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Friday November 16 2018

Looking Back: The Empire Exhibition

A Church of Scotland volunteer reports from the Church Pavilion at the Empire Exhibition, held in Glasgow's Bellahouston Park from May to December 1938

An aerial view of the Empire Exhibition in Bellahouston Park

Experiences at the Church Pavilion

By W. S. T.

IT was my great good fortune to attend an afternoon a week on duty at the Church Pavilion in the Empire Exhibition.

About a dozen people were required at a time to direct the visitors, point out the features of the exhibits, and attend in the church and at the Woman’s Guild Room. For these volunteers the Exhibition day was divided into three periods – from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., 2p.m. to 6 p.m., and 6 p.m. till closing down.

On going on duty at 2 p.m. for the first time, the man whom I relieved rather amazed me. He was working on the night-shift, got home at 7 a.m., washed, had breakfast, and came straight on to the Exhibition for his duty at 10 a.m. He was now going home to snatch two hours’ sleep before starting his night-shift again at 6 p.m. He was doing this twice a week – a very handsome contribution indeed.

Another surprise was a man who came on duty with me at 2 p.m. He had started his day’s work at 5 a.m. in order to get in his eight hours’ work.

For the service at 3.30 p.m. there was always a packed church and many could not get in. The interest in the service and the number of people who came, simply to worship, was a continual source of amazement to me. One day an elderly rosy-faced countrywoman entered and asked me about the service which was just about to begin. I directed her to the church.

In a short time she returned, saying, “I canna get in, I canna get in, the door’s shut.” She was very indignant and very disappointed. I explained the situation to her. She asked when the next service was. On being told it was at 8 o’clock she said she could not wait till then. “Mister,” she said, tapping me on the shoulder, “tell the management from me that there should be a service every hour.”

Another day, a venerable gentleman stopped and spoke to me. He said he was a clergyman of the Church of England, and what he had seen inside was the best sermon he had ever seen, and remarked that people would take in with the eye what they failed to take in with the ear.

Another day a countryman sidled up to me and said, “Mister, some folk say the Church is dead; the next man that tells me that, I’ll tell him to go to the Church Pavilion in the Exhibition.”

A contrast to this many was one who came up to me after the service and said, “Some people say the devil is dead,” and, singing his arms round his head, he exclaimed, “but there are millions and millions of devils all alive.” He was off before the suitable answer was ready.

One day a drunk man entered the Pavilion. As he came out again, he was busy fumbling in his pockets. Producing a penny he asked me where the plate was. On being shown the box for thank-offerings, he went over and dropped in his coin. Many hundreds of sober people had passed that box, but the penny from the drunk man was the first offering of the afternoon.

Two German ladies remarked how they had enjoyed their visit, but added that they thought it strange to have a church and a service inside the exhibition. I said we thought it was the proper thing to do. They said, “Perhaps, but it is only in Scotland where such a state of things could be found.”

An Austrian stopped and remarked on the varied activities of the Church as represented in the Pavilion. “Do you belong to this Church?” he asked me. “How proud you must be of such a Church!”

I am proud of my Church.

Previous: Chaplains' Letters, 1918

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