Our churches, centres, their committees and volunteers, are the beating heart of the SNU and Spiritualist movement. In this new series, we will be visiting and showcasing the wonderful work, excellent achievements and inspiring stories happening across the Union.

For this latest instalment, Head of Communications Kyle travelled to Scotland to visit Edinburgh Association of Spiritualists, for a fascinating, insightful and moving visit that celebrates 'Spiritualism at its best', highlights some incredible community outreach, and ponders deep questions about the future of the movement...

Discussing Christmastime and festive gift-giving was perhaps not at the top of expectations when visiting Edinburgh Association of Spiritualists in the middle of June this year. Perhaps fittingly, given that the previous day had served up blistering heat and sunshine, the weather had taken a turn for the decidedly Wintery on the day of my visit. Arriving at the grand yet still-welcoming corner of Palmerston Place, in Edinburgh’s historic and often ornate West End, where EAS now calls home, sheets of torrential downpour lashed under gloomy, overcast skies.

Entering into the main lobby and foyer area of the grand, multi-floored building - originally designed by architect George Gilroy in 1881 as a home for brewer, politician and philanthropist William McEwan - one is instantly struck by myriad thoughts about this being, in part, a centre for SNU Spiritualism.

For starters, with its winding, intricate staircase and Late Victorian trappings, it feels notably grander, perhaps even imposing, when pitched against many SNU churches and centres nestled in more humble or modern builds. And yet, much like the Arthur Findlay College, which boasts similar decadent styling without losing track of its history and heritage, Palmerston Place is replete with one of Spiritualism’s most renowned and prolific pioneers.

The presence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is seen and felt immediately - not least of all because Edinburgh Association co-habit the building with the complementary Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Centre, a registered charity dedicated to preserving the late writer’s dedication to Spiritualism and spirituality. Paintings, books, advisory leaflets and even Sherlock Holmes-styled props are dotted about the main entry area to the building.

The high-backed reading chairs, tungsten glow of lamps and vintage stylings feel like a warm, inviting, suitably Conan Doyle-esque hug of a welcome from the rain.

The perfect environment to discuss Christmas in, then?

A welcome is afoot: The impressive, ambient entryway and foyer of Palmerston Place is rich with information and references to one of Spiritualism's most prolific and cherished pioneers - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (images by Kyle Pedley, © SNU 2023).


“See, that’s Spiritualism at its best.”

Yvonne Craig, current President of Edinburgh Association, reflects what I am confident are the sentiments of the entire room after I hear of some of the wonderful community outreach and support work the team here have been doing in recent years.

Yvonne and I are joined by previous President, John Blackwood OSNU, and member Liz Glasgow, for a fascinating and inspiring conversation that covers everything from the building-hopping history of the association and church itself, the importance of ‘Spiritualism in action’, youth engagement, the future of the movement and, yes, Christmas.

For starters, Edinburgh’s charity and community work appears legion.

“We did the Kilt walk, which is a charity event.” John explains.

“We did that for Health in Mind, which is a mental health charity.”

“I’m just organising a charity night for the Bellhaven hospital.

“It’s for Blossom House, for the old folk’s home there.” Yvonne adds, as the list of great causes and initiatives grows.

“That will be a demonstration of mediumship, and it will be for them to provide outings and activities for the people within the home.”

The selflessness of the team at Edinburgh is evident throughout so much of our talk. Not just from the individual examples of charitable and volunteer work that they provide, but the pride and warmth with which they discuss their efforts and, indeed, achievements.

Perhaps most touching of all, getting back to that yuletide plug, is an initiative that member Liz outlines, which has seen her and others from Edinburgh’s committee and congregation work together with local nonprofit, Community One Stop Shop, to provide gifts and presents for families and children who would otherwise go without over Christmas.

“What we would normally do is help a food bank, but one day the bank we normally went to was closed, but we still had food to deliver.” Liz begins, at the start of a story that would come to elicit not just a huge sense of admiration and warmth, but even a few genuine tears, too.

“So we found this other bank, Community One Stop Shop.

“They actually help people when they come through the door - not just to get food, but to help them with their CVs, to check their benefits, to sort any housing issues that they’ve got, and to just direct them in the right way.

“So that sort of got us thinking, ‘this is really different’.

“We continued to get donations of food from the church, but my curiosity was getting the better of me.”

It’s here where I feel Liz is perhaps being a touch too modest. It doesn’t seem to be just curiosity, but also an infectious drive of empathy, sympathy and generosity (that she in no small part attests to living her life as a Spiritualist) that led to the story and initiative that follows.

“As I was retired, I thought ‘there could be more to this’. So I went along to their lunch club, and that is available for any child to just come along to, when their mom and dad is working.

“Then they had an afternoon tea for the pensioners in the area, so we went over and knocked on doors, and asked if they’d like to come.

“We discovered that there was a man who had just lost his wife, so that, for him in his own way, was really helpful.

“So we carried on, with me doing things, and then eventually I found out at Christmas time that there were children not getting anything.”

What followed was a programme of charity and generosity, headed up by Liz, Edinburgh Association and others within the local Spiritualist movement, that even the Community One Stop Shop team were ‘blown away’ by.

The idea was relatively simple, but hugely impactful. Liz and members of the congregation at EAS set out to do their best to try and minimise how many children of the local area would go without at Christmas. Through a mix of donations, purchases and fundraising, taking place over the course of the whole year, the initiative set out to provide parents or guardians who would otherwise be unable to afford gifts with bags of presents and things to wrap and give to their children.

“We weren’t asking for a bag full of presents under a tree. Just that the child is going to have something to open.”

Despite their rather conservative first expectations, the scheme ended up being a huge success, and the generosity of those involved unprecedented.

“I think we started off at maybe twenty-four or twenty-five [children].

“And then eventually, some people in the church were ‘taking a child’. They would say ‘well I can take one child, I can help one child’.

“So I would just give them the child’s age and their sex, and then they would bring things in for them.

“Eventually, last year, we got up to 60 children.”

It wasn’t just the number of children being helped that amazed social and support workers, either, but the sheer breadth of generosity of Liz and her team of festive angels.

“The very first year that we did it, the actual workers themselves went into the bags, and they couldn’t believe what we had actually bought. They were just blown away.

“The very first year that we did it... they couldn't believe what we had actually bought. They were just blown away... So there were lots of tears from social workers, and lots of tears from parents."

“Some social workers actually thought that one bag was for something like a family of three, until they were told that no, there was a bag for each individual child.

“One child actually got a bike.

“So there were a lot of tears from socials workers, and lots of tears from parents.

“It means every one of those children, who’d never got anything at all, or would have gotten nothing, get a Christmas.

“And we get given the most vulnerable people.

“It means that mom and dad, or mom or dad, can actually know that they’re getting referred, and know that at Christmastime their child will be getting something.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s not work.”

As if this inspiring, touching programme wasn’t already generous enough, I am amazed to hear that Liz and team make it that touch more special by providing the gifts unwrapped, along with accompanying wrapping paper, ribbons and tags, so that the parents or guardians are able to have the joy of wrapping and personalising the gifts themselves.

Liz shares one particularly moving case study (anonymised for data and identity protection purposes, naturally) of a father who came to their attention already after that year’s referrals had already been fulfilled and completed, when he was placed in emergency charge of his autistic son, without anything to give or celebrate the festive season with.

“I put the word out - ‘listen, this man’s got nothing.’

“I ended up with a Christmas tree, decorations, lights, ornaments.”

"Spiritualism at its best...": Edinburgh member, Liz Glasgow (pictured in all three images) has overseen a wealth of incredible community support and outreach projects from the church over recent years. She is pictured in the top image with fellow Edinburgh Assocation volunteer, George, along with some of the 'Community One Stop Shop' team, after their Christmas benevolence gift-giving initiative helped 60 families last year celebrate a Christmas that they otherwise would've been unable to afford (images © Liz Glasgow/EAS).

And, naturally, a bag full of gifts for his son that were carefully and meticulously planned for the child’s needs…

“We went out straight away and had to pick out soft things. I had to use my head about what this boy would want and need. Sensory stuff and things like that.

“So we went up the following day with this big bag of things, and when the father came in two days later, there they were; the bags in the corner waiting for them.

“He just looked at the bags, went out the door, burst into tears, then came back in and said ‘Honestly, you don’t know what you’ve done for me’.

“So that, to me, was the topping on it all, to help that one dad with his boy’s Christmas.”

Almost overwhelmed with admiration and pride at what we are all hearing, it’s the perfect moment for Yvonne to add in that all-too-true summary.

“See, that’s Spiritualism at its best.”

Hearing how the committee, congregation and members at Edinburgh are having such an incredible, positive impact on their community about them brings that old phrase ‘Spiritualism in action’ once again bubbling to the fore.

But whilst this series is indeed all about championing good practice and celebrating achievements, our wide-reaching and flowing conversation isn’t confined solely to the heartwarming, either. The positives and innate generosity, and the brotherhood of Spiritualism inevitably segue to some its challenges, too.

Before long, we’re contemplating some of the bigger questions and existential issues that face the movement in the years to come.

Edinburgh’s story - a church that has moved from an uninviting, barely-visible upper storey above a pub, that had visitors reluctant to attend, to its current, distinctly more inviting surroundings - suggests itself as a good metaphor for the SNU, and Spiritualism as a whole.

“Let’s face it,” John opines, “any organisation that’s been going for over a hundred years is going to have its ups and downs.

“I think our church is a good example of that. We’ve had some very bad days, but I think over the past thirty years what we have tried to do is build on the achievements of previous committees, to try and get to a better place.

“So we are lucky. We’ve got a church that’s gone from being seen as very austere and unwelcoming… and really not having money.

“That was the case many years ago. And now we’re quite a well-off church, and a welcome environment for visitors and members alike.

“So we’ve got a stability there, and we’ve got something to build upon now. But I want the new committees of the future to be able to take that to the next level.”

Being a highly experienced veteran and respected voice within the SNU, John is insightful and frank in his discussions of how the Union, and indeed Spiritualism as a whole, may need to evolve, or at least be willing to consider evolution, to fit with the realities it faces of membership, and particularly of youth engagement.

“We talk about being a progressive religion,” John beings, “and to be perfectly honest, I don’t think in some ways we are all that progressive.

“In some ways we are too staid. It’s very much ‘this is what we do’ and we never seem to move beyond that.

“I think as churches, and as committees, we can very much get into this rutt of saying ‘but that’s how we do it in this church, and that’s the way it goes’.

“But that’s not how we’re going to change.

“I think we do need to really pull our socks up and think: our churches are getting smaller, the wider movement’s getting smaller, simply because we’re not appealing to the wider public.

"And I think we need to think about the message we’re getting across, and how we get that message across.”

“We need to think about the message we're getting across, and how we get that message across."

It’s a powerful, honest stance, and one that inevitably leads to conversations about youth engagement - something of a hot topic issue with many members and committees across the Union of late.

John speaks of a duality at the heart of Spiritualism, which, despite his belief in it not being in some ways particularly ‘progressive’, can at least boast a diversity of members and approach:

“I do think we are the most diverse and inclusive religious organisation you could get,” he adds, “in terms of its community, and what we believe in.

“But does the woman living in the flat across the road from a church know that?

“Given how inclusive and diverse we are as a religion, you would think that young people should be pouring into our churches, but no. And yet, they’re pouring into some of the Christian churches.

“So why is that? What are they doing that we are not doing? What are they saying?”

It’s an angle to the conversation that feels purposeful and constructive.

This isn’t baseless criticism, reactionary negativity, nor is it head-in-the-sand, ‘everything is fine’ mentality, either. It’s refreshing to be balancing all of the moving and inspiring positives I am hearing at Edinburgh with some of the bigger questions and challenges facing Modern Spiritualism. That it is coming from people who have been part of the movement collectively for decades, and bring so much experience and perspective to their input, only makes it all the more absorbing.

Spirit, Body and Health in Mind...: John Blackwood OSNU (pictured, centre) and the team from Edinburgh Association participate in the 'Kilt Walk', in aid of one of Scotland's best-known and most trusted Mental Health charities, 'Health in Mind' (image © EAS).

In discussing some of the barriers of interest and entry to the young, we stumble, perhaps inevitably, onto the occasionally thorny issue of the language of the Seven Principles.

When I asked a ‘Big Question’ on the Union’s social media channels earlier this year, about whether or not the language of the Principles - which remain the guiding disciplines and edicts of SNU Spiritualism - was outdated, the results were rather eye-opening. A fairly evenly-split divide between equally impassioned parties; one who felt the principles were timeless, truthful and did not need amending, and those who felt some of the language within them was outdated or, worse, fringed upon being misogynistic or exclusionary.

Curiously, it turns out it is a subject that Edinburgh and its Lyceum had already been exploring:

“Nobody’s got the right answer,” John begins, frankly.

“We all share our thoughts, and for a few of the Lyceum meetings we’ve been talking about this very subject, and just asking ‘how progressive are we?’, and ‘how can we reach our younger generation?’.

“So we spent one session looking at the Principles, and we are very conscious that young people are coming in, but looking straight upon our platform, at the Seven Principles there.

“And people have commented, and said that they felt it is very misogynistic.

“We can all talk about it, and of course because many of us are older, we will think and feel that we don’t have a problem with seeing the ‘Fatherhood’ of God, or ‘Brotherhood’ of man, because we know that embraces everyone.

“But to a teenager or young person, that’s not the case, and we have to accept that.

“In order to be accepted by that generation, we’re going to have to think about how we present ourselves.

“Now does that mean we change our principles? I think that’s what it always seems to go down to, and I think it need not be the case.”

John goes on to explain how the Lyceum had, for one of its sessions, explored and brainstormed ideas of updating, or even supplementing the Principles, where several interesting suggestions came forward:

“We came up at first with a new version [of the Principles], and then we went back to the fact that they are part of our history and that they are sacred, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

“But then we thought that maybe we need something new - almost like a mission statement that says ‘this is what Spiritualism means, this is was we stand for’, where we could be talking more about consciousness or eternal spirits, other than using ‘God’, or even just using more modern language.

“Rather than tinker with the Principles, which some people won’t be happy with, have something else. Make a statement to the world about Spiritualism, about life, not about death.

It’s part of a wider belief the Edinburgh group seem to hold about focusing on life, on the here and now, and how, once again, Spiritualism in action is perhaps the most important and driving idea of all.

“I think we actually need to get away from talking about death, and talk about life more.” John explains.

"About how Spiritualism can enhance your life here in the world. About how, by actually employing the Principles of Spiritualism in your life, you become a better, healthier, wealthier person.”

“I think we actually need to get away from talking about death, and talk about life more. About how Spiritualism can enhance your life her in the world. About how, by actually employing the Principles of Spiritualism in your life, you become a better, healthier, wealthier person."

It feels like something of a full-circle moment, and a positive and optimistic note as we wheel back to the the wider efforts and wonderful outreach work being done here, and how emblematic it is of Spiritualism and its teachings as a whole.

“It’s about understanding that role that we have within our local communities, and how we should be helping them.

“Other religions have done it - with the Quakers, most notably, doing so. That’s exactly how they reformed and moved on, and I think Spiritualism needs to do the same.

“Just sitting back, expecting new members and new visitors to walk in through our door isn’t enough. We need to do much more than that, and that’s what we try and do here, within this journey.”

“I think it’s important to interact with other churches, as well,” Yvonne adds in.

“I think we do need to get more of that - of churches working together, so that if one church is toiling, then mediums and people from another church will go and help them.

“Maybe do a demonstration or event or something to help them financially, as well as anything else to help bring people into their church.”

My time at Edinburgh has certainly been an eye-opening and affirming one. The stories and subjects shared and explored could easily facilitate an article many times the length of this one.

And, as has been true of the entirety of this ‘Spotlight’ series so far, where I have been constantly struck by the palpable sense of camaraderie, community and fellowship that keeps so much of the Union and SNU Spiritualism afloat, there is so much resonant positivity and, indeed, spirit, to take away.

But so, too, has it been unexpectedly quite probing and questioning. Many of the questions that bandy around much of the membership, some of the stark truths that the Union and movement must collectively face and ask of itself, are being explored and voiced here. Considered, brainstormed, debated.

Admirably, there are no pretences or suggestions of there being easy answers or quick, simple solutions.

So I end our roundtable by asking if the team at Edinburgh - weighing up all of the challenges alongside the inspirational, beautiful outreach achievements - are optimistic for the future of their Church and the Union as a whole?

Liz Glasgow (left), President of Edinburgh Association of Spiritualists, Yvonne Craig (centre) and John Blackwood OSNU (right) (image by Kyle Pedley, © SNU 2023). 

“I think so,” John begins.

“I guess I am optimistic because I can see that change is happening.

“I could go back thirty-five years, as far as I can recall. Can I see that Spiritualism has changed in that time for the better? Yes, I can.

“When you speak to some people, they’ll say ‘oh no, we don’t have this’ or ‘we don’t have the mediums of the past’, and that it was somehow all great and perfect.

“But actually, it’s amazing how, over the years, you get those rose-tinted glasses.”

President Yvonne agrees, also citing change from within the Union, and once again how she believes collective and collaborative effort is the best way that SNU Spiritualism can endure and thrive:

“The thing is, if you’re not in it, you can’t win it. You can’t make change.

“You’ve got to be part of making those changes.”

Yvonne goes on to acknowledge how, for the first time in a long time she felt that Scottish churches in particular were beginning to be seen and heard:

“I don’t know what the Welsh folk or the Irish folk felt, but there was never a face of the SNU seen in Scotland before. It’s as if we didn’t exist.

“I am optimistic because I can see that change is happening."

“But it’s nice, because that is changing. Some of them are coming up here now.”

But ultimately, for Yvonne, it all comes back to the church, its members and its congregation.

“I think that’s where there’s progress, and we have to move forward. But we’re mostly looking for everybody to feel part of the church, because it is their church.

“I’m absolutely, really proud of our church, and I think it’s an absolute privilege to be its President.

“It’s lovely to see our members sit there, and you know that they’re coming in and they’re feeling welcome.  That there’s always a smile ready for them when they come in, when everybody asks how everybody is.

“We are a family, and we do like to think that anybody that comes in feels welcome, and that they will feel they are part of our community, even if it’s just for the one day.”

As Yvonne says this, it’s difficult to not think of her own words about Liz’s wonderful efforts earlier that day. It seems that Yvonne’s own vision for Edinburgh’s congregation and members is also, undoubtedly, Spiritualism at its best.

A sentiment given a neat and beautiful ribbon with John’s own closing comments:

“I know that I do appreciate being part of that extended family, too. We probably have more to do with each other here than we do our families!” He jokes.

“But for me, personally, Spiritualism has enhanced my life. It has made me a stronger, more confident person.

“Everything that I benefit from, in my working life, people will ask ‘how did you learn that?’.

“And my answer is simple:

“It’s through Spiritualism that I learn to do that.”

- Article by Kyle Pedley
first published 24th November 2023

You can learn more about Edinburgh Associaiton of Spiritualists by visiting its Facebook Page or Official Website.

With thanks to the committee and team at Edinburgh Association for their excellent work, and for sharing their time and stories with us.

We want to hear all about your own church and committee stories, projects and achievements, too!

Get in touch by emailing Kyle Pedley, Head of Communications, at [email protected].