In the late 18th century, the religious life of the city underwent dramatic change. In Glasgow, the Church of Scotland, the state or Established Church, was previously run by the Corporation maintaining the nine parish churches (with only the High Church or Cathedral under Crown control).
But the Church lost significant numbers of adherents, possibly as many as two-thirds, to the rise of dissenting churches — the Secession Church (and its sub-branches of Burghers and Antiburghers), the Relief Church, the Old Scots Independents, the Scotch Baptists, the Episcopal Church, Baptists, Congregationalists and others. With migration of Highlanders and Irish to the city, the Roman Catholic Church started to re-emerge in the city in the 1790s. The dissenting churches reflected the growth of evangelicalism which, in response to emerging urban problems (poverty, crime, drunkenness and sexual misdemeanour), attracted the rising middle classes and many of the new working classes.
This new religious sensibility fostered personal renewal, respectability, puritanism and the desire to spread the gospel at home and abroad. Leading evangelical ministers came to the city, including the Revd Dr Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) who was minister at the Tron and St John's Churches, Calton, 1814-1823. Evangelical clergy developed huge followings, many of whom entered the Free Church of Scotland in 1843. At the same time, however, many of the poor and unskilled working class were alienated from the churches by pew rents, the cost of the fine clothes they were expected to wear at church, and the elitist atmosphere. Religion remained a vital aspect of city life, but Christianity fractured as the churches entered a constant battle to maintain buildings and pastors for a shifting and swelling population.
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