"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Nova Scotia Connections: A Day in the Life of Great Village: Rev. F.G. Francis and the Baptist Church

Though a much smaller church and congregation than the Presbyterians, the Baptist faith has had a presence in Great Village since the 1830s and 1840s. However, the first official Baptist church was not organized until the 1850s, when a meeting house was built and the members decided on formal incorporation in 1856. The Laytons, Gourleys and Spencers were three of the prominent families to join this church, which steadily grew to become a vital force in all realms of the community. Baptist preachers being of a more itinerant nature than the Presbyterians, the church has had a long series if ministers over the years. Two years ago Rev. J.C. Spurr departed and his place was filled by the genial Rev. F.G. Francis, who has been serving his flock with dedication and compassion ever since.

Great Village Baptist Church

The Baptist church, perched at the top of Hustler's Hill on the road to Londonderry, is an unimposing building, but it has stood the rigours of time and weather well since it was built in 1852. It continues to house the many activities of its members with a homely grace, in its own way as affecting as the grandness of the Presbyterian church.

Like the Presbyterians, the Baptists have had trouble with fire. In 1903 the parsonage was destroyed by fire, but the congregation rallied and were able to buy another house the next spring. However, this expense put the church deeply in debt. So the various societies and organizations have been busy ever since raising money.

The congregation supports its own active Women’s Foreign Mission Society, formed in 1874, whose sales and suppers rival in every way those of the Presbyterian ladies. Imagine what a force these ladies are when they join together, which they sometimes do. In 1907, a Mission Band was formed and its work has been steadily increasing.

Because the congregation is solely responsible for its minister’s livelihood, the members are always busy raising money and collecting goods to pay his salary and support his family. The congregation holds an annual Donation Party and en masse visit the parsonage to deliver the bounty collected.

However, the preferred way to raise money is the way preferred by the whole village: concerts. The Baptist church has its own share of talented musicians and singers. Its choir is equally, if not more, dedicated than that of the Presbyterian church.(1) And its members gladly moon-light in the musicales and concerts the church groups organize.

The members of the Baptist church, like their Presbyterian counterparts, are also in the midst of raising money for a new organ and are planning a grand concert and social for next Saturday. Their programme is impressive by any standard, with a real headliner: Miss Elsie Francis, graduate of the School of Oratory in Sackville, N.B., will give several recitations. Mrs. William (Kate) Bowers, who has a voice like an angel, has agreed to sing several songs; Miss Mabel Johnson of Oxford, a fine pianist and singer, will also perform. There is also planned a parody on “Annie Laurie” by the Musical Mayflowers, a group of young men and women in the church. The Great Village String Orchestra will be on hand to accompany one and all, and perform their own selection of instrumentals. A light but delicious refreshment is guaranteed after the entertainment has concluded. This musicale will take place at the home of Mr. L.C. Layton, one of the scions of the church and village. He often opens his home for church concerts, being the head of a musical family himself.

Tonight though, the concert committee won’t be meeting as most of the members of the church will attend Miss Harrison's lecture on India.

Rev. and Mrs. Francis are a popular couple in the Village, willing to take part in many of the community’s events. Like Rev. Gillespie, they too have been touched by the war, their son Fred enlisted early and is a Corporal in the 239th Construction Corps, stationed near Windsor, N.S. He has not yet shipped out to England, but they expect that to happen soon. Just last week Rev. and Mrs. Francis motored to Windsor with Mr. Max Layton and Miss Una Layton, to visit Fred. It is rumoured that Miss Una and Mr. Fred are fond of each other. The Rev. and his wife expect to see Fred for a visit sometime towards the end of July, when he is on leave.

Just as Rev. Gillespie has his usual daily rounds to make, so too does Rev. Francis. This morning he has an extra task, an early visit to the Bulmers. He meets Dr. Johnson on his way out and finds Will in the yard fussing with the harness on the wagon. As he approaches the verandah, the Bulmers’ funny little dog, Betsy, a dachshund, runs around the corner and jumps excitedly around the him. He leans down and gives her a good scratch behind the ears.(2)

Elizabeth Bishop and Betsy

Elizabeth is busy at the sink washing the breakfast dishes. Her little granddaughter sits in the rocking chair by the window holding the cat and a doll, chattering quietly to herself. They are waiting for Gertrude and Grace to come downstairs. Rev. Francis does not stay long, only long enough to say a prayer and wish Gertrude Godspeed. She is withdrawn and quiet. About a half hour later, as he comes out of Layton’s store, he sees Will’s wagon cross the bridge and head up the hill. He says another prayer for the poor ill Gertrude and her dear little daughter. He turns towards the bridge and Hustler Hill, heads up to the church, where he meets with Kate Bowers to talk about ordering some new music. He remembers to ask Kate about her sister Helena Blackadar, who is also missionary in India, to find out when Helena will be back home, so the Baptists can plan their own lecture about her work there.


1. Elizabeth Bishop had vivid memories of the Baptist choir. In a March 23, 1964, letter to Anne Stevenson, she wrote, “All those who sung in the choir I remember very well because I spent so many sermons studying them one by one.”

2. One of Elizabeth Bishop’s most vivid memories of Rev. Francis is connected to Betsy. On March 23, 1964, Bishop wrote Anne Stevenson: “I had a dachshund, ‘Betsy’ ─ given to my mother when I was born, and she sent her to G.V. to her mother ─ the only dog of that sort ever seen there, of course, and a Village character. The ‘big boys’ hung around on the bridge, and she was afraid of them ─ so in order to cross the village to meet my grandfather on his way back from the farm, etc. ─ she would make a long detour and actually cross the river at a wide shallow place, on stepping stones. One summer Sunday afternoon, all the good Baptists in church, the doors open, Dr. Francis, the minister, was on his knees praying, when a patter-patter was heard and Betsy trotted down the aisle past our pew. She was fond of Dr. Francis and went right up on the platform and jumped to like his face. He opened his eyes and said, ‘Why, Hello Betsy’ and then went on praying."

Ed. note: Again, a reminder that you can read this series in sequence if you go to the Nova Scotia Connections link in the menu at the top.

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