Could it be that as we see the historic reformed denominations tear themselves apart and many new churches springing up, we might be seeing the birth of something that could be known in the years to come as The Church IN Scotland? There will be no organisation or heirarchy, no assemblies or synods, no national committees or central headquarters, but it will exist at a local level in every village, town and city, where followers of Jesus meet in homes or buildings, serve their communities and each other, worship in different styles from contemporary to plainsong, and truly love, respect and bless one another? Just dreaming aloud..........
I've been watching the unfolding story of the secession of the people of the Tron Church in Glasgow from the Church of Scotland with some concern. I have questions about the timing of such a move and whether it would be better to have waited to see what happens in the coming year, but that is a question of tactics. My understanding is that the Tron congregation is willing to come to some financial arrangement with the Trustees of the Kirk that would allow for payback of monies owed and the continued use of the Tron's facilities by the existing congregation for Gospel ministry in the city centre. Yet, no such agreement has been reached at a time when the Kirk is seeking to close churches down, merge others and sell off the assets released.
Something seems not quite right here. Yes, I've heard it said that the Tron has not payed its full dues in years gone by and that harsh things have been said on both sides, but there seems to be a vicious attempt to shut down the congregation's very existence. Some point out that the buildings don't belong to the congregation and that they belong to the Church of Scotland. Of course, that's true legally, but morally they belong to the people who pay for them and spiritually they belong to the Lord.
Since my letter which urged grace upon all concerned appeared in The Herald last week, several good folk have written lengthy letters to me seeking to clarify some aspects of the situation. I know there is a lot of hurt around. But the response to hurt is not to lash out but to forgive and be reconciled.
Therefore, I'm thinking that this situation is degenerating into questions of power, ego and worst of all, punishment. None of this is good and I'm cnow very concerned that this will play out in the glare of the media as it comes to court. My wee congregation knows what that is like from a situation it faced thirty years ago. In the end, the legal result was favourable to the congregation, but the resulting emotional and spiritual pain took many years to heal.
In all of this, I'm reminded of the separation of Paul and Barnabas. In Acts when a second missionary campaign was planned, Barnabas proposed taking Mark as a helper, but Paul resisted the idea. The New Testament record indicates that a “sharp contention” developed between them (Acts 15:36-41). This was over an opinion, not doctrine. They could not reach an agreement, and so they split up. As far as the biblical record indicates, these two remarkable people never saw one another again. However, the segmentation of their work did not disrupt permanently the love and respect that Paul and Barnabas had for one another. Paul would later affectionately mention Barnabas as being worthy of financial support in his work of proclaiming the gospel (1 Cor. 9:6).
On a wider note, it's worth thinking about the significance of this for "evangelicals" in Scotland. It seems there is much tribalism and little unity among us, and I feel ashamed of this. David Robertson of St Peter's Free Church in Dundee has written very perceptively about this over the last few days in his blog, "Why I no Longer Call Myself an Evangelical". It is a scandal that we do not speak of or treat one another well, but perhaps it's because when we can't agree on tactics (in this instance - stay for now, stay at any cost, or go now), we aren't mature enough to honour our brothers and sisters who discern a different way ahead. Such disunity hinders any possibility of the transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ impacting very many people in Scotland, for we reveal that we are not very transformed ourselves. Now, I wonder whose plan that is?
We're doing a series on 1 Corinthians 13 at our morning services through the summer, and this morning's preach was to be about love being 'patient and kind'. I got an object lesson in this, when a text arrived at 1038 from GV Girl #1, who has been unwell with tonsillitis asking if I could take her to hospital, followed by a phone call from GV Boy at 1100, saying that his sister was now struggling to breathe. The options were to stay put, do the preach, then go and check her, or to rush off and deal with it immediately. It seemed urgent, so I made my excuses, handed over to the other staff and left with a heavy heart.
There followed a visit to A & E (a bad call as they were very busy), then the GP out-of-hours service (who weren't busy at all). The pharmacy has suppied her with four different drugs, and those combined with honey and lemon lozenges should sort her out. The main bonus was some unexpected or sought quality time with GV Girl #1.
It's been a great reminder that, no matter what age my children are (and they are all grown up now), they need my patience and kindness, even when I ought to be working elsewhere. And a powerful reminder too of God's infinite patience and kindness towards me, awkward, difficult and sinful so-and-so that I am.
It's a little known fact, but Scotland remains in the running at the semi-final stage of Euro 2012, at least at the website of Peter Ould. By some miracle, I've managed to reach third place in predicting the results of the games to date. After a rubbish start, things have picked up considerably. So, football-savvy readers, what do you predict for Portugal-Spain and Germany-Italy?
Maybe we could do this together and win, for the honour of Scotland. After all, other than the wonderful Homeless World Cup (Scotland holds the title at present, and this year it's held in Mexico) our qualifying abilities for major championships is pretty dire.
On Gibson Street Gala Day, we had a massive electrical surge that took out our boiler, door sytem, fire alarm, various lights, lift, office computer and three data projectors. We're still waiting for most of these to be repaired. It's been a little frustrating to say the least. The good things have been that we had to evacuate the building and run the cafe on the street and that I've met lots of interesting people in the electrical trade.
This "Week of Joy" was capped with the news that none of the staff were paid on Friday and we'll have to wait for RBS' system to catch up.
There's nothing like a little pressure to get us focussed....... keep looking for the Lord's direction!
I had a good day at the Gala yesterday. As always, it's a great example of the community pulling together to create a gentle and welcoming event that everyone can enjoy. I did a few stints at the "Sponge the Vicar" stall, providing fun to many small children who enjoyed soaking me. I also got to talk to many fascinating people and prayed with some too.
The day was marred by a massive power surge which caused various electrical items to fizzle (and seems to have burned out our data projectors and the office computer). The good thing about that was that we felt we had to empty the building, which took The Church out on to the street, where many conversations were struck up that might never have taken place if it wasn't for the power problem. Downside is that a lot of staff time was taken up today with trying to resolve the power issues.
The Gala remains one of my favourite days of the year. It's a gift for the community and it's also a gift to us as a church: we get to welcome people coming to us with generous hospitality, listening, prayer, fun and food. Our visitors love it, our team serves beautifully and we learn a lot. Most significantly, we get to point to the Lord Jesus in our words and in our deeds.
Here's one of the people I met yesterday (courtesy of Graham Lynch). I don't think I did a very good job of persuading him to stop working for the Dark Side!