This is a picture of the Methodist church on Woodlands Road.
I wonder how many people know that this church was originally built for a somewhat outlandish Christian sect, usually referred to as the Swedenborgians, although they preferred to call themselves ‘The New Church’. They based their beliefs on the theological works of an 18th century scientist and mystic called Emanuel Swedenborg. He claimed to have a special relationship with God that allowed him to visit Heaven and Hell whenever he felt like it and hold conversations with angels, devils and sundry other spirits.
The doctrines of the Swedenborgian church varied in a number of important aspects from those of traditional Christianity, indeed they regarded the RC and all Protestant churches as having veered away from the True Faith and from a theological point of view they saw themselves as the only real Christians.
They did not accept the Trinity for instance [i.e. the belief that God is simultaneously 3 entities, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit]. Also, they believed that you have the right to choose where you want to go to after death, in other words if you don’t want to go to Heaven then nobody is forcing you. You can choose to go to Hell if you prefer. However the hellish delights which Hell offers can only be enjoyed as fantasy [not much fun in that, is there, really?]. As for marriage, this doesn’t end with death but continues for all eternity. And if you decide to stay unmarried during your life on earth then a spouse will be found for you as soon as you enter the hereafter. All rather unorthodox and as if that wasn’t bad enough they were accused by other denominations of being occultists who communicated with spirits [although the Swedenborgians themselves strenuously denied this].
As an atheist I am obviously unable to accept any of the above [although bizarre belief systems do intrigue me somewhat]. My interest in the Swedenborgian church on Woodlands Road is on a more personal level since my late brother-in-law was the church officer there during the 1960’s. It was just a part-time job of course and quite how he got it I really don’t know since he wasn’t a member of the church. We were both regulars at the Halt Bar on the corner of Woodlands Road and Westend Park Street which in those days was just a bog standard working man’s pub [was there any other kind in Glasgow during the 1960’s?]. A couple of evenings a week he would pop along to the church first in order to perform various janitorial tasks, such as washing floors etc. Sometimes I would accompany him and, if I was in the mood, give him a hand, otherwise I would just wander about the premises taking in the atmosphere. I found it a fascinating if somewhat dark and creepy place and it was quite possible to imagine the Archangel Gabriel lurking in a corner somewhere watching my brother-in-law push his mop across the floor, a rollup dangling between his lips [my brother-in-law that is, not the Archangel Gabriel]. In particular I enjoyed going into the library, which felt like an alchemist’s study, where I would open various ancient leather-bound tomes and try and make sense of their arcane contents.
I never went there on a Sunday, although of course my brother-in-law had to attend, and so I never saw the congregation. However I heard they were in fact a pretty staid bunch and mostly elderly. It did surprise me that there were enough people in Glasgow of a Swedenborgian persuasion to keep the church going and indeed I believe it went out of business, so to speak, during the early 1970’s. I think the building lay vacant for a number of years before the Methodists took over and I have a feeling that they did a considerable amount of renovation work.
Swedenborgianism itself has not died out completely however. There are still a number of active New Church congregations, mostly in the United States. Long may they remain so.