor chose as his subject of discourse "the necessity of immediate entrance into the kingdom of God," and during the service an unusual solemnity and remarkable attention characterised the audience. In the sabbath school that afternoon the same earnestness was apparent and everyone felt as if they were in the beginning of some favourable movement. On Tuesday Mr Keillor, in visiting and conversing with some of his people towards the north end of the island, discovered a strong desire for social prayer and a place of meeting being fixed, it was filled to overflowing in a very short time. During the reading of the Scriptures there was earnest attention and sighs were heard and during the prayer some weeping. It was intimated that next evening prayer meetings would be held in other two districts. On that day (Wednesday, November 28) Mr Fea, the parish teacher returned from Sanday whither he had gone a few days before and accompanied Mr Keillor to the place of meeting in the evening. It was a large barn and was completely filled, all the standing room being occupied. The meeting was opened by Mr Keillor and Mr Fea then engaged in prayer. Two boatmen were then asked to give some account of the religious awakening in Sanday, which they did in a very calm collected manner and in a subdued tone of voice. The meeting lasted two hours and many of the people were visibly and deeply impressed. Going then to the other district, where the meeting had been appointed, they found that it could not contain all the people who wished to be present, but as it was now wearing late, there was no time to adjourn to larger place. It was intimated at the close that a meeting would be held next evening in an adjoining district. In the course of Thursday it was believed that no building except one of the churches would contain the numbers who wished to be present and it was therefore resolved that the meeting be held in the parish church, and when evening came the place was nearly filled. "After exposition of scripture and prayer," says a correspondent, "one of the boatmen calmly enquired, 'has Christ no friends here?' Then he engaged in a short prayer and was very impressive. Deep silence ensued; it was evident that there was a power working in the midst of them. Their sighs became audible and at last some got up weeping and crying for mercy. The agonised tears told of the terrible struggle going on within. Others who would've been formerly ashamed to confess their sinful and ungodly lives, did say now and besought the prayers of their neighbours on their behalf. How often was the exclamation heard, "oh will nobody pray for such a sinner as I am?" The excitement became so strong that we had recourse to praise and prayer to calm it down. This partially succeeded. I left the desk to endeavour to compose parties. This was no easy task, where above 300 people were present. Various individuals got up and prayed with fluency and then the besought their friends in the most earnest and anxious tones of voice to come to Christ with them." In the Session house and outside the church multitudes were on their knees praying and some were crying out in extreme agony. With much difficulty they were induced to separate shortly after 10 o'clock.

Though Mr Wilson had not yet returned from Sanday, it was agreed to hold the next meeting in the Free church and at the request of the elders, Mr Keillor again presided. The scenes were very similar to those of the previous evening and on Saturday evening another meeting was held in the Free church conducted entirely by laymen. On sabbath, December 2, there was no service in the Free Church and the Established church was filled to overflowing. Mr Keiller's subject was continued from the previous sabbath. "Oh what earnestness was manifest in every countenance. Not a word, I am persuaded fell to the ground. Both preacher and people felt they were placed in extraordinary circumstances. As might be expected, the services were unusually prolonged. After the congregation had been dismissed and Mr Keiller had retired to the vestry, an elder was sent to tell him that the church was fitting again and that the people would not be persuaded to leave. He therefore returned and address them anew and after a further service of an hour and a half they quietly dispersed. On the Wednesday following Mr Wilson returned and held a prayer meeting in his church the same evening; and since that time meetings have been held twice a week, ultimately in the two churches and the two ministers taking part in them. On sabbath, December 23, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was dispensed in the Established church. The stormy weather prevented the arrival of anyone to assist Mr Keiller; but with the consent of all parties the evening service was preached by Mr Wilson at the Free Church and it was attended by all who could by possibility be present.

During 10 days, it is said, all work was suspended except what was absolutely necessary for the preservation of their own lives and those of their animals. They have partially resumed work, "but not in the same acquisitive spirit as formerly, as if the interests of the present world where everything." The minister writes that lately, when calling on one of the families that attended his church, "the old grey headed father actually wrung his hands at the thought of his former worldly spirit". Prayer meetings are now held in various districts in the island and every family wishes it to be held in their house that some of the family may obtain the blessing prayed for. The people look for the blessing of the Spirit and are mournful when disappointed. If I enquire why any of the family is dejected, the reply is "oh! We have not got the blessing that others have gotten." And I do believe there is not a single family in this island where the altar is not erected and upon which there is not placed the sacrifice of morning and evening prayer. If all this is not a work of God, I know not how to designate it. Numbers have obtained great joy of heart and like to converse with one another of God's goodness and his long-suffering mercy towards them." It is stated also by one who mingles much with the people, that he has not heard an oath or any improper or unkind expression since the beginning of the movement; and there is also observable "the absence of all lightness in conversation, a subduedness of spirit and a quietness of demeanour, which are very attractive and pleasant."

'Orkney Herald', 8/1/1861

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