Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Rev John Pollock (1852 - 1935): From Glasgow to Belfast, "Scotland for Christ", "Ireland for Christ" and the CE Covenant


The Rev John Pollock was born in Scotland in 1852 (reportedly Govan in Glasgow) and ministered in Fife, Edinburgh and Glasgow. He came to Belfast in 1901 to become minister of St Enoch's Presbyterian Church from 1901 until retirement in 1930, a successor to the renowned "Roaring" Hugh Hanna who had retired in 1891. Built in 1872, St Enoch's was said to be the biggest Presbyterian church in the British Isles, but today it is closed.


John Pollock was highly active within the "Christian Endeavour" youth movement and became the President of CE in Ireland, Britain and then Europe.

CE had been founded in the USA in 1881 by Francis E Clark. In 1889 a branch of CE was established at Agnes St Presbyterian Church in Belfast by a working class woman called Margaret Magill. The movement grew rapidly and by 1896 there were 100 CE societies in Protestant churches across Ireland (bringing together Presbyterian, Methodist, Moravian, Baptist, Congregational, Church of Ireland and Quaker) and by 1889 over 10,000 young people were members. It can be claimed that CE brought a unity of purpose and spirit of co-operation across the Protestant denominations in Ireland which had seldom, if ever, been seen before. Significantly, a Covenant was at the heart of its functions. As the 1977 book A History of the Christian Endeavour Movement in Ireland states -

"... The primary emphasis of Christian Endeavour has been on the response of the individual to the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, a response expressed in faith, commitment and service. This has been expressed through the covenant or pledge taken by each active member, and renewed each month at a special meeting of the society to which he or she belongs..."

The book gives three separate covenants as an appendix: the Active Members Covenant, the Junior Active Members Covenant and the Trial Members Covenant. So in late 1800s and early 1900s Ulster, Christian Endeavour - probably the first pan-denominational youth movement across all of the evangelical Protestant churches - was using a Covenant as its basis for membership.

In CE founder Francis Clark's 1906 book Christian Endeavor in All Lands, (click here for online edition), a 25-years-on retrospective, these two excerpts speak volumes:

'...think of the "Solemn League and Covenant" of the Scottish martyrs! There is no more holy spot than the flat tombstone in Greyfriars' churchyard in Edinburgh where with the blood drawn from their own veins they signed and sealed the covenant which ensured Scotland's liberties and made Scotland great...'

'...stimulated and sustained by the obligation of a covenant with God and men as binding and exalting as the "Solemn League and Covenant" of Scotland's noblest days...'

Back in 1896, when still a minister of a church in Scotland, John Pollock had written a hymn entitled "Scotland for Christ" for the Scottish National Christian Endeavour Union; I found it in an old hymn book last week. Typical of the era it is full of references to the old Scottish Covenanters of the 1600s: -

"Scotland for Christ" Hark the challenge resounding
High over mountain and valley and plain
All the dark forces of treason confounding
Christ is advancing to conquer and reign!

Rally Endeavourers! Swell out the chorus!
Trusting in God and renewing your tryst
Bright gleams the banner that's marching before us
Claiming the victory - "Scotland for Christ!"

Men of the Covenant! In glad attestation
Setting your seal to the bond of the Lord
Follow your fathers in high consecration
Filled with His Spirit, believing His word

Sons of the martyrs! be this your ambition
Moved by the purpose their memory inspires
Calmly confronting this world's opposition
Bravely to follow your patriot sires

Brothers and sisters in Christian endeavour
Loving and earnest, leal-hearted and true
Bound in a union that nothing can sever
Rally around the old Banner of Blue

"Scotland for Christ!" from the cot to the palace
"Scotland for Christ!" pass the watchword along
Till from her mountains, her glens and her valleys
Scotland united shall join in our song!

(words from Manly Praise - a Collection of Solos, Quartettes and Choruses edited by Rev Wm Nelson, 1897)

Pollock was asked to write a similar hymn, "Ireland for Christ", for the 1899 British Christian Endeavour Convention which was held in Belfast, attracting 1900 delegates, but I haven't located it as yet. Both pieces were said to "...have remarkable power, and are characteristic of the music of the two countries...". Here are some artefacts from early Belfast CE Conventions:


Pollock's son, Paul Gilchrist Pollock, was in the 14th Royal Irish Rifles and was killed on the 1st July at the Somme. There was a memorial plaque to him at St Enoch's Church (see image here / portrait available on this website). Another son was a Royal Navy officer, and Rev Pollock's daughter Elsie was a sister in the Ulster Volunteer Force hospital - after the Great War she became a missionary in Formosa (today Taiwan).


By 1907 CE membership in Ireland was still around 10,000 young people. It experienced a decline and by 1911 there were 6,000 members, but numbers surged again with missions held in Portadown and Belfast in 1911 - 1913. CE membership peaked in 1936 with nearly 15,000 members in Ireland and 452 local societies.

Rev John Pollock was an influential Glasgow-born Presbyterian, ministering in north Belfast to the biggest Presbyterian congregation in Britain, and a leading member of the global Christian Endeavour youth movement whose ethos is still today based upon a 'Covenant'. This is an intriguing example of how the idea of a "Covenant" was very much a familiar element within Ulster Protestant church culture in the decades before the eventual Ulster Covenant of September 1912, signed by 471,414 people exactly 100 years ago.

Christian Endeavour still exists and provides an excellent range of youth-oriented materials, resources and services to churches around the world including here at home.

• To find out more about the work of Christian Endeavour today, visit their website here.
• Their 98th Irish Convention takes place in September, click here for details.