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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: Service in a Cinema

Looking Back

Friday December 4 2020

Looking Back: Service in a Cinema

A report from December 1944 of an Inverness church's successful outreach to members of the armed forces.



By Professor W. R. Forrester, D.D.

Many are becoming increasingly anxious about how to win back to the Church the men and women who will presently be returning after exciting adventures all over the world. Meantime the Church is faced with dwindling evening attendances and greatly increased difficulty in dealing with its own young people at home owing to changing ways of behaviour on Sunday nights.

Before the war large numbers of young men and women aimlessly paraded the streets of our large towns, because Church Services didn’t interest them and there was nowhere else to go. When troops were stationed in or near towns the Sunday night problem passed beyond the danger point.

Certain cinemas were opened, giving week-night programmes, and elsewhere Garrison Theatres provided secular entertainment, while charity performances of all sorts raised large sums for benevolent purposes. It is unlikely that the end of the war will see the end of such activities. What is the Church going to do about this pressing problem?

The Churches in certain places have already done something. They have gone out to meet young people where they are, in cinemas and elsewhere. One such experiment has been so successful that it deserves to be widely known.

In May, 1940, St. Columba’s High Church, Inverness, was rendered unusable by fire. With the active goodwill of the Directors, La Scala Picture House was put at the disposal of the congregation for its worship.

The Minister, Rev. E.J.F. Elliott, and the Office-bearers, were very much concerned about the homelessness of Service men and women on Sunday nights, and started a Social Evening at the close of the Evening Service. At first tea was provided, with a film and musical programme, but as food became more of a problem and some 1,100 to 1,200 men and women were attending, the tea was dropped, but the carefully selected programme with an Epilogue was continued and developed.

Now this sounds easy and understandable, and doesn't take us very far. But gradually more and more men and women from the Forces began to attend the Evening Service itself, till this too was full to capacity and more. There are no frills, no special musical features, except a small hymnbook of tried favourites, just a plain Church Service with a considerable proportion of Church people and other civilians, but an overwhelming number of Service men and women, who sing well and are completely reverent and attentive during the prayers and the sermon.

There is much prayer supporting this venture. And testimony both from the Congregation and from many who have been stationed in and near Inverness is so overwhelming, that the Congregation hope, when they resume worship in their own Church, to retain their interest in this Picture House for aggressive evangelism on Sunday nights. There is no doubt that by turning their necessity to glorious gain and finding an evangelistic opportunity in a sore misfortune, the Congregation has been shaken out of itself, and made more actively missional in orientation. To address this gathering is an inspiration, and a strange contrast to the tiny handfuls at most Evening Services.

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