The Little Minister

eldersFew people know that James Barrie, of Peter Pan fame, wrote a book about a young man taking up his first pastoral charge. The Little Minister follows Gavin Dishart, a freshly ordained seminary graduate, as he adjusts to the village Thrums, life in the manse, and everything that goes with it. Almost nothing goes as Gavin thinks it will, and despite the book’s theological perspective, it ably shows the confidence of the seminary graduate turning into a more careful humility. Moving into the manse, preaching, troubling the session (who are holding conference there on the left), and especially falling in love, all shape Gavin. Confronted with people who are not awed by his person or piety and confounded by situations that he has never had to think through before, Gavin is forced to change, often for the better.

His very first conversation in his new home is with his predecessor, who is moving out. It is a conversation that every new minister should have with an older one:

“Gavin only saw a very frail old minister who shook as he walked, as if his feet were striking stones. He was to depart on the morrow to the place of his birth, but he came to the manse to wish his successor God-speed.

‘May you never lose sight of God, Mr Dishart,’ the old man said in the parlour. Then he added, as if he had asked too much, ‘May you never turn from Him as I often did when I was a lad like you.’

As this aged minister, with the beautiful face that God gives to all who love Him and follow His commandments, spoke of this youth, he looked wistfully around the faded parlour.

‘It is like a dream,’ he said. ‘The first time I entered this room the thought passed through me that I would cut down that cherry-tree, because it kept out the light, but, you see, it outlives me. I grew old whilst looking for the axe. Only yesterday I was the young minister, Mr Dishart, and to-morrow you will be the old one, bidding good-bye to your successor.’

His eyes came back to Gavin’s eager face. ‘You are very young, Mr Dishart?’

‘Nearly twenty-one.’

‘Twenty-one! Ah, my dear sir, you do not know how pathetic that sounds to me. Twenty-one! We are children for the second time at twenty-one, and again when we are grey and put all our burden on the Lord. The young talk generously of relieving the old of their burdens, but the anxious heart is to the old when they see a load on the back of the young. Let me tell you, Mr Dishart, that I would condone many things at one-and-twenty now that I dealt harshly with at middle age. God Himself, I think, is very willing to give one-and-twenty a second chance.’

‘I am afraid,’ Gavin said anxiously, ‘that I look even younger.’

‘I think,’ Mr Carfrae answered smiling, ‘that you heart is as fresh as your face; and that is well. The useless men are those who never change with the years. Many views that I held to in my youth and long afterwards are a pain to me now, and I am carrying away from Thrums memories of errors into which I fell at every stage of my ministry. When you are older you will know that life is a long lesson in humility… I cannot deny,’ Mr Carfrae said, ‘that I broke down more than once to-day. This forenoon I was in Tillyloss, for the last time, and it so happens that there is scarcely a house in it in which I have not had a marriage or prayed over a coffin. Ah, sir, these are the scenes that make a minister more than all of his sermons. You must join the family, Mr Dishart, or you are only a minister once a week. And remember this, if your call is from above it is a call to stay. Many such partings in a lifetime as I have had today would be too heartrending.'”