I recently gave a lecture (sermon?) on the fascinating and inspiring story of Thomas Chalmers’ West Port Experiment in the slums of Industrial Edinburgh, from 1844-1847. You can listen to it here. Ad urbem!
Posted in Benevolence & the Diaconate, Free Church of Scotland, Gregarious (Social) Principle, Locality & the Law of Residence, Missiology, Parish Theory & Practice, The Gospel & the Poor, The Romance of Locality, Thomas Chalmers, Vignettes from 19th Century District Visitation, Vignettes from the Old Parish Way, Visitation Evangelism on July 10, 2016| Leave a Comment »
Key to understanding Thomas Chalmers’ advocacy of the locality (or parish) principle for urban missions is what he called ‘the gregarious principle.’ Man by God’s design was made a social creature. And as a part of God’s moral government, there are certain social laws that men disregard only to their detriment. The locality principle does not disregard, but presumes the gregarious principle and harnesses its potential. As a minister adopts a territory for its spiritual cultivation, he removes not only the geographic, but the social distance between himself, his church, and the people he is seeking to reach. And in the end, heart joins with heart.
The following quote illustrates Chalmers’ view of the social advantages in a minister doing outreach on the locality principle. Notice his concern with social ideas such as acquaintance, intimacy, friendliness, welcome, and fellow feeling:
In the first place, then, it is not so likely that a minister will go forth on his share of the population, when spread at random over the whole city, as when they lie within the limits of a space that is overtakable. He feels an incitement to move in the latter way of it, which he does not feel when his attentions are dispersed over a wide and bewildering generality. He, under the one arrangement, may have rare, and rapid, and transient intercourse with the individuals of a diffused multitude; but this can never ripen into solid acquaintanceship with more than a very few. Under the other arrangement, he may, at a greatly less expense, attain to terms of intimacy with some, and of civility with many. And it would add prodigiously to this operation, were his hearers, on the Sabbath, also his parochial acquaintances through the week. By this simple expedient alone, he would attain such an establishment of himself in his parish, in a single month, as he will not otherwise reach, but by the labour and assiduity of years. The very consciousness that, in a certain quarter of the city, lay the great body of his congregation, would be enough to assure him of a welcome there, and a friendship there, that would ever be inclining his footsteps to his parish, as the fittest scene of promise and of preparation for all his enterprises. And he would find, that the business of the Sabbath and the business of the week, had a most wholesome reciprocal influence the one upon the other. The former business would immediately open a wide and effectual door of intercourse with the people; and the latter business would not only retain the people in attendance upon their minister, but would rapidly extend their demand of attendance upon him, whenever there was room for it. . . .
But the second influence of locality in this matter, is perhaps of greater efficacy still. The first is that by which the minister obtains a more intense feeling of his relationship to his people. The second is that by which the people obtain a more intense feeling of their relationship to their minister. It is incalculable how much this last is promoted by the mere juxtaposition of the people to one another. There is a great deal more than perhaps can be brought out by a mere verbal demonstration, in a number of contiguous families, all related by one tie to the same place of worship, and the same minister. It would go to revive a feeling, which is now nearly obliterated in towns, whereby the house which a man occupies, should be connected, in his mind, with the parish in which it is situated, and an ecclesiastical relationship be recognised with the clergyman of the parish. In these circumstances, where there was no interference of principle, and no personal disapprobation of the clergyman, attendance upon the parish church would at length pass into one of the habitual and established proprieties of every little vicinage. Old families would keep it up, and new families would fall into it; and the demand for seats, instead of slackening under such an arrangement, would become more intense every year, so as to form a distinct call for more churches, whenever they were called for by the exigencies of a growing population (The Christian & Economic Polity of a Nation, pp. 67-68).