“The Beginning of the End ? ”
As if the Churches in Scotland don’t have enough problems to contend with right now the much respected Herald columnist Harry Reid has recently written that it is now time for the Church of Scotland to lay aside all pretence in maintaining its role as Scotland’s ‘national church’. Pointing out that times have changed Harry Reid reminds us that the Kirk is no longer the ‘power’ it once was. Membership numbers have nose dived over recent decades and the Church seems to have been edged to the margins when it comes to have its voice heard.
Harry Reid makes many good points.
I do think that the Church, as we know it, is at the beginning of the end of that period in history when it held sway in the corridors of power. Times have changed. Scotland now has its own Parliament and media attention is rightly focussed there rather than on the Kirk’s General Assembly. While, from experience I know, that the ‘movers and shakers’ within Scottish society still listen to the Church’s position on whatever may be the issue of the day, there is little doubt that bygone ‘power’ has been replaced with a lesser, ‘influence’. But, surely, within a democracy, that is no bad thing. After all, it is not for the Church to instruct people how to live their lives and which choices to make, so much as to support the whole of society as choices have to be made, giving voice to the voiceless and reminding those with ‘power’ that the most vulnerable and dependent deserve equal consideration in all things. This is never an easy task to fulfil, but Jesus never promised his followers an easy path – rather an alternative lifestyle, the cornerstones of which are justice, freedom, integrity, mercy and love.
“Or … the End of the Beginning ?”
As I write, time does not allow me to offer an answer to all the points and observations Harry Reid makes. Perhaps this is a topic for a future article. Suffice it for me to draw your attention to the fact that, by the time you read this, the General Assembly will have held its annual conference in Edinburgh. Over a whole day, the Assembly will debate the Report of the Theological Commission on Same-sex Relationships and the Ministry. I have no doubt that this debate will receive considerable media attention as it is being forecast that should the Assembly decide to permit individuals committed to same-sex relationships to be ordained to the Ministry and/or Eldership, more than 50 congregations/ ministers will secede from the Church. I find this highly unlikely. However, I do recognise the strength of feeling and the deep sense of hurt such controversy can cause.
The special Commission was set up in 2011. Its Report runs to some 92 pages. It gives no firm recommendations one way or another. After all this time and in spite of all the debate and discussion that has already taken place, we have actually progressed no further than we were in the Church back in 2011.
Am I surprised ? No.
Am I disappointed? No.
Why ? Because, maybe, this is as it should be!
I say that because, in the end, our Presbyterian polity as a Church gives each individual ‘liberty of opinion on such points that do not enter into the substance of the Faith’. Jesus had practically nothing to say about sex. Dating back to its beginnings, the Church of Scotland has followed the concept of: ‘ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda’ (a reformed Church is always requiring to be reformed). The many little ‘reformations’ that have taken place through the years have helped the Church serve the people of Scotland well. Perhaps a new, radical ‘reformation’ is now required. A ‘reformation’ that will come as we pray for and receive new understanding of what God is saying to people in the 21st century.
God willing it may prove NOT be the beginning of the end, but only ‘the end of the beginning!’.
Minister of Bothwell
and Interim Moderator, Gilmour & Whitehill.