The parish experiment of Thomas Chalmers in Glasgow had as its cultural center of gravity a remarkable architectural icon (see image above).
The foundation stone of St. John’s Parish Church was laid in 1817 by Henry Monteith, Lord Provost of the city, and Chalmers, then the pastor of the city’s prominent Tron Church. The building, situated at the end of MacFarlane Street fronted the Gallowgate, and was erected at a cost £9,000. With a capacity of nearly 1600 worshippers, it was one of the largest church buildings in Scotland, located in one of nation’s poorest urban neighborhoods.
During its construction the foundations collapsed sparking fears that the 138-foot high Neo-Gothic tower would not be able to support the weight of the full compliment of bells which had been specially designed for the church–only St. Andrew’s in Edinburgh could boast a complete “Ringing of the Bells” at the time. The defective design was quickly corrected and construction was not long delayed.
The facility provided a sanctuary for the worship for the St. John’s congregation, of course. But, it also created a tangible presence in the community for the congregation’s reforming work, a hub for its evangelistic, educational, cultural, and mercy ministries.
The new church plant was launched by Chalmers, who had ministered in the city since 1815 and had become the most prominent voice of Evangelical and Reformed Christianity in Britain. His vision for St. John’s was to create a “parish model” of ministry, similar to what the little villages of Fifeshire enjoyed, but right in the heart of the poorest, most densely populated, most industrialized section of the city.
The new building was finally opened in 1819 and remained a vital part of Glasgow’s Evangelical and Reformed renewal until the landmark was demolished in 1962 in a tragically ill-conceived ”modernization” scheme (see image below).