Born in Campbeltown, Argyll, Norman Macleod spent his teenage years in Campsie in Stirlingshire where his father was the minister. He attended the University of Glasgow from 1827 to 1831 and then studied theology in Edinburgh. His first church charge was in Loudoun in Ayrshire followed by Dalkeith, Midlothian. He stayed within the Established Church at the Disruption of 1843 and in 1851 moved to the Barony Church. By now this was a parish with a large population of more than 87,000, many living in conditions of dire poverty. He divided the parish into twelve districts each with a group of dedicated helpers who made regular house visits to potential church members. He raised money for additional churches.
Macleod extended the parish school, set up evening classes for adults and provided a Sunday school for some 1,400 scholars. There were penny banks and refreshment rooms for the sale of cheap, but unadulterated, food for the working class. He particularly set out to contact what were called the "lapsed masses," many of the poorest who had no church contact, running special services for these where there were no pew rents and no pressure for the wearing of "Sunday suits". In 1865 he risked a heresy charge by rejecting the Glasgow presbytery's reassertion of traditional Scottish sabbatarianism. Macleod argued that there had to be a recognition that Sunday was the only day of leisure for working people and that attendance at church services should only take up part of their day.
Norman Macleod was active in church politics in the General Assembly making frequent visits abroad. He was also a prolific writer, particularly to the journal Good Words. He attracted around him a group of committed evangelical helpers who carried out mission work among the slums at the centre of the city.
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