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Modern Times: 1950s to The Present Day

Learning and Beliefs

By Stewart Lamont

University Chapel The fortunes of the two predominant Christian churches (Presbyterian and Roman Catholic) in Scotland improved immediately after the Second World War only to decline steadily thereafter. In 1962, the Church of Scotland could count 1.2 million adult communicant members. Forty years on, it has less than half that number. The equivalent figure for the Roman Catholic Church is about half of the Kirk's in national terms but stronger in Glasgow (despite Catholic press releases which refer to Scotland's 800,000 Catholics - a figure which includes the lapsed and babies). In reality Scotland is now a secular society, and a report to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 2002 from the Board of National Mission admits that if present trends continue the national church will be extinct in fifty years.


Billy Graham The post-war decade saw people searching for spiritual inspiration, and many found it when Billy Graham came to Kelvin Hall in 1955 with his "crusade". Church attendances boomed. This was the heyday of the Tell Scotland movement when Rev Tom Allan, an evangelical with a social conscience, could pack out St George's Tron, and evening services were still being held in most city churches.

Roman Catholic Church

Archbishop Scanlan Glasgow's Catholic population, mostly working class in origin since the Reformation, was now producing professionals in significant numbers. The Catholic Church began building churches in new housing areas to daring modern designs, although the theological climate was less adventurous. When Vatican II spawned a generation of radical theologians, they were officially discouraged from addressing Glaswegian Catholics by Archbishop Scanlan, an old style prince of the church. The wholesale embrace of the change to Mass in the vernacular at the time owed more to intense conformity to Vatican policy than to a wish to modernise.

Displaced Congregations

Titwood Parish Church In the 1960s the Presbyterians had a different problem. The building of massive outer housing estates meant that too many church buildings were located in the "wrong" places. Prior to 1929 the buildings had often belonged to rival denominations and were now unable to muster viable attendances. Many people preferred to watch the Forsyte Saga on television to attending evening services at their local kirk. Mergers and closures - in Kirk-speak they were called Unions and Re-adjustments (U&R) - might have been the solution if the Kirk had been a business, but they often resulted in bitter battles to retain buildings in which not a few verbal bricks were thrown. The Clyde Tunnel, and the M8 motorway across the Kingston Bridge threatened the very existence of still more churches, and the Presbytery Clerk, Rev Andrew Herron, shrewdly negotiated compensation for their demolition to enable new kirks to be built in places like Easterhouse and Drumchapel. Herron also kept a record of mergers and of the buildings which bit the dust, and this is happily preserved in a unique document of church history in the area.


Cardinal Winning By the 1970s both Catholic and Presbyterian churches realised that society had become deeply secularised in the previous decade. They also recognised that to ignore one another or to fling sectarian abuse was a strange way to claim allegiance to Christianity. Ecumenism began slowly enough, sometimes seeming heroic in the face of angry picketing by protestant gadflies like the independent pastor Jack Glass. There were still die-hards in both churches but in 1975 Archbishop (later Cardinal) Thomas Winning became the first Catholic to address the Kirk's General Assembly. Nowadays it is routine for a new minister or priest to have links with his "opposite number" and even to take part in the installation/induction ceremony.


Lord MacLeod of Fuinary The Kirk began to embrace changes with the introduction of women elders (1967) and ministers (1971), but its constitutional structure was not easy to reform. Glasgow ("the biggest presbytery in the world") was cumbersome, and various think-tanks and visionary plans to revitalise the Kirk at national and local level were launched enthusiastically during this era only to run up against reality. Congregations became noticeably more grey-haired and plans such as compulsory retirement at the age of 75 for all kirk elders were blocked - they were not called elders for nothing! The retirement age for ministers has now fallen to 65. The minister of Glasgow Cathedral in 2002, Rev Dr William Morris, was appointed in 1967 and is one of the last under the old system (ad vitam aut culpam), whereby a minister could continue until he died or unless he was found guilty of a moral or doctrinal offence.

Glasgow Central Mosque The Iona Community, a "ginger group" which has its roots in Govan and Iona, was founded by George (later Lord) MacLeod. It gained a higher profile with its left-wing causes during the Thatcher years and Rev John Bell became the Kirk's worship "guru" through his hymnody.

21st Century

At the beginning of the 21st century, there are many signs of vitality in the religious life of the city. Glasgow Churches Together has given an institutional expression to ecumenism. New independent evangelical churches seem to have found a niche among thirty- and forty-somethings who have grown tired of the "Big Two" and have struck out on their own. The mosque built at Kingston on the south bank of the Clyde functions without causing inter-faith tensions. In general, the "post-modern" era is a tolerant one on inter-faith terms. Initiatives like The Well, or projects like The Caring City, founded by Rev Neil Galbraith to deal with asylum seekers housed in the city, have continued to demonstrate the relevance of the churches to the social life of the city.

Nevertheless, both Catholic and Presbyterian churches face some tough choices in the years ahead. The Kirk has lost the influential position it once enjoyed in Glasgow public life and it continues to produce copious reports on its latest "crisis" whether financial or statistical. For a while it looked as if it would be replaced by the Catholic church as the city's "established" church. However, the consolidation which the latter achieved in Glasgow during the past fifty years has been eroded by a collapse in vocations to the priesthood, financial worries and various scandals. Catholic schools, which were ring-fenced from secular opposition thanks to close links with the dominant Labour Party, may not survive in a climate which seeks to demonstrate that it does not wish to discriminate against Muslims. In a secular society, the option of creating parallel schools for different religious communities is less likely than the abolition of the Catholic schools.

The golden half-century from 1950-2000 is one in which churches gave much to the city and enjoyed unique influence, but it is unlikely to be repeated.

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