In 1888 the young minister and great visionary Rev George Jackson was appointed to Edinburgh tasked with evangelising on the west side of the capital. The result was ‘The Edinburgh Methodist Mission’. At a time when prominent families would pay a rent to occupy the ‘best’ pews, Jackson, sensed that a new approach was needed.
He created the first evening services in the city, with free seats for all, and well advertised, themed sermons on Christianity and its relevance to contemporary issues.
As a result ‘The Mission’ grew very rapidly, especially among young people new to the City. Eventually in 1901 it moved into its new home, Central Hall in Tollcross. Despite the original builder going bankrupt, the Hall was duly completed by a second firm. Prudently included on the ground floor were shops for rent, which supplied a regular basic income.
Central Hall, originally with seating for two thousand people, was the venue for concerts and ‘cinematographic exhibitions’ before the first picture house in the city opened. At one stage there was also a nursery play space on the roof! Outreach during both world wars and via its many clubs and societies thereafter, was sustained by the dedication of its members. Band of Hope meetings for children promoted temperance and outlined the dangers of alcoholism. The Wesley Guild encouraged discipleship in young people. Central Hall as a venue came to be in much demand by community and voluntary organisations. In more recent years it was the home of the National Association of Youth Orchestras.
A number of eminent ministers over the years also served as Circuit Superintendants and as Chairs of the Synod in Scotland. They were supported by a Deaconess who usually lived in the building. The congregation enjoyed warm fellowship and experimented with new forms of worship. The choir earned a reputation for its fine singing, commitment to charitable fund-raising and its very popular Christmas Carol Concerts, all led by organist Graeme Morrison.
The ground floor corner unit operated for some time as an ecumenically run cafe and support centre called ‘Crosswinds’. Subsequently the Edinburgh Methodist Mission Outreach Project served the community by recycling and restoring second hand items for sale. Run entirely by volunteers, in 20 years many hundreds of thousands of pounds were raised for worthy causes. Good relationships were also sustained with those who lived and worked in the area.
Following the formation of the City of Edinburgh Methodist Church, the main entrance, corner shop and upper floors of Central Hall were sold to Morningside Baptist Church (now known as ‘Central’).