Aberdeen New Year Conferences
On 1st and 2nd January 2010 around 220 believers met in New Year Conference in Aberdeen. Over the two days there were four sessions of ministry including one home worker’s report. The ministry was provided by Jabe Nicholson from the USA and Alistair Sinclair from Crosshouse, Ayrshire. The focus of the ministry was ‘What moved the early church?’ and it is clear that the Lord’s people felt the challenge. The home worker report was provided by Jim McMaster from Newcastle and focused on his street work among the homeless, and his work with local prisons and detention centres.
The meetings marked the 135th anniversary of the New Year Conferences in the city. That anniversary is, of course, not remarkable or significant in its own right but the longevity of their history and the current attendance figures of these meetings is testimony to God’s goodness and the continuing interest of His people in His word.
The conferences began in 1875 and were spawned from what was billed as an annual revival meeting which commenced in Old Rayne in 1871. These ’revival meetings‘ which ran for some three or four years were instigated by a well-known local preacher by the name of Donald Ross. He was much used by the Lord in what was considered a real spiritual revival in the Aberdeen area in the late 1800’s. In order to help and encourage new converts Donald Ross produced monthly magazine publications including The Northern Evangelistic Intelligencer which later became The Northern Witness, and later still The Witness. The revival meetings were another mechanism for believers not only to hear the word but also to enjoy fellowship with other saints. These meetings were held initially on April Fast day – a local holiday, but from 1875 they were held in January and from 1879 have been fixed on the first two or three days of each new year. In those early days the conference spread over three days with one of the main sessions on the third day dedicated to Sunday School and Bible Class work. This third day was dropped after 1963.
The first conference for which the speakers are identified was 1876 and they were J. A. Boswell of Bedford, Rice T. Hopkins of Birkenhead, J. R. Caldwell, T. Cochrane of Glasgow and Donald Ross (then from Edinburgh). The order of meetings that year was - Day 1 prayer meeting at 10.00 followed by an exhortation meeting from 11.00 to 13.00. Afternoon consisted of a two-hour conversational Bible reading and in the evening a gospel meeting of similar duration. Day 2 consisted of prayer meeting at 10.00 followed by four hours of ministry and a final gospel tea meeting. Such were the numbers attending that final meeting that tickets were issued in advance. Changes in format have been made over the years as need and interest has developed. The introduction of the ‘round table discussion’ between the invited speakers on the first day being a well received amendment. Sadly, in the late 1900’s, the gospel meetings were dropped and at the present time the conference comprises two days with the main focus on Bible teaching.
The 1923 Jubilee Conference was attended by a local journalist who wrote under the pseudonym of ‘a listener in’. He wrote, ‘Topics for discussion were well selected, the speaking was of a high level providing the hearers with the maximum of instruction of a kind that never fails to prove a potent spiritual tonic. The addresses were lengthy but not out of place at the season of feasting and there was no tiring out of the audience but an undiminished attention throughout. We had six hours of it finding pleasure and profit in abundant measure; and envying somewhat those who get such fare as a commonplace of their assembly experience. They ought to be giants in the realm of spiritual things if this conference teaching is an example of their ordinary bill of fare’.
The conferences have been held in various locations but for the greater part of the 20th century in Gilcomston Church in the centre of the city with lunch of hot soup and potatoes and sandwiches being supplied each day in Hebron Hall by a willing band of brothers and sisters providing both sustenance for those who had travelled distances and opportunity for enjoyable fellowship. In more recent days the meetings have been held in Victoria Hall, Torry, an ideal venue for current attendance levels – the traditional Scottish pie still features as the tea-time fare.
Numbers have gradually diminished over the years from a starting point of over 1000 to around 700 in the mid 1900’s to present levels of around 200. That current number, however, represents a positive development from what was a rather low base at the turn of the century and while the revival of the late 1800’s is now a matter of history it is encouraging to see increasing numbers of all ages attending year on year.