Monday, July 18, 2011

Duncan McColl: Soldier, Minister, Pacifist

There is a quality to the St. Croix River Valley, the border between New Brunswick, Canada, and the state of Maine, that makes people love it with an almost irrational attachment. To my mother it was "up home." To the Indians it is sacred ground, and I've heard they want all of it back. To Harold A. Davis, a historian who grew up in Calais, Maine, it was an object of affection and intense study, out of which came his charming book,   An International Community on the St. Croix (1604-1930).

The book contains many wonderful tales. One of the best is the story of Duncan McColl, founder of the first Methodist congregation in St. Stephen and St. Davids, in New Brunswick, Canada. His role in the War of 1812 was remarkable.

When this revered churchman was a young fellow in Argyll, Scotland, he was recruited to serve in the 74th Regiment of Foot, formed to help put down the American Revolution. At the Battle of Castine in Maine he was sent to take a message to one of the British officers. In doing so he was exposed to enemy fire. The bullets ripped his clothes and his headgear, but never touched his flesh, by which sign he understood that he was meant for a life in the service of God.

33 years later, after many struggles, Duncan McColl was the pastor of a thriving Methodist congregation, whose members lived on both sides of the international border. The day war was declared was a black day for them, and for everyone in the St. Croix River Valley. But Duncan McColl called all the men together with a proposition. "I've baptized you and married you," he said, "And I don't believe you want to fight each other." They said they didn't.

"Good," he said, and gave them a paper to sign in which they swore not to attack each other. And so by his efforts Duncan McColl, who had in his day been a brave soldier, made sure that peace would prevail, on that part of the border at any rate, between the warring countries.

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