Archive for August, 2009

From the diary of Sir Michael Connal, evangelical Presbyterian merchant in Glasgow:

“November 6 [1838].—Visited two poor women, as a member of the Stirlingshire Charitable Society ; one a Mrs. Buchanan, a poor object, five children.just out of scarlet fever, three stairs up in a back land in the High Street; dreadful poverty, suffocating smell, rags, filth ; these sights should make me more and more active in doing good. I feel more and more satisfied with my position in providence ; may I improve it aright, devoting mind and body to the pursuit so far as is consistent with Christian light and love. May I be blessed in my mental pursuits as enlarging and strengthening my mind.”

March 12 [1844].—How various my employments often in the evening. Visited a Roman Catholic dying of consumption. Attempted to speak, but was put off with many excuses. Took up a missal and read a few verses of the 51 st Psalm.”

“October 28 [1844].—On Monday evening called round upon various families in my district. I was interested in one family especially. How much real elegance and politeness and decorum there is in a family under the influence of religion, however poor.”

January 13 [1846].— . . . On New Year’s Day went to call in the Spoutmouth on the woman Mackay; found that she had died that morning. Got a lesson not to speak harshly to those whom I visited. Was much pleased with the affection of the Roman Catholic woman, with whom she lived, for the deceased.”

October 2 [1847].—I have had much pleasure in visiting through my district. How much contentment, how much happiness, with very little of this world.”

April 5 [1848].—Went through my district; found the people glad to see me.”

October 10 [1850].— . . . I have been pressed in spirit to purchase the Dovehill Church. I think that schools could be opened there to advantage. I do think that it is my duty to turn to the next great means of the elevation of that district of the city in the institution of a school. . . . I know that it will cost me labour and trouble, but I have undertaken the adventure knowing that I have many opportunities to accomplish successfully now what I may not have at a future time. I pity the cold selfishness of some so-called Christians. Nothing but earnestness will do. Devotedness of purpose is the characteristic of Rome; why not of Protestants ?

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One of the reasons Chalmers advocated territorial city missions was to reunite the classes, particularly by the clergy’s concentrated evangelistic efforts in the slums.  It was ultimately a missionary policy, yet it had distinct advantages for the social fabric.  Here’s an interesting quote that helps illumine Chalmers’ rationale for the parish plan in urban context:

In a provincial capital, the great mass of the population are retained in kindly and immediate dependence on the wealthy residenters of the place. . . [which] brings the two extreme orders of society into that sort of relationship, which is highly favourable to the general blandness and tranquillity of the whole population. In a manufacturing town, on the other hand, the poor and the wealthy stand more disjoined from each other.  It is true they often meet, but they meet more on an arena of contest, than on a field where the patronage and custom of the one party are met by the gratitude and goodwill of the other (Thomas Chalmers, Christian and Civic Economy of Large Towns, Glasgow, 1821, p. 51).

As the clergy and benevolent Christian volunteers adopt mission districts in the cities and thoroughly work them, the net effect should be a re-harmonization of the upper- and middle-classes with the working class.

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