Pastor John Harper drowned with 1500 others when the RMS Titanic sank in the early hours of 15 April 1912. He had founded the Baptist Church in the Plantation district of Glasgow where he ministered for 13 years. During that time, his wife Annie died and was buried in Craigton Cemetery where a monument was erected to her. John left Glasgow to lead a church in London. A renowned preacher, he was on his way with his six year old daughter Nana to the Moody Church in Chicago for a second visit as a guest speaker when the tragedy happened. The state-of-the-art ship was holed by an iceberg and sank within hours. Pastor John gave his life jacket to another man who was one of the few rescued from the icy waters. His name and his sacrifice were recorded on his wife’s headstone.
When the Plantation church was rebuilt many years later, it was named the Harper Memorial Baptist Church and was opened by Nana Harper. Quietly attending the memorial service in Craigton and laying their own flowers at the monument which tells the tragic story, were John Harper’s grand-daughter, Dr Mary Gurling, her sons Stephen and Paul and her nephew, Andrew Pont. Said Stephen: ‘We are standing on the shoulders of giants through this inspiring legacy.’
The memorial and re-dedication service was organised by the Harper Memorial Baptist Church as one of several events during their Titanic commemorative weekend, 100 years after the terrible disaster.
The service was conducted by preacher Craig Dyer who introduced Dr Erwin W. Lutzer who has been pastor for 32 years at the Moody Church in Chicago where John Harper was going. In his epilogue Dr Lutzer said: “When I became a Pastor there, you walked down the hall to the John Harper meeting room.” In his passionate witness he explained that there was compelling evidence that Jesus Christ rose from the death. “Jesus was the forerunner. But you can’t get into Heaven with your physical body. The spirit can be released through faith, alone, in Jesus Christ. John Harper believed that and was able to say as the ship sank – ‘I’m not going down; I’m going up (to Heaven)’ ”
Among the guests of honour were Bailie Iris Gibson who brought greetings from the Lord Provost and said the City had been pleased to refurbish the lettering on the memorial stone in Craigton. ‘Pastor John Harper’s story deserves to be better known,’ she said. Also speaking was Councillor Alistair Watson who told how he’d grown up in the district, played in the cemetery and knew John Harper’s story. ‘It is humbling to know of his remarkable self-sacrifice,’ said Councillor Watson. ‘He will feature in a booklet detailing the heritage trail through Craigton Cemetery. That is due to be printed soon and will tell the story to an even bigger audience.’ Also present were Councillor Stephen Dornan and Rebecca Lutzer, Dr Lutzer’s wife. MSP John Mason, who is an active member of the Baptist Church in Easterhouse, attended as a practising Christian and supportive church member and preferred to stand in the crowd.
Hymns and prayers were offered in thanks and tribute to John Harper and his sacrifice.
In the crowd were two particularly dedicated students of the Titanic. Andrew Learmonth, dressed in respectful white shirt and black tie, said he has been ‘obsessed’ by the disaster and all the attendant details since childhood. ‘My flat in Glasgow is like a Titanic Museum,’ he admitted. He is a member of the Titanic Historic Society, the British Titanic Society and the Ulster Historic Society – the ship was built in Belfast where a new museum has been opened to promote the fact. He recently visited Southampton to see the vessel which left to make the commemorative voyage of the fated Titanic.
Giving out sheets telling the story of John Harper and showing a dramatic image drawn at the time, was Brian Brodie, a fire officer at Govan fire station. He pointed out that the Titanic was correctly referred to as RMS Titanic. ‘That stands for Royal Mail Ship, Titanic,’ explained the former marine engineer. ‘It shouldn’t be SS – sailing ship – Titanic as engraved on the memorial stone.’ Enthusiastically, he walks visitors through Craigton Cemetery to tell them John Harper’s story, show them the monument and visit other interesting grave stones with their own fascinating stories.
The Harper Memorial Church’s programme continues through Sunday 15 April 2012 with a morning service conducted by Jim Wylie, soloist Gillian Strang and guest speaker Dr Lutzer of Moody Church, Chicago. In the evening, Walter Whitelaw offers the welcome for the celebration with Dr Lutzer preaching and the Govan Salvation Army Band playing.
On Friday 13 April, the Glasgow congregation held a holiday club for schoolchildren and a rock concert in the evening for young people. Both events were well attended and have strengthened the Church’s outreach, especially in the local communities around Kinning Park and Plantation off Paisley Road West.
In Holy Week which leads up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his resurrection at Easter, churches in Glasgow’s West End have a series of services to mark the momentous events.
All united services, they start on Monday 18 April in Hyndland Church. Next day the service will be in Lansdowne, followed by Kelvinside Hillhead church on Wednesday. Maundy Thursday when the Last Supper was held, will be in Wellington Church crypt and will be a communion service. Good Friday will have a vigil in Kelvinside Hillhead Church from 12 noon till 3pm with a service in St John’s Renfield Church at 7pm- the time all the services will be held.
On Easter morning – Sunday 24 April – a communion service will be held in Kelvingrove Park near Lord Roberts’ statue at 8am. This will be followed by a breakfast in Wellington Church crypt (enter off University avenue) At 11am that day an all-age communion service will be held in Wellington Church with an evening service at 7pm when Stations of the Resurrection will be discussed.
Photographs and text by Stuart Maxwell
The congregation of Blessed John Duns Scotus Church in Gorbals shared their short pilgrimage to Bellahouston Park to celebrate Mass with Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday 16 September, with the LOCAL NEWS GLASGOW. Here is a view of this historic visit.
The 50-strong congregation met at 12 noon outside Bridge Street underground where Father Edmund, Church Guardian, handed out information packs and the all-important wrist band allowing entry.
Each person has paid £20 for the privilege of taking part. Many in the congregation had been at Bellahouston in 1982 when Pope John Paul II visited.
Retired Labour Councillor, James Mutter, was one of them. He remembered: ‘ It was a great day, with almost 300,000 people crammed in. There’s going to be lot more room this time’. An estimated 100,000 were in Bellahouston Park this time. He added: ‘This brings back memories for I was with my sister the last time and she’s dead now.’
Alighting at Ibrox, the congregation started the two miles walk to the park with a local resident playing the flute to entertain them. Said James: ‘I’ll just about make this but might need a wheelchair back!’
Arriving at Bellahouston, there was a sea of flags blowing in the wind as people jostle to get to their allotted spaces. Blessed John Duns Scotus folk were in zone 26, to the left of the stage. They had plenty to keep them interested as they wait for the Popemobile to arrive from Edinburgh, where the Queen had formally welcomed His Holiness.
Children’s choirs from local schools and singers such as Susan Boyle and Michelle McManus led the praise throughout the day.
Despite a strong police presence, the atmosphere was relaxed and the happy anticipation felt by members of the congregation, seemed to be shared throughout the park.
St Helen’s Primary school chanted to the whole of Bellahouston Park: ‘Welcome to Scotland, Pope Benedict’.
Father Edmund commented: ‘Everyone here is united in their faith, including those of my congregation. Having the Pope visit us, gives us a feeling of great solidarity.’
A sea of yellow umbrellas went up to show where the priests were for those taking Holy Communion.
A large proportion of the people attending the event were young people and the Pope spoke to them directly: ‘You face many temptations – drugs, money, sex, pornography, alcohol. These things are destructive. The only thing that lasts is the love of Jesus Christ. Search for Him. Know Him. Love Him. He will set you free.’
Added the Pontif: ‘the Church belongs to you.’