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 continued his Scotland visits with a trip to the absolute treasure trove of heritage, history and learning that is Glasgow Association of Spiritualists. The team, and a special visitor, discuss the fortitude and positivity of Spiritualism in Action, and looked at the wider challenges and state of play for the religion in the 21st Century...

“It’s a domino effect, isn’t it?

“Once we started, we just had to keep going. You couldn’t stop.

“And you’re fine, I think, as long as you stay positive.”

Treasurer of Glasgow Association of Spiritualists, Mary Whitehouse, sings from a similar hymn sheet as many other churches and centres that we have visited on our Spotlight series so far.

Slow but steady progress. Determination.


They’re the principles that have been at the heart of what has been a phenomenally challenging, but ultimately inspiring and transformative, few years for what was one of the earliest and most esteemed Spiritualist churches in the UK.

The grand, almost labyrinthine ‘GAS’, situated within conjoined, multi-storeyed Georgian terraces on Glasgow’s Somerset Place, certainly makes for an impressive visit. Myriad meeting rooms, spaces of learning of worship and intertwining hallways and staircases thread together in a building that now feels positively alive as a hub of Spiritualist learning and history.

What is most striking is the absolute treasure trove of history and heritage that has been lovingly adorned to every nook, corner and cranny of the centre. Framed pictures and informative excerpts appear throughout. There are rooms dedicated to the science of Spiritualism and even one named to a late congregant who left the church a legacy in her will. Others are named after particular pioneers or celebrated figureheads within the religion. Almost every imaginable facet of Modern Spiritualism has been proudly printed, framed and displayed to such an extent that visitors could easily spend hours just wandering GAS’ corridors and taking it all in.

Much of it has been an escalating passion project for the centre’s current President, Caroline Scott.

“Things tend to just balloon with me, don’t they Mary?” Caroline jokes, as we sit in a bright, welcoming space toward the front of the building that has recently been transformed into a tea ‘salon’.

“I’d started to put all of the photographs and things together before COVID, but I really can’t say why.

“I suppose I kept wanting to know more about what it was all about. And as I delved into things, I just thought ‘well, this should really be up on a wall somewhere!’

“So I started putting it out. I wasn’t the President at the time, and I was originally just going to put a small gallery down in the healing reception room.

“And I supposed it developed. And developed!”

"Just keep going..." - Caroline Scott, President of Glasgow Association of Spiritualists (photographed by Kyle Pedley, © SNU 2024).

The end result - if one can even call it that, given the unshakeable sense that Caroline and the team at GAS are in some ways only just getting started - is truly impressive, and it’s a view shared by other prominent figures within the Union.

We are joined on the day of the visit by Minister Miriam Fitzgerald, who has flown over to GAS for a day of safeguarding filming.

Minister Miriam certainly shares in the view of how valuable the team’s transformation and emphasis on learning and history is.

“Nowhere has more history, I think, than here,” Miriam warmly acknowledges.

“I think it was Simon James who said that we stand, as that old adage goes, on the shoulder of giants.

“If you’re going back to John Sloan, Arthur Findlay, Arthur Conan Doyle, Albert Best, you see we have a very rich and strong cultural heritage, and we have to bring that forward to dispel the fear and ignorance and the mistruths that are out there.

“And here is a perfect place to do that. Because you can go from room to room, and not only have you got the visual aspects and all the information here, but you’ve also got people who care, and people who know.

They can talk to you and have a conversation about things in the museum, or, you know, tell you what each thing in Spiritualism represents.”

It’s a strong testimony to the importance and value of this fantastic centre, and the real sense of purpose that the hard work undertaken here in recent years has helped lend it.

And yet, that work goes on.

Indeed, it must go on.

By Caroline and Mary’s own admission, some of the wonderful work they have put together and proudly displayed has been, in part, a case of art through adversity. In some instances even necessity.

“Some of the walls were damaged anyway. There’d always be wee cracks somewhere, and the pictures were an ideal way of covering them over.”

History & heritage at every corner... - Glasgow Association of Spiritualists is a veritable treasure trove of Spiritualist learning, philosophy and history. (photographed by Kyle Pedley, © SNU 2024).

Like so many churches and centres, maintenance and upkeep is a big, costly issue that has repeatedly, and at times rather unforgivingly, reared its head at GAS. A problem that the sheer age and size of the buildings it occupies only amplifies.

Yet even I was not fully prepared for the full story of how challenging recent years have been for the stewards of this fantastic site.

“I mean, the buildings have been here since 1890, and it has just been repair work, repair work, repair work,” Caroline explains.

“We didn’t realise at first quite how serious it was, because we’d always been told that patch up jobs would be fine.”

The account that was to follow, of the refurbishment, renovation and ultimately key structural challenges that the team at Glasgow faced, is at times eye-watering.

“The first two things were issues with dampness and the electric.

“We failed the electrics, so the whole premises basically had to be rebuilt and rewired.”

The size of the centre alone would make this a daunting task, but the arrival of a certain pandemic and subsequent lockdowns only stretched it out even further (in terms of both time and cost).

Sadly, the challenges were only just beginning.

“We then got the damp doctors to come in, and when they looked it was dry rot, it was rising damp, you name it.

“The whole of the basement area had to get stripped back.

“Our boilers were on their last legs. The big fibreglass tank sprang a leak, and because it was fibreglass, it couldn’t be repaired.

“The plumbers said we would have to get a new hot water solution because we would have to reroute the pipes down to the plant room. But then the water tank in the plant room wasn’t suitable for that, so we would need a new tank.

“We just kept finding new issue after new issue.”

And as if that were not enough misfortune and problems for the team to be dealing with, they then discovered water ingress, including to the upstairs flats which usually house visiting mediums, ultimately leading to the discovery that much of the buildings’ roofing was irreparable and needed replacing.

It’s a testimony to the warmth and charisma of the team at GAS that none of these ordeals seem to have dampened (no pun intended!) their passion and drive.

“We just kept finding new issue after new issue... we reached a point where the money was running out and we still had things to do."

Quite the contrary, it seems. Much like has been the case with so many of the churches whose inspiring stories have driven this series, the tribulations and trying times merely shone a light on the kindness and generosity of not just the committee and their congregation, but even some of their contractors, too…

“We reached a point where the money was running out and we still had things to do,” Caroline begins.

“So we sent out an email for volunteers, and in total there were about eighteen or twenty, I think.

“They came in and some were painting, some were cleaning. Some were repairing stuff.

“They were coming in and they saved the church thousands.”

“The guys who did the floors and the carpets, they did far more than they had to. They came in an extra day as well, and did joinery for nothing. Their heart was really in it.

“Even some of the mediums that serve the platform. Minister Irene McGilvery - if anyone wants her to decorate a room, she is first class, and she is quick!”

The sense of positivity and joy in the face of difficulties is positively infectious. And at the mention of Minister McGilvery, Mary adds in a particularly moving story of how one member of the community pledged support to the works without wanting to take any credit for doing so.

“It was one weekend when I was away, and Irene was chairing.

“Somebody just walked up to her and gave her a hundred pounds for the church.

“Now, to me, it’s because that person doesn’t want to be known. Irene didn’t know who they were, because she wasn’t coming in every week. If they had given it to to either Caroline or myself, we would have known who it was.

“So that was their way of contributing to the church, but remaining completely anonymous.

“And that, you know, is incredible.”

It’s a touching anecdote, and another wonderful example of what in the series we’ve come to call ‘Spiritualism in action’.

“There’s been so much support like that,” Mary continues.

“A lot of the mediums serving the platform are not taking their full fees, which is very generous as well. We get a medium in to do private sittings and they agree to only take travel expenses, if they even take that.

“So they come in on an understanding that they’re not actually getting paid anything for their time.”

A steady trickle of income from their new tea salon. Book sales. Raffles. An upcoming auction. Boosted sales as a benefit of switching to digital banking.

There are few stones going unturned as the hardworking team seek to raise as much money as they can to recoup their costs and help fund the ongoing challenges. The thorny issue of replacement roofing for instance, remains, with a recent quote for the works coming in at just shy of £100,000.

The 'Great GAS Restoration Project'... - just a handful of photos showing the full extent to which the site had to be completely excavated and in many places rebuilt (© GAS 2024).

It all compels me to ask how, when faced with such ongoing, unexpected and financially challenging ordeals, Caroline and team have managed to stay so positive, and not become disenfranchised with their roles as caretakers of the centre?

“I think we are just in a frame of mind of ‘just keep going with it, just keeping going with it,” Caroline responds.

“You can’t go backwards, you’ve got to go forward and you can only do your best. You have to look at it methodically and not panic.

“And you’ve to remember, and remind yourself, we are volunteers. We volunteer to do this.

“When you’re working and you’re getting paid, you’ve got a boss and you’ve got pressure and all of that. And you do get anxious.

“Whilst when you’re doing voluntary work like this, you know you’re doing your best. You can’t do any more than your best.

“In some ways, it’s as simple as that.”

Mary agrees, once again emphasising the importance and power of a positive approach.

“I think as long as you stay positive, even if it starts with you putting a face on, it affects you and you do become happier.

“Everybody that walks through our door now says about how welcoming our place is.

“And I think that’s they key. No matter how you’re feeling, you have to be positive.”

With such great examples of fortitude and good practice, it feels quite natural to ask the team here what advice they would give to other churches and committees who may be going through their own difficult times.

“Whatever it is, do it in stages,” Caroline offers.

“You might not even know what the next stage is until you’ve done the first stage. Just work through it logically, and remember - no one’s going to kill you!

“And use whatever space you have.”

The duo discuss the tea salon as a great example of maximising what space and resources a church or centre may have. Mary goes on to admit that the salon’s transformation is not only a great example of having vision, but also of a committee listening to and trusting one another:

“You really do need to listen to everybody’s ideas.

“Because I couldn’t see how this tea salon idea would work. I don’t think I’m closed minded about things, and I’m always open to stuff, but I just couldn’t visualise or get my head around how it would work.

“But as you can see it does work!

“So you have to listen to other people’s ideas, think about it logically and just work through it.”

“When you're doing voluntary work like this, you know you're doing your best. You can't do any more than your best."

Another area Caroline and Mary agree on is the importance of not being too reluctant, shy or proud to ask for help - both internally and beyond.

“If you’re going through a rough patch, you need to get the support of the rest of your committee,” Mary adds, frankly.

“And if they can’t give you support, then you have to look wider - whether it be another church in your area that’s gone through something similar and come through the other end, or casting the net wider, and seeing what others did.

“Reach out and get in touch with people who have gone through it.”

It’s a recurring theme in this Spotlight series; reaching out. Asking fellow churches and committees for their experiences and advice. And in many ways, it’s the entire reason behind sharing these stories and Spotlight features in the first place.

Caroline is sure to include reaching out to the Union itself, too:

“I also think churches have to not be afraid to contact the SNU for advice,” she explains.

“I think some believe that if they do that, then they’ll get taken over and there’ll be this, that and the other, but they are there to give advice.

“They stepped in to give us some support and guidance on doing things within the rules and regulations, and how to proceed.

“We wouldn’t have known how to press forward without the intervention and support of the SNU.”

Perhaps using GAS’ own cracks, problems and struggles, but ultimate determination, as something of a metaphor, we cast the net even wider.

What is the state of play for the Union, and indeed for Modern Spiritualism, in the early 21st Century? What might be the movement’s own bits of faulty wiring? Are the problems or damage that there may be irreparable or, like Glasgow, can they too be resolved through methodical, positive ‘Spiritualism in action’?

Minister Miriam Fitzgerald leads with a truthful, sobering but powerful appraisal.

“I think there are a lot of challenges worldwide, and I think all religions and belief systems are facing those challenges.

“I think probably, as always, the big challenge for Spiritualism is to remove that fear and ignorance that surrounds it.

“As the world has moved more towards science, and perhaps away from those kind of traditional belief systems, that fear and ignorance of what we represent has actually grown, as opposed to dissipating.

“But we have to remind people that we have a lot to offer, and it’s not to be feared.”

"You don't have to defend your religion..." - Minister Miriam Fitzgerald, photographed on her visit to Glasgow Association of Spiritualists (photographed by Kyle Pedley, © SNU 2024).

Miriam goes on to discuss what she believes are key ways in which Spiritualism can celebrate its individuality, not least of all in its progressiveness.

“On key issues in society, with things like gender equality, we’ve always been very progressive. And other mainstream ideas like that, where other traditional belief systems are kind of way behind us on.”

We go on to discuss how media representation, and certain depictions of mediumship and ‘personalities’ may have devalued or distracted from the core principles and philosophy of Spiritualism. And whether it may have contributed to a stagnation of understanding exactly what Modern Spiritualism is and represents.

“It has been misleading. I think now it is about getting people to really understand what Spiritualism is all about,” Caroline adds.

“Because many people still think of us as fortune tellers and the like.

“We’ve got to get across that it’s real, it’s not something to play with, it’s not something silly.

“It’s something that is sensible, and it makes sense and answers a lot of people’s issues.”

“We have a history, we are practical, and we’re not, you know, airy fairy,” Miriam adds.

“I think it was Minister Janet Parker who said, ‘you know, mediumship can be entertaining but it’s not entertainment.

Mary shares a very personal story of how she felt she had to initially keep her attendance at a circle from colleagues, given her former vocation.

“I was a scientist in my career,” she explains.

“When I started coming here, when I started my development, I struggled between science and Spiritualism for a good while.

“I keep it quiet from my work colleagues because I thought they weren’t going to understand it. Because a lot of people don’t see Spiritualism as a religion.

“You just have to remember though, that you don't have to defend your religion."

“And that’s something that we have to change, and have to get across.

“Not only that we are a religion, but that we can prove that, you know, our soul lives on.”

It’s a note on which Miriam joins in on in agreement, seemingly piqued by the mention of science and scientists.

“There’s no prohibition on death for us, whereas there is for other religions.

“And if you look at science, and to scientists, you see the likes of Rupert Sheldrake, who has repeatedly come out and said what so many scientists believe in - that the consciousness lives on.

“And yet they’re just the establishment, so they’re not allowed to say it.

“So you could say that science has moved from the pursuit of truth, to the control of perceived truths. Whereas I think Spiritualists have always been open to exploring everything.

“I think that’s the biggest battle I think we’ll have.”

Ultimately though, despite such heady topics and the idea of tackling established scientific consensus (silence?), the talk ends on a note of personal assuredness and comfort.

“You just have to remember though, that you don’t have to defend your religion,” Miriam adds with a reassuring smile.

“Your divinity is between you and God, and nobody else.

“If you’re dogmatic and rigid and outspoken, people will keep poking that, because they want that reaction.

“But that’s their ignorance, not mine.”

From the tiniest cracks in walls to the great fissures of theological and scientific division, it has been an enlightening, thoughtful and repeatedly inspiring day at GAS. Pensive, probing time spent in the company of three ladies who are, each in their own way and collectively, such fantastic ambassadors for SNU Spiritualism.

The exhaustive efforts undertaken at GAS may not yet be over, and there will likely be further challenges and obstacles to overcome, but one thing is clear. Caroline, Mary and the committee, along with a dedicated congregation and swathe of supporters, helpers and friends deserve enormous levels of respect and admiration for having all helped to steer the ship over what have been turbulent, unpredictable and costly seas.

There may still be jobs that need doing, funds that need raising and roofs that need repairing, but every picture frame, bespoke room and knowledge-laden corner of Glasgow Association of Spiritualists is a testimony to a wonderful committee and team that showcase and spotlight, undoubtedly, that inspirational ebb and flow of true, positive Spiritualism in action.

- Article by Kyle Pedley
first published 21st March 2024

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

With thanks to the committee and team at Glasgow Association for their inspiring example, and inviting us to spend time with them to share their story.

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].