KILSYTH - RELIGIOUS REVIVALS

Kilsyth has experienced at least four so-called "revivals" when a proportion of the population appears to have temporarily lost touch with reality through a mysterious process of mass religious frenzy. 

Such revivals were not without their sceptics, either then or today. A book by Fisher, James, Edwards, Whitefield, the True Nature of Revival and the 'Old Time' Charismatics (1742),  exposed the deficiencies of revivalism and warned against what today would be called charismatic excesses. .... "In short, the defective nature of these past 'revivals,' are shown to 'overthrow the very foundation of faith, and all practical godliness and to establish mere enthusiasm and strong delusion....."

Modern psychologists often attribute such delusions to collective mass-hysteria, and similar outbreaks can sometimes be observed in cults such as the Moonies and Hare Krishna movements. Others are more enthusiastic - see this alternative account by James Hutchison

1742

James Robe the Kilsyth parish minister;  a man of stern and fanatical belief, had been trying to stimulate interest in a religious revival for  thirty years. Unsurprisingly, quite a number of the congregation left. Following various local misfortunes such as an outbreak of disease and poor weather, there was a short-lived outbreak of religious mania, which was seized on by some more hopeful observers as evidence of a real conversion. There are few unbiased contemporary accounts, but describing a similar event in Cambuslang, George Whitefield wrote that:

"Such commotions surely were never heard of especially at eleven o'clock at night. For an hour and a half there was much weeping and so many falling into such deep distress, expressed in various ways as cannot be described. The people seemed to be slain in score. Their agonies and cries were exceedingly affecting.....they could not persuade the people to depart. In the fields all night might be heard the voices of prayer and praise."

In Kilsyth the population caught the revival fever, and some people became completely hysterical, wailing and falling into fits. The church authorities realised that Robe had gone too far, and successfully restored a semblance of normality to Kilsyth with a strong rebuke to Robe. The Kilsyth people returned to their normal ways of life. By 1800 the then Minister, Revd Robert Rennie, was bemoaning the number of "irregular" marriages in the parish and the low rate of church attendance, encouraged by the lack of physical capacity of the existing church accommodation for the growing population.

1839

The early decades of the Nineteenth century saw a series of recessions in the handloom weaving industry, the rapid pace of the encroaching industrial revolution, and some degree of civil strife, and there was much concern about the impact of crime and public morality. For a number of reasons, possibly due to the charismatic and mesmerising abilities of the young minister  William Chalmers Burns, then aged only 24, the population succumbed to the revivalist fervour again. Under his influence, people wept, shouted, and lost all control of their bodily functions.

This continued for several days and weeks, and some of the population flocked to the church. Others came from long distances and some reports speak of many thousands attending frenzied services lasting through the day and night.

Sensibly, the church authorities again took action to restrain the personality cult building up around this young and inexperienced preacher. Burns was eventually "moved sideways" to an overseas posting to prevent further damage. He became a missionary to China in 1846, where he worked himself literally to death to convert the population to Christianity.

1905 

William Irvine was born in Kilsyth in 1863. From modest early success in business as a quarry manager he went on to found a world-wide, highly secretive Christian fundamentalist sect known by various names as the two-by-twos, Coonyites etc. For several weeks in 1905 the group conducted a mission in Kilsyth, resulting in mass-baptisms in freezing Banton Loch!

Also in 1905, poor housing conditions, ignorance, fear, overcrowding and poverty increased tensions between the Catholic and Protestant communities. There was widespread discrimination against Catholics by the majority Protestant community and sectarian riots broke out at the Duntreath Arms Inn. 

1908

A new church called the "Church of God" was founded in 1902, forming a congregation which is still thriving as an independent church today. Kilsyth was again suffering from a serious recession. 

On 1st February 1908 a further revival broke out.

Since 1908 the Kilsyth population has successfully resisted repeated attempts to stimulate further outbreaks of mass religious hysteria, and the most recent census (2001) shows that the population is roughly one third Church of Scotland (37%) a third Roman Catholic (32%), with 8% other Christians A hefty one in six - 16.7% - profess no religion at all and nearly five per cent simply refused to answer the question. These figures show that Croy, Kilsyth and Cumbernauld retain a higher number of Roman Catholics, and are significantly more likely to profess some form of religious affinity, than the average for Scotland:

Settlement/Locality All  People Percentage of people stating religion as
Church of Scotland Roman   Catholic Other      Christian Buddhist Hindu Jewish Muslim Sikh Another religion None Not answered
Scotland 5,062,011  42.40      15.88      6.81      0.13      0.11      0.13      0.84       0.13       0.53       27.55      5.49      
Croy 659  5.61      79.97      0.76      -      -      -      0.76       -       -       7.89      5.01      
Cumbernauld 49,664  36.82      26.48      4.75      0.12      0.13      0.03      0.73       0.08       0.35       25.73      4.79      
Kilsyth 9,816  37.03      32.70      8.01      0.02      0.02      0.04      0.30       0.11       0.20       16.70      4.87      

 

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Updated 26/02/2007