The Reverend Robert Stephen

Rev. Robert Stephen

Rev. Robert Stephen

Mr. Stephen left Glasgow on March 24th and arrived in Victoria on May 18, 1881 (1). Early in his ministry, he was warmly welcomed and enjoyed some success. By 1885, however, the situation began to deteriorate. While the city and other congregations were growing, St Andrew’s was languishing. Services in some outlying areas had been discontinued and attendance at worship was irregular. Many lay the blame squarely at the feet of the minister. After some initial attempts to urge Mr Stephen to resign were unsuccessful, the Board passes a motion to reduce his annual stipend from $1,500 annually to $1,000. When that proved unsuccessful, a lengthy report was forwarded to the Church of Scotland recommending his recall(2).

There appears to have been general agreement that Mr Stephen’s ministry was not very effective. Nevertheless, he was regarded as a well meaning man and many began to feel that he was being ill treated by a Board that had overstepped its bounds. A minority report signed by R.P Rithet, Alexander Munro, Lawson and Robert Dunsmuir, some of the leading members of the congregation put it this way:

“Let it not be forgotten that Mr Stephen is the worthy scholarly minister of our church, duly ordained and appointed. It may be that he is not endowed with all the qualities, gifts and graces that constitute what many good people admire as a ‘popular preacher’ and it is evident that there are not a few in our congregation who are impatient for another change. But no one can in the least impugn Mr Stephen’s moral character or show that he is either unfit for or unworthy of his sacred office, or remiss in the constant, necessary, careful preparation for the discharge of his duties.” (3)

The matter dragged on for several more months and following intervention by the higher courts of the church, Mr. Stephen finally resigned in early 1887 with his stipend restored.

One might speculate that the Church of Scotland was not unduly disappointed when later that same year, the congregation voted to join in union with the Presbyterian Church in Canada.(4)

Sources:

  1. View Online: Daily Colonist May 7 and 18, 1881 p3
  2. Board of Managers report November 9, 1885
  3. Minority report dated September 1886
  4. View Online: Daily Colonist September 7, 1887 p4