"Why didn’t Elder Donald McLaren’s Baptist Church have communion when Elder William Trout came to visit?"

by Claude Cox

This paper seeks to clarify the question that forms its title. It is an intriguing question because McLaren’s refusal of commune with Trout led Trout to form the Disciples Church at Meaford. First we will look at the two individuals, Trout and McLaren; then their meeting in St. Vincent. Next we will posit a possible answer or two to the question; finally we will make note of continuing contacts between Disciples and Baptists at Cape Rich down to the time they ceased to meet.


William Trout’s father settled on 800 acres of land in Erin Twp. in 1821, land given by the Government in compensation for losses suffered at Fort Erie during the War of 1812. (p. 30) The Trouts attended Methodist services but William found no assurance at the mourner’s bench. Then "he incidentally heard of a few families that met in a private house some distance away, that were not Methodists. One Donald MacLaren was the leading man in the group, … They were Scotch Baptists. … It was not long after this that father was baptized —immersed, in one of those beautiful spring creeks of Erin." (p. 48)

In the late 1830s Trout had a lease on a flour mill at Norval, Esquesing Twp. The family attended meetings in the large family home of Elder John Menzies, who generally preached. A log meeting house was built on Menzies’ farm and Trout became "second to the elder in the leadership of the congregation," (p. 61) Indeed the congregation’s records list the arrival of William Trout, pastor, in 1838. (RB 390) The family was there until 1845. Trout’s son tells a story about one time when his father challenged Menzies on the propriety of examining baptismal candidates using "old hard catechetical questions". He says that Menzies pondered the challenge, then said, "go on and have it your own way." (pp. 61-62) In 1841 or 1842 Trout and Alexander Anderson were sent by the Esquesing church on a preaching trip to Prince Edward County. (p. 63) About the same time Trout attended a big evangelistic "June meeting" at Bedford, Ohio. (p. 63)

During these years Trout worked at Collingwood (1843-46 [p. 43]); built mills at Owen Sound and Sydenham Falls. (p. 67) At Collingwood the Trouts gathered a small congregation each Sunday, with Trout generally presiding. (p. 82) In the spring of 1847 Trout moved to St. Vincent Twp., purchasing 50 acres three miles north of Meaford on the shore.


Donald McLaren was "some 55 years" old when he arrived at Cape Rich in 1837 or 38. (Harding) He was born therefore about 1882. When he came to Canada and settled in Erin Twp. is not known.

At any rate, he was an elder in the Erin Twp. (Centre) church, which Butchart characterizes as a "Scotch [Scottish?] Baptist" congregation. This comment is likely dependent upon Alexander Anderson’s obituary of Trout, in which he says that Trout "was baptized and united with a group of Scotch Baptists in Caledon under the care of Elder Donald McLaren." (Family History, pp. 172-173; repr. from?) At the earliest McLaren would have come to Canada West in the 1820s, i.e. in his late 30s. McLaren baptized Trout before 1837 because in 1838 both of them left Erin Twp.: Trout moved to Esquesing Twp. and McLaren went to St. Vincent Twp. The direction of the Erin Twp. Baptist gathering was determined by the preaching efforts of James Black, who lived in the adjoining Eramosa Twp., and who, in 1836, began preaching in a schoolhouse in Erin Twp. (Rb 420) Both McLaren and Trout would have had contact with Black. Indeed much later, in 1863, Trout brought Black to preach at Cape Rich for three nights. (The Advisor II, 12 [May 1863], p. 190)

Black’s early attempts at Eramosa Twp. brought a number of people to the point where they wanted to be baptized. At that stage he wrote to a mission board in Scotland, requesting that an ordained Baptist minister come and do the baptizing. Before the missionary arrived Black had already come to the conclusion that there was no scriptural warrant to prevent any follower of Christ from preaching or administering the ordinances of the Gospel. (Family History, 50) This incident shows Black’s move from a Scottish Baptist understanding to what he would read in Campbell. Did McLaren share that view? Trout did, even though his second wife was baptized by Dugald Sinclair, an ordained Baptist, in Scotland. (Family History, 50) W.H. Trout says that at Esquesing Twp. his father usually did the baptizing, in the river. (Family History, 75)

Trout and McLaren Meet in St. Vincent

St. Vincent Twp. was surveyed in 1833-35 and settlers began to arrive even before the surveying was finished. (Bruce Cox, "Pioneers in St. Vincent Township, 1830–1850," p. 5) Donald McLaren was among the first of these and settled in the extreme north end of the township, on parts of lots 36 and 37, concession 6 and 7. Harding says he arrived with a wife, two sons, and a daughter, but is not sure if there were other children with him. At any rate, his sons numbered four: Donald; Duncan—born in Scotland in 1815 (St.Vincent book at MPL); Peter; and Archibald. (Bruce) McLaren gathered together a group of people to meet as a Baptist church. The group apparently included Richard (lot 31, conc. 7) and Joseph Cox. Had they also been baptized by McLaren at Erin? Possibly.

George Jackson, a Disciple whom Trout worked for at Collingwood, preceded the Trouts to St. Vincent in 1846. (FH, p. 43) In fact, when Jackson left, Trout lost interest in being in Collingwood. Jackson had a store in St. Vincent and Trout built him a small house at the end of it. David Layton, a Disciple, clerked for Jackson. Trout constructed a nice house for Layton, to which he brought his bride, Ellen Stephens, in the winter of 1848-49. (FH, p. 84) So, before he arrived there were several Disciples known to Trout in St. Vincent Twp.

William Trout’s early encounters with Donald McLaren at Cape Rich are described in the following way by Trout’s son:

Father was never long in any place without seeking religious affiliation or making some. So considering the prospect of St. Vincent, he thought the likliest (sic) way was to renew his old acquaintance with old Elder McLaren, who had baptized him at Erin. The old man, with several sons and daughters, had come north in advance of us, and along with a few neighbors of like mind, met as a Baptist congregation, at McLaren’s point or later cape Rich, which was six and one-half miles north of us. We had a boat which we used for a little fishing, and as our principal means of travel. So after we cecame settled in our new home, and there came a Sunday of nice weather, father and the whole family took the boat, and we rowed up to the point. We got there before their meeting time, and were most heartily received, as old friends should have been. At the meeting father was called upon for the principal speaking. There was no communion service that day. They said they had no wine. By a pressing invitation we remained to dinner, and through the afternoon, getting home for supper. This Sunday journey was made several times during the summer. They were always kind, but religiously not approachable. Father finally asked one of the members if they refrained from having communion on his and mother’s account, and was told that was the case. So he abandoned that effort, and endeavoured to start a meeting in our own home. (FH, p. 89; italics added)

The Disciples Church in Meaford began with those meetings in Trout’s house, starting in 1848. Our interest is not to follow that story but to inquire about what happened between these old acquaintances McLaren and Trout.

No Communion: why?

Theological and personal differences among Christians have often found their flash point at communion. It was the examination of worthiness in the Presbyterian church that found Alexander Campbell put his token—symbol of a passing grade—on the table and leave. What was it in this frontier situation in St. Vincent, where inhabitants were few and old friends valued, that saw Elder McLaren withhold communion from the Trouts?

1. Closed communion

Butchart is of the opinion that the Baptist church at Cape Rich practiced closed communion. He puts it this way:

[McLaren] founded a strictly Baptist congregation, from which group William Trout had evidently doctrinally emerged, after mixing with the advancing Esquesing church. Trout found the practice of close communion repugnant to his ideas of Christian fellowship, with its freedom; … (p. 417)

In her brief comments about the Baptists in St. Vincent Twp., Ufland says that McLaren was "an ordained minister". (Vina Ufland, History of the Schools of St. Vincent Township and Other Chronicles, 1847-1967, p. 237). McLaren had left the Erin Twp. church as it was making the transition to a Disciples congregation. The church he organized at Cape Rich was not a Disciples church or a "Church of Christ" (the name at Esquesing) but a Baptist church of the English order, such as he had known in Scotland. Several other immigrant preachers, like Dugald Sinclair, came from that same environment, and in the case of Sinclair, retained the central role of an ordained minister, e.g., Sinclair presided at communion throughout his life at the Poplar Hill (Lobo Twp.) church.

The late 1830s was a formative period for the Disciples impulse in Canada West. Ideas were in flux; differing understandings of ecclesiology and ministry stood alongside one another. There was so much to be done and what existed were only the beginnings. But when McLaren moved into St. Vincent and gathered a handful of adherents around him, he organized what he knew best. "Closed communion" meant that only members of the congregation could commune. Trout’s presence was awkward: McLaren could not really not serve him, since he had baptized Trout, so it was best simply not to have communion when he came.

2. McLaren versus Trout

One wonders whether closed communion was really the entire issue. In the Old Country nearly all Scotch Baptists and Scottish Baptists practiced closed communion and communion between the two groups was "rigidly discountenanced." (Yuille, History of the Baptists in Scotland, p. 60) In pioneer Ontario the situation was more fluid. The Trout family worshiped with Baptists at different times, e.g., at Peterborough, without incident. (FH, pp. 167, 168) Baptists of different stripes and Disciples went back and forth, at least some did. McLaren and Trout had been together at Erin Twp. But the situation there had changed after McLaren’s departure and when Trout moved to Esquesing Twp. he turned increasingly in the Disciples direction. Young Trout had become a "mover and a shaker" in Disciples circles, a leader in "new ways"; McLaren had stayed where he was! Trout, about ten years his junior, was a threat to McLaren’s position and to his theology, so he made the decision to be cordial but to limit the relationship. Perhaps that decision was not made the first time the Trouts showed up at McLaren’s for worship. As a Baptist church, the McLaren church would not have communion every Sunday, likely just once a month. On the other hand, maybe they did have communion each Sunday: the Trout family seems to have expected it with each visit. At any rate, it took a few visits before the communion question arose seriously in Trout’s mind. In not having communion, McLaren was protecting his group from the new ideas of Trout and sending an unspoken message to him.

Continuing Contacts between the Baptists and Disciples at Cape Rich

St. Vincent Twp. was settled in the late 1830s and in the 1840s Baptists and Disciples had increasing contact. McLaren’s youngest son, Archibald, "a son of the old man, that refused father communion with him" (FH, p.92), married a Disciple and Trout held meetings in their home when he was working at Wilson’s mill. W.H. Trout comments that his marriage indicated Archibald was "openminded to new settings of the truth." This is a jaundiced comment, but it suggests that McLaren was not open to new ways represented by the Disciples.

Donald McLaren Jr. was an entrepreneur who envisaged a town, or at least a village, at Cape Rich. By 1842 (Bruce Cox, "The Mallory Story," p. 31; 1840 [Harding]) he had built a wharf where vessels could dock, take on wood, and set off goods. His brother Duncan took over the leadership of the church and by 1868 they were able to build a churchbuilding. (Ufland, 237) Not long after this C.J. Lister, farmer, editor, preacher, reports in The Bible Indicator II, 8 (Jan. 1870) that he had held meetings at Cape Rich and used the Baptist meetinghouse. He says:

At Cape rich (sic) the Baptist Meetinghouse was given us for a few evenings, and was well filled. The clergyman attended twice. Obviously he and the writer did not speak the same things—not perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. And while arranging for another evening the deacon sturdily said, "It is settled, sir, that you don’t get this house any more." Frosm what had been said about the clergyman, his "friendliness," "agreeableness" and his "preaching so much like the Disciples" and his oft repeated wish to hear them—it is confessed that the brakes were put down rather unexpectedly.— The School House has been occupied a few times since.

Who was this "clergyman"? Maybe a preacher who had come out from Meaford. What were the differences between Lister and him? Had Lister abused the invitation somewhat? Whatever happened, this "set to" likely precipitated the construction about this time of a Disciples meetinghouse, a log structure, along the lane of Richard Cox’s place, at lot 31, conc. 7, which was, by the way, across the road from Duncan McLaren’s (lot 31, conc. 6). (MPL, St. Vincent Book). Then in 1886 the Disciples built a new meetinghouse, much more substantial, on the front corner of the Cox place, just at the road. In the early days Richard Cox was "the elder": "[he] for many years presided at the Lord’s day meetings" (Ash); later his son William was "the elder" of the congregation. William died in 1915. Note the model of ministry.

Ufland says that during the late 1870s the Baptist church waned, sharing the fate of the village. She states that it was used on occasion for years, then torn down. (p. 238) Families with the names of McIntosh, Carson, Boyd, and Kennedy had been its mainstay. When the Baptist church at the Cape closed these folks, McLaren’s progeny, became connected with the Disciples Church after all. The end came too for that small congregation when the whole area was expropriated for a Tank Range in 1942. By that time the communion issue of almost a hundred years previous was long forgotten and both Baptists and Disciples eventually found a place in larger congregations in town.