Charlotte Chapel Citywide Edinburgh Missions

Charlotte Chapel Citywide Edinburgh Missions

A Group which met weekly on Thursday afternoons in St Thomas’ Scottish Episcopal Church, Costorphine, Edinburgh, asked Ian Balfour in 2001 to give a Paper about evangelistic missions in Edinburgh, particularly those in which St Thomas had been involved. St Thomas was constituted as an Independent Chapel within the Anglican Church in 1844, and has a long and worthy history of contributing to interdenominational evangelistic outreach in Edinburgh, particularly since 1945 under its rectors Rev George Duncan, Rev Dr Geoffrey Bromily, Rev Philip Hacking, Rev Gordon Bridger, Rev John Wesson, Rev Dennis Lennon, Rev Mike Parker and Rev Ian Hopkins. This is the text of the Paper which Ian gave. (Permission given by Ian Balfour).

This is not the story of the Edinburgh City Mission, which started in 1832 and which still does valuable Christian work, but an account of the years between 1873 and 1991, when Christians of many denominations in Edinburgh came together and arranged evangelistic Missions, latterly often called Crusades.
I’ve chosen six criteria for selecting which events to talk about and which ones not to include. We will look at the occasions when:

  1. Christians of many denominations worked together
  2. Invited a guest preacher
  3. Planned a series of consecutive evangelistic meetings
  4. Held them in a neutral venue (i.e., in non-church premises)
  5. Made solo singing an integral part of the message
  6. Had an ‘enquiry meeting’ at the end of the service

These were the characteristics of the Moody and Sankey Mission in 1873, and of a dozen or more subsequent Crusades until 1991. I’ll explain at the end why I’ve chosen 1991 for the last such occasion.
These criteria distinguish Missions/Crusades from other Christian activities. Obviously, there had been large evangelistic meetings in Edinburgh long before 1873. For example, from John Wesley’s Journal: ‘Sunday,

Dwight L Moody
Dwight L Moody

29 May 1763. I preached at seven in the High School yard, Edinburgh, … which drew together … an … abundance of the nobility and gentry, many of both sorts were present; but abundantly more at five in the afternoon. I spoke as plainly as ever I did in my life.’
That meets two of our criteria, a guest preacher and a neutral venue, but it wasn’t an interdenominational activity and it wasn’t a series – just morning and evening on the one day – there was no singing and no enquiry meeting.
Another area not covered is the many Rallies in neutral premises, for example in the Methodist Central Hall, when groups like Scripture Union, Christian Commandos, Youth for Christ, Youth With A Mission, and many more held evangelistic Rallies, particularly on Saturday evenings.

What about the description ‘Revivals? The word Revival is used today in three different senses:

  1. First, with a capital R, it is used for spontaneous, sometimes fairly brief, outpourings of the Holy Spirit, often characterized by (a) anxiety about sin, (b) a wish to return to righteousness and (c) many conversions. On several occasions in Edinburgh, over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there has been Revival with a capital R, but that’s not our subject this afternoon.
  2. Second, revival with a small ‘r’. Following Revivals in 1905 and 1907 in Charlotte Chapel here in Edinburgh, the old building was demolished and replaced by the present one. At the opening of the new building in 1912, the church secretary said: ‘this one-time little congregation has … enjoyed an almost continual revival, witnessed almost continually men and women far down in sin being gloriously rescued and blessedly converted to God. And then, their crowning act of faith, the erection of this new church.’ That is a common use of the word ‘revival’ (r), to describe God’s blessing over a period of time in vibrant church life. That’s not our subject this afternoon, either.
  3. Third, the word ‘revival’ is sometimes used, more in America now than here, although it was used in this sense here at the beginning of the twentieth century, for ‘a planned evangelistic event’. American church notices may say: ‘There will be a revival here, next Sunday at 11 a.m.’, meaning a planned future event with a gospel message, culminating in an appeal. That has some of our six characteristics, it is planned and it is evangelistic, and it may have a guest preacher, but it is not inter-denominational and it is not in neutral premises.

So, to 1873

Edinburgh in the late 1800s

Edinburgh in the late 1800s

1873, when for the first time in Edinburgh a guest preacher and his soloist were invited to conduct a series of evangelistic meetings in a neutral venue (i.e., in non-church premises), supported by Christians of many denominations. This set a pattern that was followed for over a hundred years, as we will see.

In June 1873, two Americans, Dwight L. Moody (preacher) and Ira D. Sankey (soloist) landed at Liverpool, practically unknown. The two men who had invited them to England had both died before Moody and Sankey arrived, so no one met them and nothing had been arranged for them. They had a contact in York, and held a mission there. This led to other engagements in the north of England. An evangelical Leith minister heard about them from his brother in Sunderland and went to see for himself; he was so impressed that he invited the Americans to come to Edinburgh. He called together a local committee, representative of all the Protestant churches, to organize the campaign. They had only six weeks to make the preparations, and started by a daily prayer meeting at noon for ministers and laypeople. The first service was on Sunday 23 November 1873 in the Music Hall in George Street, but soon the Assembly Hall on the Mound, then the largest public building in Edinburgh, was crowded every evening, except Saturday, when there was a break.

There were four innovations, all of which took Edinburgh by surprise at first, but people soon warmed to them. The first was the advertisement that ‘Mr. Moody will (D. V.) preach the gospel, and Mr. Sankey will sing the gospel’.

Many/most here will remember when it was common in evangelical circles, to add the letters D.V. – Deo Volente, ‘in the will of God’ – to announcements, because James 4:13-17 chides those whose forward planning does not include the words, ‘If the Lord wills ….

Singing was not new in revival work, but for the first time Sankey made solo singing an integral part of the service. He accompanied himself on a small organ, borrowed from the Carrubbers Close Mission and returned to them when the campaign was over. (Some of you may remember the furore when the Mission sold it to an American organisation in.1960s). Sankey’s singing ‘struck home to hearers left unmoved by Moody’s preaching’ and many conversions were directly traceable to his singing.’ One of the stories worth repeating is how a favourite hymn of earlier generations, ‘There were ninety and nine that safely lay, in the shelter of the fold …’ became popular. The evangelists had been in Glasgow and at the station on the way back, Sankey bought a local evening newspaper. When on the train, Moody asked for time to prepare for the evening rally, so Sankey glanced through the newspaper. He was taken with a poem and so cut it out and put it in his wallet. A few nights later, after Moody had preached on the parable of the Lost Sheep, he then turned to Sankey and asked him to sing an appropriate concluding song. Sankey pulled the cutting from his wallet, put it on the music-stand, and began to sing – impromptu, which is why the tune is so ‘tuneless’. Having completed the first verse, he had to remember the music he had just composed and repeat it for the other verses. It was so well received that it was soon included in hymnbooks and was a favourite at evangelistic meetings for much of the first part of the twentieth century.

The second innovation was that Moody stressed the joys of heaven and the love of God, demonstrated at Calvary; contemporary evangelists preached more on hell and judgement.

The third innovation was written requests for prayer, either by people themselves or by relatives and friends; the requests were read out by the preacher and responded to by people in prayer. Those who were ‘anxious’ (that is, concerned about their spiritual state), were invited to say so, and concerted prayer was offered for them.

The fourth novelty was the ‘enquiry meeting’ at the end of the service, for those whose conscience had been awakened by the message. Experienced Christians personally counselled them and ‘Decisions for Christ’ became the watchword of the campaign. The Campaign continued from 23 November 1873 to 21 January, two months. At the concluding meeting for converts only, 1700 were present, including a young solicitor, Andrew Urquhart, who had been converted during the Crusade and who became the saviour of Charlotte Chapel when there was serious talk in 1900 about disbanding the congregation and closing the building. The permanent effect of the mission, apart from individual conversions, was that Sunday services in many churches became more ‘user-friendly’. After the first edition of the hymnbook Sankey’s Sacred Songs and Solos came out – one penny for the words, sixpence for the music edition – Sankey’s gospel songs were sung in homes, although not yet in church services, all over the whole country.

1881, the Second Moody and Sankey mission

Carrubbers Close Mission

Carrubbers Close Mission

Moody and Sankey returned to Edinburgh by invitation in 1881, for a campaign that lasted six weeks. This time it was held in the Corn Exchange. Many came to the Saviour, but not on the scale of the 1873-4 visit. There was, however, one outcome of their second visit that has been a feature of Edinburgh evangelical life ever since. During the campaign, Moody heard that Carrubbers Close Mission, off the High Street, held an open-air meeting every evening of the year. He paid a surprise visit to one of these meetings and was greatly impressed. He was told that the work of Carrubbers could be extended if they had better premises. He set about personally collecting £10,000 for a site and a new building, and he personally laid the foundation stone of the present building at 65 High Street in 1883. A year later, in 1884, he opened the premises and preached on the text, ‘Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.’ The present internal layout dates from the late twentieth century, and the name is now Carrubbers Christian Centre.

1903, Reuben Torrey’s mission

The next citywide mission of which I am aware, and which meets the six criteria set out, was in February 1903. An American evangelist, Reuben Torrey, conducted a four-week mission in the Empire Theatre. One convert, a railwayman, who was still active at open-air meetings fifty-five years later, loved to tell how he had gone forward in response to Dr Torrey’s appeal, and how Torrey gave him a Bible, inscribed with the words:

Read daily your Bible if you would be strong
To witness for Jesus and overcome wrong;
The Author and Book will surely abide,
But they who neglect it will surely backslide.

One feature of this 1903 mission is worth noting – appealing directly to children for conversion.

Fresh ground was opened up by the evangelist on Friday afternoon [of the third week], when the Central Hall, Tollcross, was packed from floor to ceiling with young people from all ages and classes. The scripture lesson consisted of memorising Isaiah 53 v 5, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions’; after this had been done, ‘our’ was changed to ‘my’.

He was wounded for my transgressions’
After every precaution was taken to prevent boys and girls from simply following one another impulsively, about three hundred professed to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour. Particularly touching was the testimony of a nine-year-old girl, whose father had previously protested against children being encouraged to go into the inquiry room. She begged him for leave to go in, because ‘He was wounded for my transgressions’.

1913, The Gipsy Smith Mission

‘Gipsy’ Rodney Smith (1860-1947) was a much-loved evangelist. Born in a gypsy tent near London, he had no education. His father was in and out of jail, and first heard the gospel from a prison chaplain; when he was released from prison, he asked where a gospel meeting might be found, and took his six children to the local Mission. The father was converted and later sixteen-year-old Rodney, partly through hearing Ira Sankey sing. He was illiterate, but said: ‘One day I’ll be able to read and I’m going to preach too. God has called me to preach.’

‘Gipsy’ Rodney Smith

‘Gipsy’ Rodney Smith

He taught himself to read and write and began to practice preaching. One day at a Salvation Army meeting, William Booth asked the young lad to say something. Rodney sang a solo and gave his testimony. Booth asked him to become an evangelist, and he travelled widely. In 1913, the Edinburgh Evangelistic Association invited him to conduct a mission in the Assembly Hall on the Mound from Sunday 2 to Wednesday 12 March 1913. Thousands flocked to hear him, and hundreds were unable to get in. As many men were turned away from the Sunday afternoon meetings for men only as would have filled the hall twice over. The inquiry room was filled daily with seeking souls.

At a meeting for converts – note the parallel with Moody in 1873 – 120 were present. Mature Christians offered advice on how to grow in the faith, under three headings: (1) Good food (Bible study), (2) Good air (prayer) and (3) Good exercise (Christian service). Gipsy Smith was later awarded an O.B.E. for his services as an evangelist.

1914, The Chapman–Alexander Mission

John Wilbur Chapman (1859-1918) was an American Presbyterian. He is best remembered as an evangelist, but he was also the author of:

One day when heaven was filled with His praises, One day when sin was as black as could be, … Chorus: Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me; Buried, He carried my sins far away,

Chapman teamed up with Charles Alexander (1867-1920), another American, a soloist – note the continuing practice, introduced by Moody, of having a guest soloist as well as a guest preacher – still the pattern with Beverley Shea singing with Billy Graham in the 1950s, and many more. In 1913 Chapman and Alexander were asked by the Edinburgh Evangelistic Association to hold a preliminary mission in the Assembly Hall for several weeks, followed by the main mission n the Olympia Palace Picture House (Cinema), in Annandale Street, off Leith Walk, from 4 February to 4 March. A huge redbrick garage for Edinburgh city buses now occupies the site.

Chapman was dignified and serious in his preaching, but ‘Charlie’ Alexander, as he was called, ‘warmed up’ the audience with jovial humour and lively singing. His style was copied by many others, and has continued to influence the pattern of evangelistic meetings – someone to come on and get the audience into a good mood before the preaching.

A contemporary report of the Mission, while it was still in progress, read:

What shall we say about the Chapman–Alexander Mission? Unprecedented crowds. Preaching full of convicting power. Hundreds dealt with. All classes and conditions present. Great singing. Many, both saints and sinners, blessed. Cannot describe the scenes and the experiences. Wonderful. Prayers answered. Hearts cheered. Homes and lives changed. Glory be to God. And the tide is rising.

John Wilbur Chapman
John Wilbur Chapman

The Committee advertised the services in Olympia as ‘5,000 comfortable seats – grand music’. In writing the history of the Olympia Palace Picture House (the cinema in Annandale Street), an Edinburgh historian, George Baird, recently ridiculed the advertisement of 5,000 seats as ‘poetic licence’ or ‘kidology’’. He maintained that the Cinema sat only 1,800. But the Mission shows how there can be two different answers to the same question. There was such interest in the Mission that Chapman preached six times a day, so even if one ‘sitting’ could accommodate only 1,800, during one day at the Olympia, there was ample scope for 5,000 to hear him preach in a series of services.

Christian counsellors, who met with enquirers at the close of the meetings, were issued with a supply of covenant cards, perforated into two parts. The first was a record of the ‘Decision’ made and was given to the new believer; the bottom part was sent to the church of the enquirer’s preference, so that they could follow it up.
Some churches continued to use Alexander’s Hymnbook No. 3, which had been the mission songbook, at their evening (evangelistic) services for many, many years.

1924, return visit of Gipsy Rodney Smith

The Edinburgh Evangelistic Association, which had invited Gipsy Smith for the mission in the Assembly Hall in 1913, renamed itself the Edinburgh Evangelistic Union in November 1924, with two hundred Edinburgh ministers and Christian workers in membership. One of its first activities was to arrange a return visit of Gipsy Smith in April and May 1925. Lunchtime and evening meetings in St Cuthbert’s Church on weekdays were attended by over two thousand, and Sunday services in the Usher Hall, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., attracted three thousand a time, plus an overflow.

I don’t have details of any other citywide, interdenominational Crusade between the end of the First World War in 1918 and the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939; perhaps some of you can help me on that? My father spoke about Bryan Green, a Church of England rector and a passionate evangelist, who in the early 1930s was one of the youngest speakers to address the Keswick Convention; he came to Edinburgh for a series of evangelistic meetings, but where and under whose auspices I do not know.

An Irish evangelist, William Patteson Nicholson (1876-1962) was invited to conduct a Campaign in the Assembly Hall on the Mound in the late 1940s. He was known for his blunt language and some went to hear him just for that. The leader of our Covenanter Class – we had a class before church on Sunday mornings – told us that he had been at one of the meetings and that ‘WP’ had asked, ‘Is there anyone here who has never quarrelled with his wife? Half a dozen men sheepishly stood up, and Nicholson said: ‘Remain standing, and the rest of us will pray for these liars’. Ten of his sermons may be heard at^P.^Nicholson

Roy Hessian held a Crusade/Mission in the Usher Hall, early in 1946. He is perhaps best known for his 1950 book, The Calvary Road, but I remember him particularly because one of the boys in my class at school, Geoffrey Oliver, knowing that I came from a Christian home, asked me in 1946 whether I had been to any of the meetings? I said that I had been a couple of times, to which he replied that he had been every night and at one of the meetings he had become a Christian. Then there was the Tom Rees Crusade in the Usher Hall in 1953; as he stayed with my parents for the duration of the Crusade, I was there every night as chauffeur – one could park without difficulty at the front door of the Usher Hall in 1953. He had powerful messages, initially challenging Christians and, as they became enthusiastic and brought their friends, encouraging many to come to the front for counselling and conversion.

1955, All Scotland Crusade, with Billy Graham and soloist Beverley Shea

Billy Graham
Billy Graham

Although Billy Graham spoke only twice at public meetings in Edinburgh during the 1955 All Scotland Crusade – the main meetings were in Glasgow, and special buses and trains were laid on every afternoon for travel from Edinburgh to the Kelvin Hall there – it qualifies for inclusion in Edinburgh citywide Crusades for two reasons. First, the organisers asked Edinburgh Christians to form special prayer groups, including several all-night prayer meetings. The first of these was on Friday 18 March 1955, and seven hundred were present for the start at 10 p.m. There were four sessions of two hours, with a break for light refreshments at 2 a.m. ‘The tide of prayer flowed spontaneous and free. It was an inspiration to be present. Our oneness in Christ, though all denominations were represented, was abundantly manifest.’ Five hundred were still present and participating when the meeting concluded at 6 a.m. Two similar nights were held on Fridays 1 and 22 April. There was also a daily central meeting for prayer at lunchtime throughout the month of April.

Secondly, the All Scotland Crusade qualifies for mention here because on Wednesday 20 April the evangelists and their team appeared personally at Tynecastle Park, the home of the Heart of Midlothian Football Club, for a rally at 2 p.m. Twenty thousand (including me) were present and after a service lasting for 90 minutes, 922 came forward and recorded their decisions for Christ. Two days later, Billy Graham spoke to students in the McEwan Hall, at which I was also present. (In the committee room, preparatory to the meeting, someone asked Billy Graham how he prepared to address an audience of students. He replied, ‘As I do to speak to my Sunday School class.’

For the last ten days of the All Scotland Crusade, there were audio relays from the Kelvin Hall to forty centres throughout Scotland, including Edinburgh.

1965, Edinburgh Christian Crusade

On his arrival in Edinburgh, as the new minister of Charlotte Chapel, Alan Redpath proposed holding a citywide evangelistic crusade for three weeks in the autumn of 1965. He had a speaker and a committee already in his mind, with Philip Hacking (Rector of St Thomas) as chairman, but he was anxious that it should be an inter-church effort. The Edinburgh Evangelistic Union was renamed the Edinburgh Evangelical Council, and Stephen Olford from New York was invited. He asked to have Bill Hoyt, who had a lot of Red Indian blood in him, as the soloist. I was the Crusade Secretary and when I suggested to Stephen Olford that he consider one of the many good soloists in the country (to avoid expense), he said that it was crucial to have a soloist who had worked with him and understood his methods – like Moody and Sankey.

Meetings were held in the Usher Hall for 19 evenings in October 1965, nightly except for Friday, when the Scottish National Orchestra had a prior booking. Well over two thousand attended every evening, with a closed-circuit television overflow to a nearby church at the weekends. The public meetings attracted 46,000 people in total, of whom 1,200 were counselled, most of them young, and about half of them made a first-time profession of faith. Inquirers were referred to a church of their choice for follow-up.

Trying to publicise the Crusade gave me an insight into the mind of the secular Press. I contacted all the local newspapers to suggest that an event which was filling the Usher Hall to overflowing night after night was worth at least a mention in their paper. Not a word was printed until the minister of the nearby Unitarian church in Castle Terrace told the Edinburgh Evening News that he had attended one night and that Stephen Olford’s preaching reminded him of Hitler. That made the front page, and my effort to answer it in a subsequent edition was ignored.

Tron Church in Glasgow
Tron Church in Glasgow

Before coming to the last Crusade to be described in this Paper, the 1991 Billy Graham Crusade, I should say a word about (a) Arthur Blessit, who travelled round the country pulling a large wooden Cross and who held a series of evangelistic meetings in the Assembly Hall, (b) Dick Saunders’ several annual tent campaigns in the Meadows, (c) Luis Palau, and others. The reason for not saying more about them is that they don’t fit our criteria of ‘Christians of many denominations working together’. Groups of interested Edinburgh people invited these evangelists, but they were not truly inter-denominational efforts.

Billy Graham conducted Mission Scotland 1991, including two afternoon rallies at Murrayfield; at the conclusion of the Mission, he invited everyone who had been involved to meet him in the Tron Church in Glasgow. I was there, and the building was packed. Billy Graham said how much he appreciated being in Scotland and encouraged those present to plan for a return visit of himself and his team. Talking to people afterward, it was clear that the citywide, multi-church, interdenominational, evangelistic Crusade had had its day, and now, a decade later, I can safely say that we will not see its like again in our lifetime. The enormous energies which were poured into these ventures are now being used to evangelise through Home Groups, ‘friendship evangelism’, welfare organisations like Bethany and many, many others in more modest ways.

Gospel Blimp
Gospel Blimp

Let me finish by mentioning a book, now made into a film, called ‘The Gospel Blimp’ (American for an airship). In the imaginary story, a young couple were concerned to evangelise their neighbourhood. When they saw a blimp cruising overhead, they got the idea of purchasing one, flying it around their city with gospel texts on banners behind it, broadcasting Christian music and dropping leaflets with gospel messages. They got a group of friends together, raised the funds, bought a blimp and hired a pilot. For months they put all their energies into this novel method of evangelism, without seeing a single response. One day the blimp broke down. With time on their hands, they held a barbecue in their garden and invited some neighbours. To their astonishment, when they said that they would like to talk to the neighbours about Jesus, the neighbours replied that they would love to do just that, but that the couple had obviously been so busy over recent months that the neighbours had never been able to catch them at home to have a chat.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of its author, Ian Balfour.

Charlotte Chapel Evangelical Social Involvement

The Scottish Church History Society, founded in 1922, asked Ian Balfour to give a Paper on this subject at their May 2008 meeting, held in the Free Church of Scotland College, Edinburgh. The proceedings of their monthly meetings are published annually as Scottish Church History Society Records, but for those who do not have access to this periodical, the Paper is made available here also. It is copied here exactly as given.


The church that is now Charlotte Chapel, in Rose Street, Edinburgh, was constituted in 1808 in the Pleasance district of the city. Ten years later, the Scottish Episcopalians vacated their church in Rose Street, which they called Charlotte Chapel, and moved across Princes Street to the newly built Church of St John the Evangelist. The founding pastor of the Pleasance church, Christopher Anderson, bought the vacant building, which seated 750, and kept the name. In 1911, the members demolished the original Chapel and replaced it with the one we have today – except for the lounge, which was added in 1983. The new sanctuary seated exactly one thousand, and for most of the next 70 years it was well filled, often to overflowing, on Sunday morning and Sunday evening. 1

For the bicentenary of the constitution, this year, I was asked to prepare a history, which has been published as Revival in Rose Street. Your President, in reviewing it for The Baptist Quarterly, suggested that the Chapel’s social involvement, throughout the years, might be of interest to you.

One of my sons, having read the book, remarked that there was nothing in it about prison reform or dismantling apartheid in South Africa. That is fair comment; members have contributed, as individuals, to these and other public concerns, but the Chapel has not, as a church, taken a stance on social issues other than Sunday Observance and temperance. This paper may explain ‘why not?’ It covers three areas:

  1. Financially supporting worthy causes, motivated by compassion, which has been generous, altruistic and unconditional.
  2. Pioneering half-a-dozen local social-amelioration projects, motivated by compassion but inspired by evangelism.
  3. Taking a public stand on Sunday Observance and Temperance, motivated by concern for people’s welfare and for God’s honour.

There is no time to do more than mention three other aspects of the Chapel’s social involvement: (1) pastoral care; since 1907, the Chapel has employed a full-time deaconess (now called a ‘pastoral care worker’) and since 1981, a male equivalent as well; (2) Scout and Guide Troops, run in the Chapel’s name and on its premises since 1919, training youngsters in ‘whole-life’ development, (3) overseas involvement; between 1821 and the Ter-jubilee in 1958, 102 members, (58 women and 44 men), were commissioned and supported for doctoring, nursing, teaching, church building and evangelising in Palestine, Syria, Africa, India, China and South America.

First main area: Financially supporting worthy causes

Supporting worthy causes, motivated by compassion, has, as mentioned, been generous, altruistic and unconditional. Two examples from the first hundred years are: (1) year-on-year support for Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, and (2) a typical response to a special appeal. Other churches undoubtedly gave more, but the Chapel’s gifts came from a congregation where, in Christopher Anderson’s words, there was ‘not one opulent member’. 2

Edinburgh Royal Infirmary

Until the creation of the National Health Service in 1948, the Infirmary relied on voluntary donations; it received no public funding and never required payment for treatment or care. When, in 1808, Christopher Anderson constituted the church in the Pleasance, the Infirmary was a 228-bed building located two hundred yards away, in the High School Yards, off Infirmary Street, opposite the east end of Chambers Street.

Anderson passionately taught his congregation that no Christian could withhold support for it without loss of respect. When, in 1879, the Infirmary moved to Lauriston Place, the Chapel was running an annual deficit of £25 on its general account; only personal approaches to selected members every December balanced the books. £25 may not seem much today, but a male secretary earned £30 a year, a good cook earned £28, and a kitchen maid £14 a year. People like these made up the majority of the congregation, so their regular giving to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary may reasonably be described as ‘sacrificial’. Support continued even when, in 1907, the Chapel was urgently and unsuccessfully trying to raise money to rebuild the premises in Rose Street. Looking at the Infirmary offering for 1907, the pastor, Joseph Kemp, commented: ‘we might do more for this noble Institution’.

For eighty-eight years, from 1890 to 1978, Chapel members (as well as many others) conducted half-hour Sunday services in one or more wards in the Infirmary, At first, volunteers were few and teams had to move from ward to ward, repeating a short service.
As numbers grew, a full half-hour of singing and Scripture reading was possible in every ward. All went smoothly until 1913, when the Infirmary chaplain withdrew permission; he had difficulty in attracting a congregation to the service that he held in the Infirmary chapel, and he blamed ‘the competition’. The Chapel workers and others formed the Sacred Song Union, which pointed out to the infirmary managers that the chaplain never got more than 70 to the chapel, while the teams could take hymns and a message to all 850 patients on the wards. Ward services were resumed in November 1913, and by 1921, there were enough volunteers to cover the adjoining Simpson Maternity Pavilion as well; services were later held in the Leith Hospital also. The Sacred Song Union assumed responsibility for administering the large number of people involved, from many churches, but its annual meetings were held in Charlotte Chapel. Except for the years of the Second World War, ward services continued until 1978.

A public appeal

A second example of unconditional giving is the response, in 1901, to The Scotsman newspaper’s ‘Shilling Fund’ appeal (5 new pence), to provide relief for widows and orphans of British soldiers killed in the Boer Wars. During February 1901, 40 shillings were collected in the Borders town of Hawick – ‘a town which has been as generous to the Fund as almost any Border district’. 3

In the same month, the Chapel raised 80 shillings, twice as much as Hawick, 4 by fund-raising ‘cinematograph entertainments’. ‘Motion pictures’ or ‘cinematograph’ (as it was known) had come to Edinburgh five years previously, in 1896. The pictures were flickering, soundless, disjointed and frequently broke down, but the Chapel put on shows that packed the building and raised 80 shillings.

Recent appeals

The generosity of 1901 has been repeated many times, but successful appeals now have a different rationale. Neither the beneficiaries of the 1901 gifts (widows and orphans) nor the agency administering the gifts (The Scotsman newspaper) were church-based. Humanitarian needs still determine the beneficiaries, but gifts nowadays are hugely more generous if they are to be channelled through church-based organisations. Collections are taken for equally deserving secular charities, with equally reliable local workers, for equally deserving beneficiaries, but they are much less well supported. Let me illustrate from three events in 2005.

Following the tsunami devastation on Boxing Day 2004, £18,200 was donated over the following weekend, after pulpit announcements stressed that local church-based groups would organize the relief. That was also the ‘selling point’, if one may use the phrase, when Niger’s harvest failed in July 2005; £8,650 was sent through The Evangelical Alliance Relief Fund. When an earthquake devastated North India, Pakistan and Kashmir in October of that same year, £6,000 was contributed as soon as the Baptist Missionary Society was chosen to distribute the aid. (Donations are rounded up from general funds,) Has the channel become as important as the destination? It would seem so, from the bicentenary weekend in October 2008.

The bicentennial appeal had home and overseas components. It asked for £20,000 toward replacing two of Edinburgh City Mission’s motor vehicles, their ‘Carevan’, which goes out nightly with food and warm drinks and clothing for the homeless, and the minibus that transports volunteers to their Night Care Shelters. Another £20,000 was targeted, to build a Community Health Centre for a tribe on the India-Nepal border, among whom one of the Chapel members has worked for many years. To ask a church membership of 650 to give £40,000 over one weekend, for Edinburgh’s homeless and for a remote Indian tribe, seemed over-optimistic. However, with the focus on the church-based agencies that would handle the money, the weekend brought in £68,800.

Second main area:

Pioneering half-a-dozen local social-amelioration projects, motivated by compassion but inspired by evangelism Although this paper is entitled: ‘evangelical social involvement’, the adjective ‘evangelistic’ might be a better word. When members gave their time and energy to social amelioration, motivated by compassion, most were hoping for spiritual as well as material results. For example, between Christmas and New Year in 1907 and again in 1908, the Chapel hired the Corn Exchange for five days and provided accommodation and meals for two thousand men and women living rough in the city. The report on the week ended: ‘The Chapel choir sang and gave brief messages. No response was recorded to the gospel message, but the organisers remained hopeful’; 5

in other words, they were motivated by compassion, but inspired by evangelism. Joseph Kemp distinguished the Chapel’s social involvement from the prevalent Social Gospel, which he described as ‘a danger that must not be treated lightly’. 6 I’ll come back to the Social Gospel, but two projects at the beginning of the Chapel’s second hundred years illustrate how social concern went hand-in-hand with evangelism.

1908 – The White House

In 1908, destitution and prostitution went hand in hand on Edinburgh’s streets. If girls came to Edinburgh for work and were unable to find it, some sought an easy way of making a living. Chapel women, coming out of meetings into Rose Street, were confronted by the spiritual darkness of its nineteen public houses. What could they offer to those who wanted to make a fresh start? It was not enough to lead them to Christ – what about their future? In January 1908, Dr Maxwell Williamson, a deacon in the Chapel and soon to be appointed Chief Medical Officer of Health for Edinburgh, took up the challenge and opened a rescue centre for young women on the streets; it was called the ‘White House’. 7

Gifts poured in, some from women who had already been helped. One, saved at an openair meeting, offered a month’s free work to prepare the new home for occupancy. A lady member of the congregation went out ‘into the highways and the lanes and streets of the city’, speaking to girls whom the White House might help. 8

It accommodated twenty girls at a time, from age fourteen upward. Not only were they fed and clothed, but attempts were made to place them in good situations or to persuade them to return to their homes. At the same time, the power and claims of Christ were pressed on them. There were some triumphs of grace, but there were disappointments as well. Many admitted to using the House only as a temporary lodging, without any intention of reforming their ways. Many of the girls were Roman Catholics, and they were not prepared to stay when they found they had to attend the Chapel services twice on Sunday and once during the week, as well as a Bible Class every Sunday afternoon in the White House. There was a fairly high turnover – in the first seven months, 78 girls came and 62 went.

The White House was maintained for nearly two years, but the running costs were more than the Chapel could afford. With regret, it closed in July 1910, after securing situations or homes for all of the girls. 9

1912 – The Rock Mission

Dr Williamson, who set up the rescue centre just mentioned, was equally concerned for people who lived in lodging houses and derelict slums in the Grassmarket. He rented a hall in the Cowgate every Sunday afternoon, and provided free tea and sandwiches to all who were willing to listen to a gospel message afterward. He called it the Rock Mission, and he led it until his death in 1923. The Chapel then took it over, and ran it weekly for 64 years, until 1987. Both in the number of people involved and the length of their involvement, this was the Chapel’s biggest-ever social activity. The work was difficult and largely unrewarding, but there were many willing helpers, one of whom wrote in 1926: To us these men are not broken earthenware neither down-and-outs. We resent to hear them referred to as such. We see in them souls for whom Christ died and we have learnt to love them for His sake. 10

Every Sunday afternoon, the Chapel members served tea and sandwiches in the Cowgate hall, for men who lived rough in the Grassmarket area. This was followed by a short evangelistic service, and attracted about 80 men weekly; the men listened attentively and visitors remarked on both their good behaviour and their obvious attention to the service. The annual social in January brought in up to two hundred. Clothing was provided, and money for a bed in a lodging house. Numbers were steady throughout the year, even in the summer. The meeting was followed by heart-to-heart talks with some of the men and a few of them professed acceptance of Jesus as Saviour. That was when the real challenge began – ‘No work, no food, no decent clothing, and no bed is a test to try the faith of established Christians, far less of men old in sin, but young in the faith.’

In 1986, the Chapel reviewed the work of the Rock Mission. Most of the men and women now coming on Sunday afternoon were severely alcoholic; they required specialist counselling and support, which the Carrubbers Christian Centre in the High Street was now providing. Nearly all the people who attended the Rock also attended the Carrubbers Christian Centre, so it was agreed to merge their resources and to end the Sunday afternoon tea and gospel meeting.

The Social Gospel

What did Joseph Kemp, the minister of Charlotte Chapel from 1902 to 1915, mean, when he distinguished the Chapel’s social involvement from the Social Gospel, which he called ‘a danger that must not be treated lightly’? 11

As you know, Christians in every country with an Industrial Revolution were concerned about the inequalities and miseries it brought. Between the 1880s and the 1920s, diverse groups of American Christians combatted slum housing, bad hygiene and poor schooling under the banner of the Social Gospel, popularised by Charles M. Sheldon’s best-selling novel of 1896, In His Steps or What Would Jesus Do? Sheldon argued that society would be transformed if only people would face up to the question: ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ His book was still popular half a century later, and I have a copy of it, given to me as a Sunday School prize at the age of 12 in 1944 (but not in Charlotte Chapel).

When the Social Gospel became popular in Scotland, Kemp was concerned for two reasons. First, he was pre-millenial in his theology, teaching that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent, and that Christians should devote their energies to evangelism. Social Gospel leaders were overwhelmingly post-millenial, believing that the Second Coming would not happen until humankind had rid itself of social evils by human effort. Secondly, Social Gospellers preached collective social action as the Christian’s primary duty in this world, in place of individual conversion-experience. An influential Social Gospel leader, Walter Rauschenbusch, taught that ‘sin’ should not be attributed to individuals, but to society as a whole. 12

It was in society, not in individual lives, that sin must be fought and overcome. The theology of the Chapel and of the Social Gospel might be summed up as:


  • Sin is individual and inherited
  • Evangelism is proclaiming the gospel
  • Vertical-relationship with God is key
  • Individuals are transformed by new birth

Social Gospel

  • Sin is environmental and structural
  • Evangelism is correcting social evils
  • Horizontal-relationship with others is key
  • Society is transformed by education and by
    legislation 13

Evangelical social action does seem to have had a low profile while the Social Gospel flourished, but in 1916 and in 1921 the Chapel initiated two long-term projects, which combined the vertical relationship with God through individual faith (always the first step) and the horizontal relationship with impoverished society (as an outworking of faith.) The first of these, chronologically, was:

1916 – The Jamaica Street Mission

Chapel members delivered a four-page paper, The Monthly Evangel, to homes in the area. They were so concerned about the drab and depressing situation of people living in Jamaica Street – the service road for the lovely Heriot Row – that they secured the let of an empty shop and turned it into a meeting hall in October 1916, accommodating one hundred. As this paper is about social involvement, there are no details here of evangelistic meetings and Bible studies, but scarcely a week went by without someone accepting Christ as Saviour; one of the Jamaica Street boys went into the ministry and another became a missionary. The first (and pleasant) surprise on the social side was when twenty young men, all over school age, said: ‘the mission hall is a sort of home … we would not miss the Sunday afternoon lads’ class.’ Similarly, a Tuesday evening women’s meeting filled a large place in the otherwise empty lives of the women in the district; attendance averaged between 40 and 50, sometimes up to 80. The younger women held a girls’ class on Wednesday, with an average attendance of 50, from which they formed a choir of sixteen to eighteen year old Jamaica Street girls. Christian Endeavour met on Thursday; the Friday evening Band of Hope grew and grew until seniors and juniors had to meet on different nights to get into the hall. This worthwhile community involvement lasted for 36 years; it was discontinued only when the houses in Jamaica Street were scheduled for demolition in 1952.

1921 – The High Street Mission

The tenements around the Tron Kirk, in Edinburgh’s High Street, were areas of great social deprivation. Two young Chapel men had started an afternoon Sunday School in rented premises in 1913. Initially, two children came but by contacting parents, they built up friendship and confidence and soon had a midweek boys’ club and a girls’ sewing class as well as a Sunday School of 50 to 60. A gift from Santa Claus, at the end of the Christmas social, was the only Christmas present that many of the High Street children received.

When one of the founding members entered the ministry in 1921 and moved away, he asked the Chapel to take over the work. As with the Jamaica Street Mission, this paper does not cover directly evangelistic meetings, but after the Chapel purchased premises at 128 High Street, eleven different groups used them for a variety of social activities – study classes, women’s meetings, girls’ clubs for sewing and talking, and boys’ clubs for games, reading or discussion. Many of those who came during the week came also to the Sunday School, where attendance averaged 150, with 26 teachers. In the summer, they had open-air games and went on rambles. The annual picnic in June, usually to Riccarton, attracted up to three hundred children and mothers; no fathers came – ‘Women and children attended the Mission Hall but self-respecting working men did not.’ 14

Despite extensive canvassing, not one man ever turned up for a men’s meeting; every effort was made to retain the interest of boys, but generally they disappeared as they grew into adolescence. The mission flourished until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939; but it was badly affected by wartime restrictions and closed in 1943.

The commitment of Chapel members to these three missions – the Rock, Jamaica Street and the High Street – may explain, at least in part, why the Chapel was not also active, as a church, in wider areas of social reform. If working people spent every evening of every week at the prayer meeting on Monday, the open-air on Tuesday, one of the missions on Wednesday, the Bible School on Thursday, a uniformed organisation on Friday, and the missions again on Saturday and Sunday – as they had to do, to keep these going – they had neither time nor vision for other areas. I believe that that is the key to what might seem a parochial outlook; the leaders may have had their reservations about the Social Gospel, but ordinary members saw that other people, Christians and non-Christians, were throwing their weight behind desirable social reforms, so they concentrated on the ‘corner of the vineyard’ to which they felt called.

1956 –The Deaf and Dumb Christian Fellowship

In May 1955, a widowed deaf woman, a Chapel member, felt a burden for others in her silent world; she invited them to a meeting in her kitchen every second Friday, and gradually others joined them. Soon they were meeting in larger premises every second Friday, and looking for somewhere to worship together on Sunday. In October 1956, the Chapel arranged simultaneous interpretation, by sign language, for the evening service. A room was equipped with a loudspeaker for the interpreters, and an epidiascope projected hymns and Scripture readings onto a screen. When the Edinburgh Evening News featured this in an article, two married couples came along and were converted. About a dozen came regularly on Sunday evening, as well as meeting in a home, now every Friday, alternating Bible study and prayer with a social gathering. Some came to the Chapel on Sunday morning as well, and a member interpreted for them, in a reserved pew, for over 30 years. Forty attended their first weekend residential conference in October 1959. A family moved to Edinburgh from the south of England, so that their deaf daughter could enjoy the fellowship available here. ‘Signing’ of the Chapel’s evening service continued until the late 1990s, when the last available interpreter, now in his 80s, could not persuade anyone else to take over.

There was never a corresponding Chapel involvement with the blind. An Edinburgh Torch Fellowship for the Blind was started in 1971, with 25 attending monthly Saturday meetings, but it was not a Chapel initiative. The Chapel did, however, provide Braille hymnbooks and Scriptures at the regular Sunday services, and from 1992, the Chapel’s tape librarian read the whole of the monthly Charlotte Chapel Record onto audiotape, for the benefit of the blind and partially sighted. 15

1956 – an Eventide Home

I said that this paper would not cover social involvement for members, but setting up an Eventide Home in 1956 is mentioned, because latterly other churches were involved and, for the last decade, the majority of the residents were non-members. In 1947, one of the Chapel deacons felt a burden for elderly members in tied accommodation, where the house went with the job; they had to leave it on retiring at 60 or 65, and many had nowhere to go. Retirement homes were almost unheard of in those days. After nine years of fundraising, a detached house in Newhaven Road, Leith, overlooking Victoria Park, was purchased and renovated, with accommodation for 14 residents, all in single rooms, and a staff of three. It was called Beulah Home. Family worship twice a day, landline transmission of Chapel services and regular visits from Chapel auxiliaries, made Beulah ‘special’ for fifty years. Local Authority inspections invariably concluded that Beulah provided a happy atmosphere and a high standard of care. However, in the 1990s, Beulah’s raison d’etre disappeared. Most people now had their own home, where they were supported by family or by social services until they needed hospital or nursing home care. Beulah could not be structurally adapted for a nursing home; by 2006, there were so many vacant rooms that it was reluctantly decided the Home could not continue. It closed at the end of September 2008.

Third main area:

Taking a public stand on Sunday Observance and temperance, motivated by concern for people’s welfare and for God’s honour.

Sunday Observance

Until December 1901, staff on Edinburgh’s tramcars enjoyed the traditional Sabbath rest, and the public walked to church. However, the Tramway Company wanted to increase its revenue, and so from December 1901 it operated 82 cable cars from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday. The congregation of Charlotte Chapel was ‘gathered’ from all around the city, but many Chapel members (including Joseph Kemp) and many other Christians refused on principle to use them, for two reasons: (1) it was wrong to make staff work on Sunday, and (2) using Sunday trams would encourage the company to run even more. Until the First World War, my maternal grandparents walked their four children from Goldenacre to the Chapel and back, although trams ran from door to door; some in membership today recollect walking to and from the Chapel, twice every Sunday, until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

In the 1930s, commercialisation began to undermine Sunday as a ‘different’ day; Sidlow Baxter, the minister from 1935 to 1953, carried on a relentless campaign against ‘the beaming, bland-faced, Sabbath-commercialising Sunday-amusement agitator, [shopkeepers and cinema-owners], pretending to want his gayer Sunday for the benefit of the public … whose real interest was increased profit’. He urged Chapel members to find out the views of candidates in both municipal and parliamentary elections, and to vote for those who opposed shops, theatres and cinemas opening on Sunday.

In March 1955, the Chapel learned that Edinburgh Corporation, who owned Carrickknowe golf course, was planning to allow play on Sunday. The Chapel was not the only one to express concern, and its letter of protest, along with others, persuaded the Corporation not to open the course. 16

Those now under the age of 60 may find it difficult to picture a Sunday in Edinburgh in the 1950s; the Sabbath meant that pubs were closed, hotels served alcohol to only bona fide travellers, no games or sports took place, swings in public parks were tied up, cold meals were served and many families (including ours) unplugged the television. It was a different and a special day. In the early 1960s, my wife and I gave hospitality to an American with the Billy Graham organization; we were genuinely horrified when he said, as we returned from the Sunday evening service, ‘Let’s watch Sunday Night at the Palladium on BBC TV.’

The Chapel saw Sunday Observance in black and white. When the Government proposed legislation in 1967, to allow some sport and commercial entertainment on Sunday, the Evangelical Alliance, of which the Chapel was a member, suggested working for an acceptable compromise. The Chapel rejected this and gave full support to the Lord’s Day Observance Society, which opposed the Bill outright. 17

It is said that when two principles conflict, the higher principle should prevail. In 1982, Ingliston Sunday market, beside Edinburgh airport, was attracting thousands of people from all over the country. The Chapel obtained permission to hold an open-air service for half an hour every Sunday afternoon, with singing, preaching and giving out gospel literature. This took place in the summer months of 1982 and 1983; some Chapel members then felt that Bibles and Christian books, primarily children’s books, should be on sale. This was not approved – ‘selling on the Lord’s Day could be a reflection on the name of the Church’; without it, the enterprise was not considered worthwhile and it was discontinued in 1984. 18 Looking back, one wonders whether, in this instance, the higher principle had prevailed.

In 1990, the Chapel supported opposition to the Government’s Bill to remove all restrictions from Sunday trading in England and Wales. As the Chapel’s representative on the ‘Keep Sunday Special’ committee put it: ‘A day of rest is part of God’s plan for all mankind. God cares about family and community life. A day in the week when almost everyone is free from work is essential for family life and for friendships to flourish by having time to spend together.’ 19

Through prayer and lobbying, encouraged by Christian Members of Parliament, it was the only Bill put forward by Margaret Thatcher’s government to be defeated on the floor of the House.


The only other issue on which the Chapel has taken a public stance is ‘temperance’. The Temperance (Scotland) Act 1920 introduced local plebiscites, on whether public houses should be closed or restricted in number. Evangelicals throughout Scotland called plebiscites in over 500 wards; Women’s Guilds, Bands of Hope and other church agencies were marshalled into a massive campaign, especially in the cities. Licensing was a live issue for a church in Rose Street; although the street was sparsely populated by end of the Great War, it still had nineteen public houses and the disorder, after closing time, was ‘disgraceful’. With the encouragement of Graham Scroggie, the pastor of the Chapel at the time, the church actively supported the 1920 campaign for Edinburgh to go ‘dry’. Chapel members canvassed from door to door with literature about ‘the curse of the drink traffic’, seeking to get at least 35 per cent on the municipal register to vote for ‘no licence’. The pastor, office-bearers and many members joined a ‘no licence’ march in the Meadows on Saturday 16 October 1920, and arranged a rally in the Usher Hall, on the eve of the poll, attracting fifteen hundred people.It took courage for businessmen to support such rallies, because the ‘trade’ was pressing as strongly for increased sales as the churches were pressing for abolition. My maternal grandfather was the Manager of the Union Bank of Scotland. When the press reported that he had chaired a temperance meeting, the directors of one of Edinburgh’s breweries, who had an account with the bank, closed it, saying they were not prepared to do business with ‘the opposition’. The churches’ stance against the drink trade – Baptist churches throughout Scotland had not one single licence-holder in membership in 1923 – may have driven a wedge between them and non-churchgoers, but they preached the gospel in order to liberate men, women and children from, among other things, slavery to alcohol. When the result of the Edinburgh poll was declared, allowing the sale of liquor to continue, Chapel members were disappointed, but pledged to continue educating the public about ‘the awful bondage of drink’. Bands of Hope generally went into decline after that disappointment, and the chairman of the Church of Scotland’s temperance committee resigned in depression. However, the Chapel’s Young Women’s Temperance Association, formed in May 1926 with 55 members, ran a Band of Hope in the Cowgate every Friday and distributed temperance tracts along Rose Street. Graham Scroggie encouraged them to persevere with ‘the great task that is before the women of Scotland in helping to rid our country of one of its greatest menaces’.

On Sunday 1 April 1928, the Chapel’s evening service was given over to a temperance rally, with supporters from many outside organisations. Scroggie led the service and preached on the evils of the drink trade. When preparations were being made for the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1970, the City Council proposed having bars inside the spectator areas of the stadium. On behalf of the Chapel and the Free Church of Scotland, I lodged objections with the Secretary of State for Scotland, pointing out the incongruity of having alcohol in a stadium dedicated to healthy living. The objections were successful; rereading them now, I realize how much society has changed in four decades, and yet how relevant the objections still are. They included:

… the degradation of moral character through the abuse of strong drink. Many crimes are committed under its influence, and much anti-social behaviour stems from its influence. Many a man or woman under its influence has slipped into acts of immorality. Because their customary alertness and self-control had been weakened by alcoholic liquor, they consented to acts which they would never have tolerated if sober. … to put alcoholic drink in the ways of those who are using the stadium is not a responsible attitude for a Local Authority to adopt. 20

The Chapel was remarkably successful, between 1970 and 1991, in opposing the opening of new licensed premises and the extending of opening hours. In 1972, it successfully opposed the first modern attempt to open Edinburgh public houses on Sunday. 21

The three ‘pubs’ near the Chapel applied in 1977, 1980 and 1990 for Sunday opening, and the Chapel successfully opposed all of them, partly on principle and partly because of the security measures necessary when people in the area were under the influence of drink. The Chapel’s last success was in 1990, when the public house nearest to the Chapel was again refused a Sunday licence. In 1991, the law was changed, and neighbours could no longer object. It was 1999 before this pub opened on a Sunday morning; fortunately, none of the anticipated disruption has followed.


As this paper is about social involvement, it may be appropriate to mention the boundaries of permissible social activity for Chapel members in the middle years of the twentieth century. In 1939, the minister, Sidlow Baxter, added a question to the membership application: ‘As a Christian do you see the necessity of dissociating yourself from all such practices and pleasures as might be considered questionable or of a ‘worldly’ nature?’

Why was the question formulated in this way? Toward the end of the nineteenth century, partly as a reaction to the rise of Biblical criticism, many evangelical Christians retreated behind barricades, both theological and in terms of conduct. Joseph Kemp defined ‘worldliness’ as smoking, drinking, card playing, dancing, novel reading, theatre and cinema going. He told the congregation, with approval, about a friend in the ministry whose work ‘has been chiefly amongst the card-playing, dancing, worldly Christians. Hundreds of mothers have withdrawn their children from the dancing schools, and many of the Church card parties have been smashed up, let us hope for ever.’ Eric Lomax, whose book The Railwayman was a best seller in 1995, was converted in the Chapel in 1936, and became engaged to be married to a Chapel girl, aged nineteen. In his book, he describes how their courtship consisted of ‘walking out together, avoiding the temptations of the city or the world. Dances and films and similar occasions of sin were out of the question for us; we visited each other’s houses, took long walks in the country and busied ourselves with Chapel affairs.’

A woman who married in the Chapel in 1949, at the age of 26, and who returned for her Golden Wedding in 1999, told me then about her early years in the Chapel. She was from a non-Christian home; she attended the Chapel from the age of fourteen, was converted, became active in youth work and was appointed a Guide leader. When she went, with her non-Christian parents, to a dinner-dance, this was held to be incompatible with leadership of a Chapel youth group, and she was compelled to resign. She was then asked to start a Guide troop at the Granton Baptist Church, which she did; she commented wryly to me, in 1999, about the different attitudes of the two churches.

When the stock of membership applications ran out in 1975, the elders agreed that the paragraph about disassociating ‘from … practices … of a worldly nature’ was unduly negative, and they replaced it with a more positive question.


One of the Chapel’s peer groups, covering the age range 45 to 65, invited a representative of the Telephone Samaritans to talk about their work. At question time, one of the group asked the speaker what he would say to a caller who phoned after taking an overdose that would soon prove fatal, and who was (for the purpose of the question) beyond the reach of the emergency services? Would he ask about the caller’s faith? If the caller had none, would he introduce ‘personal faith’ into the conversation? The Samaritan said that he would not do either, unless the caller raised it first – otherwise, he would talk soothingly until the line went dead. The questioner disapproved of the Samaritan’s answer, and the Samaritan disapproved of the questioner’s eagerness to bring faith into the conversation.
There are different views of ‘evangelical social involvement’.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Ian Balfour.