Stormy times ahead
a promising New Dawn ?
It’s the last magazine before the summer. Always a time to reflect on the kind of session it has been for us as a Church and what may lie ahead both for us and for our nation.
I write this the day before the General Assembly constitutes for another annual meeting in Edinburgh. The past few years have been torrid for the institution of our Church and I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for the Church of Scotland. From its inception, the Church of Scotland has been a ‘broad-minded Church’ in its theological base and liturgical practice. This is what has helped it survive all manner of historical splits, divisions and traumas. I have been privileged to serve at all levels of its governance and derived enormous benefit from doing so alongside members of both clergy and laity who, sometimes, held very different theological understanding from myself. A sense of humour and respect for one’s colleagues mixed with a genuine desire to work together for common cause often provided the glue that ensured meetings were amicable and the task in hand addressed. It has been a personal source of sadness to me that, over the past few months at the Presbytery of Hamilton, two colleagues whom I have long respected – even though their theological standpoint is quite different from my own – have indicated their demission from the Church’s ministry and, indeed, membership.
A further sad distraction
Over the next week, the General Assembly will decide further on its position regarding ministers and deacons who live within same-sex relationships. So much of this debate will be ‘legal’ in tone and content. My experience has been that this has the danger of providing sandy soil as a foundation for discussion. Theology and Law are uneasy partners, in my opinion. Time and again at the Assembly have I witnessed promising debates of theological import being dragged into the deadening mire of legal jargon and complexity. And so I find it incredibly sad that, as a national Church, we should find ourselves in such a place; having to further debate such a divisive and navel-gazing topic when there are so many other far, far more important problems confronting ministers, elders and congregations throughout the parishes of Scotland and in the world.
Meanwhile – an unedifying campaign rolls on
Months and weeks have slipped by and the historic date of September 18 looms ever larger. Meantime, the so-called Referendum Debate trundles on and on. What a wearisome and unedifying non-event the campaign has so far been, full of supposedly factual information that is immediately refuted by the opposition for its lack of credibility. Indeed, such is the depth to which the campaign has sunk that the personal ridicule of leading opponents has become the desperate tactic of those who should know better. Exactly what kind of role model this offers those voting for the first time and those too young, as yet, to vote, I know not.
A cheap stunt
welcome gimmick ?
But this we all know. Following the Scottish Referendum, whatever the result, disappointment will rank with relief and resentment can so easily give way to recrimination. That is why I welcome the intention of the new Moderator of the General Assembly, the Rt Revd John Chalmers to hold a special service within St Giles’ Cathedral on the Sunday following the vote. The focus of this service will be on how we can build a future together, committing ourselves to working together for the future greater good of Scotland: disagreeing with one another no doubt, but without becoming irretrievably factionalised.
Gimmicks are not something I normally find attractive when related to church worship. But this is no ‘cheap stunt’ nor ‘empty gimmick’ proposed by the Moderator. At all levels and within all institutions in Scottish society, we need to listen to each other and learn how to express our heart-felt views without getting so emotive that all substance disappears like snow off a dyke. At the moment, there is not much magnanimity within the political scene in Scotland. That has to change if the people of Scotland are to share a common sense of pride in both Nation and Church.
Minister of Bothwell
and Interim Moderator
at Gilmour & Whitehill Church, Hamilton