The History of Leith

May 25, 2004

Why should people bother with the Church?

I have been researching and writing about the “History of Leith” and the Kirk Records of South Leith Parish Church. These records tell not only of the history of the Church, but also the history of the community of Leith over a period of over three hundred years.

I started to ask myself some questions about the Church of today and would be interested to hear your views. It would be good if you could post your response onto the site so everyone can benefit from your contribution.

Q. The most obvious question is what is the Church?

A. The odd thing is the Church isn’t the building it simply means a body of
Christian people coming together to worship God and who try to follow Jesus Christ and following this acceptance try to serve in the wider
community which surrounds them.

Q Is the Church meant for “do gooders” and “nice” middle class people?

A. One of the great leaders at South Leith was Dr James Mitchell
(1864-1903), who became Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1901. It was said of him that “the Clerical stamp is very lightly upon him” and he said of himself “I have never forgotten that I was a minister always but endeavoured to remember that I am a man among men”. The point being the church at that time served an area with many destitute poor and because of this the church itself feed and clothed literally thousands of people in the 19th century who would have starved. Not only this but Dr Mitchell was able to mix and talk with anybody and this is still a common characteristic of many people and ministers within the church of today. Another thing to remember is that the church was originally built and maintained by the ordinary people of Leith, this continues to the present day.

Q What has the Church ever done for me?

A. If you have ever been to hospital it is worth remembering it was the Church who brought the first proper hospital care into Scotland. If your children go to school, it was the Church which brought education into Scotland. The first Social Workers were Church people caring for the poor, hungry and destitute. It was the Church in Leith who campaigned for better housing in Leith which led to the “Leith Improvement Act” of 1880. The groundwork for a National Health Service was laid by doctors within the Church, not simply by the Labour Government of 1948. It was the Church who took control when crises ever hit Leith like for example in 1645 when 2736 people died of plague.

Q So has the church made a practical difference in Leith?

I feel more important is the Church instilled in members that we are
responsible for each other, that every person is of value and worth and that
we are all equal before God. Out of this belief came a very powerful
community spirit in Leith and a truly caring community which still exists though in a diluted form to this day. In my view, it is out of this Christian spirit that Leith is moving forward with the development of far reaching ideas created by the local Churches working with community organisations for the 21st century. While extending the hand of friendship to other religions within the area at the same time.

Q Has Science proved the Bible wrong?

A. The short answer to that is no! It is odd to think that many committed
Christians are in fact Scientists.

Q Is the Bible historically wrong?

A There is more evidence for the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth then there is for Caesars “Gallic” War. Nor does it come from in the main from Christian sources but from Roman and Jewish sources.

Q Isn’t Religion just a form of “Brain Washing” or to paraphrase Karl Marx famous phrase “that religion is the opium of the masses”?

A. Many Christian churches encourage their members to question their belief, look at different belief systems, question the bible, and look at archaeology and history not merely accepting everything like programming a computer. People believe because they have confidence in what they believe not because they have been told what to believe and that comes through experience and critical reflection.

Q It doesn’t make any difference whither people attend church or not?

It is a statistical fact that as church attendance has fallen sharply in the
Western World over the past fifty years there has also been a rise in crime, violence, drug taking, drunkenness, more one parent families, more people unable to cope with death or problems with debt. The question that must be asked are what sort of ethics and standards are we setting for our children and grandchildren. The answer may be in the affluent society but could it also be that people lack considered values and beliefs. This comes back to Mrs Thatcher’s famous statement “That there is no such thing as Society” that we are all individuals and we can go out and get what we want and it doesn’t matter who we hurt in the process. The exact opposite to what the Christian church have been preaching for the past two thousand years, in my view.

Q Am I needed?

The church needs people like you and me. If you want to be part of something which has not only changed the world in the past, not only built up and developed the Community of Leith over the past several hundred years but is still actively doing it, not talking about it, but really making a difference. Feel free to come along and find out for yourself. Remember thinking to yourself that it’s not up to me what happens in Leith or the world is wrong and foolish because it is all our responsibility. As the saying goes “For evil to exist all it takes is for good men to say nothing”.

John Arthur

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