‘Religion and Life’ Week held at the New Picture House

During the week beginning 18 November 1945, several clergymen, educators, and otherwise notable individuals gathered in St. Andrews to participate in “Religion and Life Week,” one of the first of its kind to take place in the country. The purpose of the event, as described by Professor D.M. Baillie in an article in the St. Andrews Citizen, was ‘to seek such a spiritual awakening by realizing how the Christian message has a vital bearing on every bit of our common life in this twentieth century.’ Topics discussed during the week included ‘Christianity and Home and Family Life’, ‘Christianity and Commerce and Industry’ and ‘Christianity and Youth To-day.’

The week comprised seven meetings, which were held each night (except Saturday). Significantly, the opening and closing assemblies were held in the New Picture House on North Street. These two Sunday meetings proved the most popular among the youth and university students.

The first meeting took place in the New Picture House on Sunday 18 November 1945. The evening was led by Dr. George MacLeod, a reverend from Govan who had previously given his sermons via radio broadcasts as a regular feature on the B.B.C. His particular focus was on ‘Christianity and the World of Nations,’ questioning the place of the Church within the impending post-war society.

The closing delivery on Sunday November 25th was given by Glasgow chaplain Dr. Archie Craig. His topic, ‘Christianity and You,’ served as the general conclusion and outlined the broader goals of the week. Much like the first evening, this meeting was better received and more widely attended than the rest. The student publication, College Echoes, reported that ‘The final meeting in the Picture House had an audience of about 600 people to all of whom the Week had made some real difference.’

The event responded in particular to a popular anxiety surrounding the moral well-being of the Scottish youth, specifically those of Christian families. At the Tuesday meeting, which focused primarily on ‘Christianity and Home and Family Life’, Sheriff J.W. More noted a juvenile delinquency problem, and suggested that bad behavior amongst the youth was becoming an issue that he ‘had never seen’ before in St. Andrews.

These fears surrounding juvenile delinquency were aligned to discourses around the moral role of the cinema in society. An article in The Citizen regarding the growing number of children visiting the cinema during the war noted that it was not uncommon for children as young as 6 to attend unchaperoned. It is also suggested that War had brought with it a trend for darker, more ‘violent’ pictures which, while intended for an older audience, were often seen by young children. It is perhaps ironic then that an event discussing the corrosive influence of modern society on children should be held within the cinema. However, for the cinema such an affiliation with religious organisations would appear to boost its moral standing and legitimacy within the community.

The week received mixed reviews. George Johnston, writing in The Citizen, wished for a greater incorporation of media, such as a film or dance, across the events. The first meeting led by George MacLeod was broadcast by the B.B.C. and featured a choral performance and orchestra, but all the other assemblies were lectures and discussions.

The use of the NPH within this event enabled the ‘house of entertainment’ to present itself as a place of learning and discussion, where faith could be contextualized and re-imagined amongst a younger audience. Ultimately, the week encouraged the founding of more youth-based activities and, in using the local cinema, sought to instill a Christian identity within these juvenile cinemagoers.

Erin Bell

See here for further discussion of the Sunday wartime meetings.

Works Cited:

Baillie, D.M., ‘Religion and Life Week’, The Citizen, 17 Nov 1945.

Johnston, George, ‘Religion and Life Week: Young People’s Night’, The Citizen, 1 Dec 1945.

‘Cinema and Family Life’, The Citizen, 3 Mar 1945.

‘Religion and Life’, College Echoes, 57.2, 2 Dec 1945, 16-17.

‘Religion and Life Week’, The Citizen, 24 Nov 1945.