The statistics make sobering reading. I think I understand why they reach the conclusion they do. I don’t believe that the church will be extinct in 2043. But it will almost certainly look very different
Most of our clergy and people recognise the challenge we face. There are important things to say about both the nature of the church and the nature of Scottish society. But at its simplest there are too many congregations which either have an age profile uncomfortably tipped towards the older end or which are just too few. There comes a point beyond which it is simply very difficult to grow back because the existing congregation doesn’t have enough contact across the spectrum of age in its own community.
As I say, most of our clergy and people understand the reality of that challenge. That’s why a commitment to mission and growth – call it Casting the Net or whatever you like – is becoming normative in most of our congregations. We have a far better understanding these days of what it takes to make disciples and to build congregations.
Of which more another day
I spent this morning with the three congregations of the Central Fife Group – St Finnian’s Lochgelly, St Luke’s Glenrothes and St Margaret’s Leven.
These congregations are going through a time of uncertainty since the loss of their Rector, Revd Thomas Brauer, who has become our Diocesan Missioner. But we have been moving to the point where each congregation has a person in ministry – Revd Margaret Dineley in Lochgelly, Revd Gerry Dillon in Glenrothes and soon-to-be-licensed Lay Reader Ian Scott in Leven. Along with the support of retired and other clergy, that provides consistent ministry and stability.
At the moment we exploring the possibility of a mission partnership with the Church Army as a way of helping the congregations into a new level of engagement with the local community.
This is what I said to them today
It’s good to be back. We always say that ‘if you were worried by bad weather you wouldn’t go on holiday to Donegal’. But I have to say that the first two weeks we were there were as bad as I have ever seen. The last week was much better – which was fortunate because it allowed more space for inter-generational sandcastle digging.
I’ve been working through the backlog – and it’s been a busy week as well with a major and very positive gathering for our clergy and the Institution of Revd David Cameron as Rector of St John’s, Forfar, this evening. I should be through all that just in time to spend next week in London with the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.
One of the interesting things which arrived while I was away was this material:
I have to say that I don’t think that the SEC will be extinct in 2043 but it may look rather different from its present shape. I need to re-read the material and then I’ll have something to say about it
Happy Birthday to Poppy – twenty years old today. A much-travelled cat, she has settled into Dunfanaghy for her holidays. Her Facebook page gives the full story. There will be readings from her pedigree throughout the day. The Brown Burmese is described as actually being sable with golden eyes.
She has had a varied life. Her years in Portadown were shared with Rollo, our Red Burmese. He wasn’t streetwise so they were both indoor cats for that period. The countryside of Perthshire has suited her. She was almost entirely silent for the first part of her life. Deafness now makes here somewhat noisy. Her greatest achievement – with the assistance of her personal physician Harvey from Tay Valley Vets – was to give up being diabetic after some four years and over 4000 insulin injections.
She expects to have a quiet day today – receiving some friends and admirers. Perhaps a trip to the beach later on …
We had a day out across the border yesterday. It is still an extraordinary place. Particularly at this time of year, the visual impact of the flags is everywhere. Whatever else they symbolise, they are a sign of deep levels of conflict unresolved. But that seems to have no impact whatsoever on the underlying kindness and warmth of the people. Aspects of it seem almost brash – but there is a strong sense of a community where people still connect with one another in ways which have been lost elsewhere. The constant use of ‘wee’ – as in ‘could I take your wee supermarket trolley, dear?’ and ‘just put in your wee PIN’ all helps to humanise.
We visited Belfast City Council’s Amenity Site on Kennedy Way in West Belfast – being still Belfast ratepayers. That’s an area which would have seen more than its share of the conflict in times past. I could have spent much more time there – delightful and friendly people telling me where to put the mattress and the carpet underlay. Their post-conflict world now seems to be an ordered place focused on recycling.
We passed by Seagoe and called in to the churchyard. It’s a society where cremation is probably the exception rather than the rule. So I had a brief wander remembering people – wonderful people. They are well-remembered in the community but I hope their story is written down as well. It was sad to see Harry our former organist recently laid to rest – and Aubrey our former Sexton close by. We shared some remarkable experiences like the day Daniel O’Donnell came to Sarah’s funeral with a red rose up his sleeve.
By now we were getting into the patois. So we found ourselves in B&Q looking for a number of things – including of course a doofer for hoaking stuff out from between the paving slabs. No problem at all. And would we just go on the website to say that we hope the store won’t close ….
You know it’s a different climate out here in the Atlantic. It’s been raining ‘quite a bit’. We scan the forecast intently – knowing that we have already had the weather forecast for others tomorrow. And then there is the fuschia which grows wild in our hedge here but shrivels up and dies in the Blogstead weather, We are letting it bloom fairly chaotically even though I have periodic yearnings to get it into order. The other thing which happens here is that people respond to the rain by going visiting. People turn up and there’s talk …
Meanwhile, as my grandfather used to say, the reading rooms are open.
I’m enjoying a re-read of Garrison Keillor’s ‘Lake Woebegon Days’. His religious upbringing was with the Sanctified Brethren – ‘a sect so small that only us and God knew about it’
I’ve also got to his explanation of the FAA’s Coleman Course Correction – a result of the Coleman Survey of 1866 which omitted 50 square miles of central Minnesota. The correction is experienced as a sudden lurch felt by airline passengers as flights descend into Minnesota airspace.
I’m also reading Lanark. One of the reviews said that it is a challenging a read as James Joyce’s Ulysses. I’ve never persevered long enough with Ulysses to know how challenging that might be. But I’m keeping going for now
i seem for some reason to have taken to reading books from the Middle outwards – or perhaps more accurately by opening them at random and taking pot luck.
For reasons too complicated to explain, I’m doing that with Thomas Pakenham’s history of the Boer War. To be honest, it is so vast that I would never be able to read it in any other way.
Similarly, I’ve been dipping an anthology of 150 years of the Irish Times. That is of interest because, until fairly recent times, the Irish Times was the paper of the Southern Irish Protestant community. If I have a root community, it is that.
Strange then, in the light of the controversy about the young Princess Elizabeth being filmed giving Hitler salutes to find similar material in the Irish Times. The paper reported a controversial essay which Conor Cruise O’Brien wrote in 1998 about the fascist leanings of the poet WB Yeats. He claimed that ‘such feelings were quite usual in the Irish Protestant middle class to which Yeats belonged.’
There is nothing particularly significant about going on holiday in July rather than August. But you get used to it. So I feel that I have been trudging steadily through July – doing at least some useful things but trudging nonetheless. Poppy has her bucket and spade packed and asks every day if it’s time …. and we’ll be off to Donegal for the first couple of weeks of August.
Meanwhile I’ve been doing some reading – some of it in preparation for the dialogue between the Anglican Communion and the World Communion of Reformed Churches which I’ll be part of in October. I’m also busy reading the ‘what I am going to read on holiday’ columns in the Guardian. I’m very impressed by the extent to which people at least claim that they are going above the level of the classic ‘beach read’ One of our clergy reminded me that it is time to read ‘Lanark’ and I’m going to have a go at that.
And while I am thinking about the reformed faith, a friend gave me a ‘Diary of Private Prayer’ by John Baillie. I hadn’t encountered his writing. He died in 1960 having been Moderator of the Church of Scotland in 1943 and a president of the World Council of Churches in 1954. More than a million copies of his ‘Diary’ have been printed and there is something about it ..
‘O heavenly Father, give me a heart like the heart of Jesus, a heart more ready to serve than to be served, a heart moved by compassion towards the weak and oppressed, a heart set upon the coming of your kingdom in the world of men and women … ‘
I think I’m pretty well straightened out now after returning from the US. It seems to take a bit longer to get past the jet lag – not so much the sleeping as the eating. If you were following my Facebook, you will have seen that the flight from Salt Lake City to Amsterdam left six hours late. My straightforward hop back to Edinburgh turned into a triangular visit to London City with 30 minute transfers – after which I emerged miraculously with my bag.
So it was Kirriemuir – birthplace of JM Barrie – on Sunday. It’s one of our most beautiful churches and we are trying to gather money for restoration of the stonework at present. I borrowed stuff from here and there for the sermon That included some stuff from the major supplement on mission in this week’s Church Times – with the comment from Bishop Pete Broadbent suggesting that mission begins with decent coffee – I agree with that – and with an understanding that mission is centrifugal. We are still a littel MYCMI-prone to imagine that people are going to wash up to our doors. Maybe that was true once but I think that there is now no substitute for putting ourselves out there in the society in which we are set.
The Episcopal Church has elected Bishop Michael Curry as the new Presiding Bishop – with typical American razzmatazz This is one of those moments when a remarkable person with distinctive gifts steps onto the stage. Such moments are potentially transformative … Here is Bishop Michael today with Bishop Barbara Harris, first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion.
I’ve known Michael for about five years in his role as Bishop of North Carolina. He is an African American with the oratorical preaching gifts which go with that culture. He speaks passionately – and often quietly – about God and grace. He has personal charisma and charm in abundance. His sharp intelligence enables him to express our faith tradition and the story in ways that are fresh – often very funny – and which speak to the heart.
I watched people around me as his election – by an overwhelming vote – was announced. Younger people in particular were deeply moved. One young priest said to me that she ‘feels her vocation more strongly today’ because of this election.
This church is reflecting deeply on its place in the Anglican Communion. Several people – and the Episcopal News Service – wanted to know what the wider impact would be. It’s not for me to say. But I expect and hope that the fact that the new Presiding Bishop is an African-American who carries the story of racial prejudice in America – and the story of slavery – and the history of colonialism in his very being will change all the relational dynamics. And that’s because many of the most difficult issues of the Communion are rooted in the enduring impact of colonialism.
I’m looking forward very much to working with Presiding Bishop Michael. This is a good day for the Episcopal Church, for the world church and for the Anglican Communion