Following is the next installment of John G. Paton’s account of his experience with the Glasgow City Mission, an example of 19th century urban territorial missions. For the previous one, click here.
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The kind cow-feeder had to inform us—and he did it with much genuine sorrow—that at a given date he would require the hay-loft, which was our place of meeting; and as no other suitable house or hall could be got, the poor people and I feared the extinction of our work. On hearing this the ostlers and other servants of Menzies, the coach-hirer, who had extensive premises near our place of meeting, of their own accord asked and obtained liberty to clear out a hay-loft of theirs that was seldom in use, and resolved, at their own expense, to erect an outside wooden stair for the convenience of the people. This becoming known, and being much talked of, caused great joy in the district, arrested general attention, and increased the interest of our work. But I saw that, however generous, it could be at the best only another temporary arrangement, and that the premises might again at any moment be required. After prayer I therefore laid the whole case before my good and great-hearted friend, Thomas Binnie, Esq., Monteith Row, and he, after inquiring into all the circumstances, secured a good site for a Mission Hall in a piece of unoccupied ground near our old hay-loft, on which he proposed to build suitable premises at his own expense. At that very time; however, a commodious block of buildings, that had been Church, Schools, Manse, etc., came into the market Mr. Binnie persuaded Dr. Symington’s congregation, Great Hamilton Street, in connection with which my Mission was carried on, to purchase the whole property for Mission purposes. Its situation at the foot of Green Street gave it a control of the whole district where my work lay ; and so the Church was given to me in which to conduct all my meetings, while the other halls were adapted as Schools for poor girls and boys, where they were educated by a proper master, and were largely supplied with books, clothing, and even food, by the ladies of the congregation. The purchasing and using of these buildings for an evangelistic and educational Mission became a blessing — a very conspicuous blessing — to that district in the Calton of Glasgow ; and the blessing still perpetuates itself, not only in the old premises, now used for an Industrial School, but still more in the beautiful and spacious Mission Halls, erected immediately in front of the old, and consecrated to the work of the Lord in that poor and crowded and clamant portion of the city.
Availing myself of the increased facilities, my work was all re-organized. On Sabbath morning, at seven o’clock, I had one of the most deeply interesting and fruitful of all my Classes for the study of the Bible. It was attended by from seventy to a hundred of the very poorest young women and grown-up lads of the whole district. They had nothing to put on except their ordinary work-day clothes,—all without bonnets some without shoes. Beautiful was it to mark how the poorest began to improve in personal appearance immediately after they came to our class ; how they gradually got shoes and one bit of clothing after another, to enable them to attend our other meetings- and then to go to church ; and, above all, how eagerly they sought to bring others with them, taking a deep personal interest in all the work of the Mission. Long after they themselves could appear in excellent dress, many of them still continued to attend in their working clothes, and to bring other and poorer girls with them to that morning class, and thereby helped to improve and elevate their companions.
My delight in that Bible Class was among the purest joys in all my life, and the results were amongst the most certain and precious of all my ministry. Yet it was not made successful without unceasing pains and prayers. What would my younger brethren in the Ministry, or in the Mission, think of starting out at six o’clock every Sunday morning, running from street to street for an hour, knocking at the doors and rousing the careless, and thus getting together, and keeping together, their Bible Class? This was what I did at first; but, in course of time, a band of voluntary visitors belonging to the class took charge of all the irregulars, the indifferents, and the new-comers, and thereby not only relieved and assisted me, but vastly increased their own personal interest, and became warmly attached to each other.
I had also a very large Bible Class—a sort of Bible-reading—on Monday night, attended by all, of both sexes and of any age, who cared to come or had any interest in the work. Wednesday evening, again, was devoted to a Prayer Meeting for all, and the attendance often more than half-filled the Church. There I usually took up some book of Holy Scripture, and read and lectured right through, practically expounding and applying it. On Thursday I held a Communicants’ Class, intended for the more careful instruction of all who wished to become full members of the Church. Our constant text-book was “Patterson on the Shorter Catechism,” than which I have never seen a better compendium of the doctrines of Holy Scripture. Each being thus trained for a season, received from me, if found worthy, a letter to the minister of any Protestant Church which he or she inclined to join. In this way great numbers became active and useful communicants in the surrounding congregations, and eight young lads of humble circumstances educated themselves for the ministry of the Church,—most of them getting their first lessons in Latin and Greek from my very poor stock of the same! Friday evening was occupied with a Singing Class, teaching Church music, and practising for our Sabbath meetings. On Saturday evening we held our Total Abstinence meeting, at which the members themselves took a principal part, in readings, addresses, recitations, singing hymns, etc. . . .