'We're thriving': How a Glasgow church has served its community for 125 years (2024)

125 years ago, Glasgow was undergoing a transformation. The now-iconic People’s Palace was still being built, and the brand-new Subway system opened.

Meanwhile, the Harper Memorial Baptist Church in Kinning Park was founded.

Starting with just 25 members in 1897, the church now serves around 270 people and is thriving.

Originally named Paisley Road Baptist Church, it was renamed after its first pastor, John Harper, who grew his congregation to 500 in his 13 years there.

'We're thriving': How a Glasgow church has served its community for 125 years (1)Harper Memorial Baptist Church. Photo by Gordon Terris.

Harper’s legacy has evolved him into a hero after he travelled on the RMS Titanic in April 1912, where historical accounts indicate that he sacrificed himself to save others aboard the doomed ocean liner.

Now the congregation are marking their 125th anniversary by celebrating the church’s history and what it has achieved in that time, but particularly in the last ten years.

Elaine Webster, publicity coordinator at Harper, said: “We want to highlight the fact that the church is still here after 125 years. We’re not stuck in the past – we are very current. We’ve moved through the times, but we are still a very active church.”

'We're thriving': How a Glasgow church has served its community for 125 years (2)L-R: Elaine Webster, Pastor Alan McKnight and Janette Blakeway

Pastor Alan McKnight added: “You tend to think of churches declining but we have almost trebled in numbers. Ten years ago, we had about 80 to 85 people coming on a Sunday morning - now we have about 170, but that’s not the whole community as some don’t come every week.

“We have about 250-270 overall. It’s a significant growth and only strengthening.”

  • READ MORE:Titanic hero that time forgot: the story of the Glasgow minister who sacrificed his own life to save others on the doomed liner

The team has worked hard to welcome and accommodate a much more diverse community in the last few years, with many asylum seekers now being regular visitors to the church.

Elaine said: “It’s exciting and reflects the change of dynamic in Glasgow and Scotland. It’s amazing what the church has done to encourage people and make them feel welcome. They instantly feel welcome and as if they are part of a family.

“We were always a family church, but now we’re an international family church.”

Sermons are delivered in Spanish, Punjabi and Urdu, and English lessons are offered to the community. Earpieces and visual graphics ensure that everyone can enjoy a Sunday service, whether they are sitting in the front row or in one of the church’s activity rooms.

'We're thriving': How a Glasgow church has served its community for 125 years (3)L-R: Janette Blakeway, Pastor Alan McKnight and Elaine Webster.

To ensure visitors feel represented and recognised when they come, the church is decorated with flags of the nationalities of everyone who attends the church.

Budding young artist Leo Tinlin has incorporated the flags in the design of the logo for Harper's 125th anniversary celebrations.

The Harper congregation is hoping to highlight their international efforts as part of their anniversary celebrations. In a research project they are gathering the stories of their missionaries who have travelled across the world to spread their message.

Alan added: “We hope to gather folks from different parts of the country and pull together artefacts and cinefilm. We are trying to draw in people from past and present and pull the archive together and digitise it to create these memories for everyone.”

Archivist Janette Blakeway said: “I’m looking through church archives, minute books and asking people in the community for photos, leaflets, magazines, pamphlets and anything they might have.”

  • READ MORE:Memorial held to honour the 19 firefighters killed in Cheapside Street disaster

At Harper, the message of connecting with people has always prevailed and goes beyond Sunday service. Their weekly Tuesday community meal is open to everyone and brings people from all walks of life together.

The congregation has worked to ensure they remained connected with people even during the pandemic.

'We're thriving': How a Glasgow church has served its community for 125 years (4)Pastor Alan McKnight at the community meal.

Elaine said: “During covid when churches were struggling and when services were on Zoom, we did so much community work in a different form. There was no community meal, but the team arranged to go to restaurants and deliver meals to people who were struggling.

“We wanted to create a community spirit.”

In lockdown, Harper delivered around 2500 meals to 50 families, and when restrictions eased, they made some changes and began delivering food packs which provided a week’s worth of meals.

But now that Sunday services and the weekly community meal is back, the Harper congregation are continuing to make connections with people in their area and make sure the church is at the centre of the community.

  • READ MORE:Cairnlea Parish Church in Airdrie undergoes £1.3million renovation

Alan said: “There are so many friendships that develop. You find senior doctors sitting with someone on the brink of homelessness, people from Glasgow with people from Pakistan, the old and young, the highly educated with those who cannot read or write.

“I don’t think there’s anywhere else in society where you get that.”

'We're thriving': How a Glasgow church has served its community for 125 years (5)Harper Memorial Baptist Church are celebrating their 125th anniversary.

While preparations are well underway, the Harper Memorial Baptist Church anniversary celebrations kick off in May where the stories of the missionaries will be shared, before a larger event to mark the official anniversary of the church’s foundation on September 5.

Alan said: “25 people started their gospel work here in 1897, and 125 years later we’re still here but we’re growing, thriving, connecting with the community.

“We want to celebrate that and give thanks for the past while also looking to the future.”

More information about the church can be found on its website and Facebook page.

'We're thriving': How a Glasgow church has served its community for 125 years (2024)


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