The Congregation

This section could equally be entitled “Clergy Insight into Congregational Behaviour” or “The Clergy View of Congregational Shortcomings”.  This was manifested by a series of not very delicate “hints to the congregation”, the first appeared in December 1880.  This dealt with those members of the congregation who sit on the first few chairs at the end of the row.  “The consequence is that when others come up there are numbers of vacant chairs, but they cannot be reached except by stepping over those who are already in the row.  This difficulty will be at once obviated if communicants will take the innermost vacant chair of the row they enter.”

The problem of vacant seats, and the even more abhorrent crime of leaving the service before it has finished, were ongoing themes throughout the Victorian period.  By the end of 1890 these and other congregational shortcomings must have become a major irritant for the clergy. The following article appeared in the January 1891 magazine and the use of upper-case letters emphasizes the importance of these matters.



At each Festival of the Church goes round, there are many who come forward to communicate who seem to have received few, if any, instructions concerning those things which conduce to a true spirit of Reverence and Godly Fear.  We do not wish to appear desirous of blaming anyone, but with the hope that they may be helpful to some souls, we venture to suggest a few simple and plain rules for all communicants to meditate upon and to consider.

  1. Come to an early Celebration if you can. For early in the day the mind is fresher, and the body less wearied.
  2. Always in Prayer “kneel upon your knees” unless crippled by infirmity or illness, or weak with old age. Do not pretend to kneel, for you cannot deceive God, though you may deceive your neighbour in church.
  3. Stand up for the Gospel, for it is none other than the message of Jesus Christ Himself, and sent direct to you.
  4. Do your best to say the “Amens” at the close of the Prayers, according to St. Paul’s express directions. Say the Confession plainly, for unless you confess your sins you will not profit by the absolution.  Join in the Sanctus and Gloria in Excelsis, for though they are Angels’ Hymns, yet the angels cannot supply your voice, and unless you praise God you are robbing Him of glory and worship.
  5. When coming to the altar, if a man or boy, do not put your hands in your pockets and saunter up to God’s Board! God is as near you at Communion as on the Day of Judgement.  You will have no pockets then to cover your hands, and no one will saunter then.
  6. When you receive the Holy Communion, always take off your gloves, for it saves the clergyman from publicly asking you to remove them. Place the right hand upon the left, and so receive the Sacrament into your hands, then lift your hands to your mouth and partake.  Take the chalice firmly into both your hands, not in one, and not with two fingers only, or you are liable to cause an accident.  Unfortunately many do not do these simple things, and often drop the Sacrament out of their hands with careless irreverence.  When you have taken communion, go back to your seats, not indeed to sit, but to kneel for prayer, for thanksgiving, for worship. Above all, oh! do not dishonour God by leaving the Church before the blessing; it is a direct and deliberate insult to do so – unless you are ill or faint.
  7. Value the Blessing. Many treat the blessing with disrespect, putting on gloves, and searching for umbrella, etc.
  8. When the clergy have left the altar, then the service is over, and not until then!”

In 1881 it was decided to instigate a special celebration of Holy Communion on the second Sunday of each month at 7:00 am for servants, butlers, housemaids and nurses.  This extra service was announced in the June Monthly Paper with the plea “We would most earnestly ask the heads of households to see that such arrangements are made that their servants may always be able to communicate regularly, for many are found who are really quite unable to come, because of the evident thoughtlessness of masters and mistresses, who would, we are sure, if they thought, alter the arrangements of the house, for servants value the privilege of communicating as highly as any. Many Church people also by use of cabs prevent cabmen from communicating.”

This lasted for almost 10 years but by January 1891 it was clear that the numbers attending this service had greatly reduced.  “Since its commencement, most of the servants who used to come have left the neighbourhood or the city, and others do not take their places as they should.  The Clergy would fain hope it is not laziness which keeps people away; but it does seem like it when they see people who once used to come at 7 a.m. leisurely joining the large crowd of mid-day communicants, and then sharing in the disgraceful practice of leaving the Church after their communion, and before the Service is over.”

The use of seat rents was seen by the Cathedral as a valuable source of income although this practice was frowned upon by the Church as a whole and was the subject of many articles in and letters to the Scottish Guardian newspaper.  The rented seats do seem to have confused some members of the congregation and it was felt necessary to provide this explanation in July 1881.


“Seats in the Cathedral.

Many members of our congregation (specially the working classes, servants, etc.) do not seem to know (1) that both in the morning and afternoon all the seats on the north side in the Cathedral (with the exception of three rows roped off in front of the pulpit and one at the side, which are specially reserved for deaf people and the families of the Cathedral Clergy) are perfectly free and open, and that they may therefore go into any of these they like without asking anybody to show them where to sit; (2) that directly the organ begins (even before the Clergy and choir enter) all the, then, unoccupied seats in the reserved part are at once set free, so that they may take possession of any empty chair on the north side and in the South Transept, with the knowledge that they have as much right to it as anyone else.  In the evening no seats are reserved at all, so that people may take what chairs they please.”

The habit of worshipers congregating outside the Cathedral after the service was also frowned upon as this comment in the August 1886 magazine makes clear. “If people quietly discourse on their way home, about the special collect, or lesson, or hymn, or even the sermon, it might be helpful, but mere friendly conversation must be carefully guarded.”

From this article in the August 1891 magazine, it appears that congregational behaviour at the Sunday afternoon services in July that year fell far below the standard expected by the clergy.



The service begins at 3.30 p.m., but the congregation is not fully assembled as a rule until about 3.40, when the psalms are commenced.  [In proof of this, let anyone watch the late comers bustle in after the Lord’s Prayer!]  The service proceeds to the 3rd Collect only, and then follows a long and often elaborate anthem.  During this anthem about half the congregation stand, and half sit down.  The moment it is finished there is a busy stir in all parts of the church, and a general stampede towards the door ensues.

Two sidesmen stand with plates to receive “the offerings of the faithful”, and about half of those retiring are blind as they pass by the plates, for they give nothing at all.  Some others drop in a coin, and pass out of the church to enjoy a gossip on the pavement outside the church.  Sometimes a group of fashionably attired people remain outside for ten or fifteen minutes engaged in an animated conversation, and then walk leisurely for tea!

Meanwhile – inside the church – the preacher is using the ancient “bidding-prayer” and urging upon the few who remain the duty of praying for “all sorts and conditions of men”, and then follows a sermon for the benefit of anyone who feels inclined to listen.  After the sermon, and during the singing of a hymn, the laity offer their alms to Almighty God.  The value of these offerings may be gathered from the statistics of two Sundays of last month, viz., July 19th and 26th.

On July 19th the whole number of coins, including the offerings at the doors, amounted to 109 totalling £1 12s 3d.  On July 26th the whole number of coins from 200 people reached the number of 126 totalling £2 6s 5½d.

If the offerings are to be regarded as a sign of the thankfulness of a congregation for the privileges of a beautiful choral service, then we fear their thankfulness is, to say the least, somewhat small.”

Being a member of the Cathedral congregation was not all about attending services and supporting good causes.  There were congregational social events, the first being a Congregation Tea which was mentioned in the January 1881 Monthly Paper.

“It will be seen from the Calendar that we propose to hold this meeting in the Albert Hall on Jan. 20th, 7 p.m.  If it is to be a success, it must be warmly taken up by all classes.  It will be a pleasant way of the Congregation meeting all their Clergy, and will enable them to hear some interesting details about the finances and work of the Cathedral Church.

Tickets will be sold at Mr Robertson’s, 7 Shandwick Place.”

However this did not obviously go to plan as February magazine informs us.

“This meeting of the congregation was put off on account of the absence of the Dean and the Hon. Mrs. Montgomery.  As it was found that only six tickets had been sold, it was hoped that no inconvenience would be caused – especially as the District Visitors were informed of the postponement that they might communicate the fact to those whom they visited.

It is proposed to hold the meeting on the 10th, in the [there is a blank space here].  Tea will be ready at 7 o’clock.  Speeches and music will begin at 8.  Tickets, price 6d., can be had from Mr. Robertson, 7 Shandwick Place, or from any of the District Visitors.   It is particularly hoped that those who intended to come to the Tea will take their tickets early in order that the Committee may know for how many they must provide.”

This became an annual event although the name did change to “The Annual Social Meeting” and the ticket price doubled to 1s. in 1888.  This increase was explained in the February 1888 Monthly Paper.

“This change has not been made without much thought and deliberation, but it was unanimously made by the Committee, who thought it might conduce to make the meeting more enjoyable for the senior members of the congregation, for the last year the children were very numerous and very noisy.  There were, moreover, a great many people present who did not belong to the Cathedral congregation; and this change of programme will, it is hoped, serve to make the meeting more enjoyable that it was for many last year.  The tea too, will now be on a much better scale than on former occasions. When we say that the musical arrangements are in the hands of our organist, Mr. Collinson, we know that those who come will not go home disappointed.”

As well as the annual congregational get together, there were many congregational groups such as Bible Classes, Cathedral Guild, Churchmen’s Social Class, Churchwomen’s Association, Church Embroidery Guild, Classes for Men, Classes for Women, Communicants’ Meeting, Cookery Classes, Diocesan Church Reading Union, Episcopal Work Society, Guild of Aid, Guild of St. Columba, Guild of St. Margaret for Women & Girls, Meeting of Young Men for the Practice of Secular Music, Missionary Meetings, Mothers’ Meetings,  Prayer Book Classes, Servants’ Bible Class, Sewing Classes, Society of S. Andrew and S. Luke, Swimming Classes,  Young Men’s Friendly Society, Young Men’s Guild and Young Women’s Bible Classes to name but a few.

One of the best supported organisation was the Churchwomen’s Association whose main purpose was to provide assistance for overseas missions.  As an example of this is an article from the January 1888 Monthly Paper.

“We are glad to be able to report a slight increase in the number of members of the C.W.A. in the Cathedral Congregation. There are now 436 on the roll, and their subscriptions as members amount to £47, 12s. 6d.  Their donations to £15, 7s. 6d.  There are no doubts many more would join if they understood how encouraging it is to those who are working as missionaries in foreign lands to have the help thus given them in money – the sympathy which cannot but follow when any one heartily joins our Missionary Association, and, above all, the prayers which all members are asked to offer for God’s blessing on our mission stations.  From the ten work parties which are held monthly in the congregation £73 worth of work has been, during the past year, sent to Kaffraria and already grateful letters have been received, showing how much the boxes are valued.  If any one will join they are asked kindly to send their names to Hon. Mrs. Montgomery, 17 Atholl Crescent, with their 2s. 6d. or 1s. subscription and she will send them a card membership.  She would gladly invite everyone personally but is unable to do so from want of time and opportunity.”

[£73 in 1888 is now approximately equivalent to £6,600.]


Next: Congregational Questions


Iain Morrison

Hon. Archivist