A match made in heaven: Digby couple share 50 years of ministry

Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier jriley@digbycourier.ca
Published on May 31, 2014

Donald and Cairine Robertson have served side by side in the Baptist ministry for 50 years, 20 of those in Digby.

Finally, as Donald is about to turn 80, and Cairine 75, they figure it’s time to retire.

“There are some mixed feelings,” says Donald to a visitor in their parsonage. “If I didn’t like the job, well I’d be anxious to leave. But I love what I’m doing. At the age of 80, I think it’s time to retire and let a younger man take over.”

The two sit in their comfy chairs in the parsonage’s cozy TV room, the walls covered with pictures of their children and paintings of nature scenes done by Cairine.

Looking back over 50 years together, they take turns remembering and sometimes finishing each other’s thoughts and jokes.

Cairine says she decided quite young that she would never marry a minister.

“My father was a professor and an ordained minister, the house was always filled with theology students and missionaries and ministers,” she says. “I was steeped in it from the moment I was born, and no way was I going to marry a minister.”

Donald leans forward with a smile.

“My father and my grandfather were ministers and I had two uncles who were ministers,” he says. “Cairine’s father and her grandfather were ministers and two of her uncles were ministers.

“But she likes to say she had one up on me because her mother was a missionary in India, and well, she’s been one up on me ever since.”

Cairine’s father actually taught Donald at Acadia, and Cairine remembers Donald as one of those theology students always in and out of the house.

“You were very intent on finishing your education and getting out and working,” she says.

Donald paid his way through university by working as the janitor of the Acadia Student Union Building, enlisting in the Canadian Officers Training Corps and preaching in Port Lorne, Hampton and Margaretsville.

He graduated in 1956 and was ordained in Margaree, Cape Breton. He came back to the mainland to serve in Caledonia in 1958 and in 1963 he started in Barrs Corner.

'I have to get to know this girl better'

That summer he met Cairine, again or for real this time, at Camp Wegesegum, a Christian leadership camp in New Brunswick.

Cairine was only there because she had a car and her brother didn’t. He had convinced her to go because he needed a drive.

“And the rest is history,” says Cairine.

When asked how they met – was it a moonlilt canoe paddle, or roasting marshmallows – Cairine says there was no big moment or event.

“Yes there was,” smiles Donald. “When I saw her, well I knew her family quite well, I said, ‘I have to get to know this girl a little better’ and I asked the camp director if he could place her at my table for dinner.”

And the rest is history.

Donald was in the same cabin as Cairine’s brother and quizzed him relentlessly about her.

They went for walks and talked and after they left camp he would drive into Halifax from New Germany to visit.

In 1964 they married and she joined him in Barrs Corner.

“When I think of going to that little country place, a young minister’s wife—I didn’t have a clue, just doing my own thing,” says Cairine. “They just loved us and I get so nostalgic when I think of that place.”

Donald is quick to praise his wife’s contribution to his life’s work.

Team ministry

“The secret of the ministry we’ve had,” starts Donald. “It’s always been a joint-ministry.”

“A team,” nods Cairine.

“Her music has added so much to it,” he says. “And that’s on top of being my secretary, phone answerer, doing maintenance, but she has also had her own ministry in so many ways.

“This house has always been open and filled with visitors, with ladies Bible studies, she’s directed the senior choir, the ladies ensemble, the men’s choir.

“She has a gift for energizing people, for motivating them not to mention her ability to play from the heart and to transpose music on the fly. It’s a gift.”

The Robertsons first came to Digby in 1968 – at least it was Cairine’s first stay here.

Donald’s first stay was in 1935 when he was 18 months old – his father Alvin was the pastor at Digby Baptist from 1935 to 1940.

After seven years here, Donald and Cairine served in New Brunswick for six years, then Middleton for eight years, then back to Fredericton, then New Minas and then Middleton again.

Returning to Digby

In 2011 Donald accepted an invitation to return to Digby as interim pastor for one year.

Cairine remembers how right it felt coming back.

She had sent Donald ahead to Digby so she could “clean to [her] heart’s content”, she says.

By the time she finished it was 10 at night and she was exhausted.

She stopped in Bridgetown for coffee but still could hardly stay awake.

“I’ll never forget pulling into the parking lot and seeing all the lights glowing and Donald there to welcome me,” she says.

“It felt like I had come home. It felt right.”

That was 13 years ago, the longest they have ever stayed in one place.

Donald says his job hasn’t changed much over his 58 years.

The Bible never changes

“The Bible never changes,” he says. “Yes we have to apply it to current events and the world today but the message doesn’t change.

“A pastor is the shepherd of the people, that doesn’t change, caring for people, loving people, that is all the same.”

Cairine says her husband is the old-fashioned visiting kind of minister.

“He’s a shepherd, truly,” she says. “He’s big on visitation, that always been a priority for him.”

The Robertsons are happy to see a young couple, Rev. Jeffrey White and his wife Sharon, coming to Digby.

“We were a young couple with young children when we came here the first time” says Donald, “We had a bunch of young people in the church then and so we’re very pleased to have a young couple coming to take over.”

Donald’s final service as the pastor of Digby Baptist will be Sunday, June 29.

Cairine says it will be an emotional service.

“I imagine he’ll have tears in his eyes,” she says.

'We'll probably take longer walks'

They’ll be moving into their own home on Lighthouse Road in mid-June.

“Think of it at our age, moving into our own home,” says Cairine. “Most people our age are moving out of their own homes and we’re just moving into ours.”

The couple have always walked every morning – to keep active and healthy and to get some fresh air and sunshine and also for communication time with each other.

“We’ll probably take longer walks,” says Cairine.

“They’ll be less pressure in the mornings,” says Donald.

“Cairine and I are grateful for our twenty years among you,” wrote Donald to the congregation in May. “Now we look forward to our continued friendship with you all since this beautiful town will still be our home and we plan to remain a part of this wonderful church family.”