So it’s the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. And I did do it an injustice – we had a meeting this week between representatives of our diocese and representatives of Perth Presbytery. That doesn’t sound like a lot but it’s a big step forward. So the obsequies for Scottish Churches House weren’t the only ‘church unity’ event in my diary this week.
But the vision of the future which I was pondering as I sat in Dunblane Cathedral slipped away as I headed up the A9. So here’s an attempt to recapture it.
Scottish Churches House was a piece of ecumenical infrastructure as is ACTS [Action for Churches Together in Scotland] I think that the times are calling us to be more missional and rather less institutional. So we are less sure than we were about what to do with our ecumenical infrastructure but paradoxically we are rather better at working together in pairs and groups of churches. I know that that also implies a narrowing of the agenda from the majestic scale of the ecumenical agenda at its finest – but …
Or to put it another way. The trouble with the mindset of decline is that it leads to a ‘circling of the wagons.’ We turn inwards and become more like ourselves. If the mindset of growth and mission-shapedness takes hold, I believe that we begin naturally to move towards one another. We learn, for example, that what matters to the person who comes for the first time into one of our churches is that they pick up a sense that this is an authentic community of faith doing what faith communities do. The denominational identity becomes secondary. The search for that authenticity – or holiness – becomes a shared journey and I think it draws our churches together.
I don’t think I have ever known a time when the potential for inter-church sharing was as great as it is at this moment – and I believe that the will to move forward is strong. I’m talking about sharing of training for both clergy and laity. There’s the world of Christian Education. And all the possiblities involved in sharing of buildings and ministries. It’s impossible to get involved in that kind of working together without growing together and being changed by the experience.
There is clearly an appetite in our society for hearing a measured, compassionate, thoughtful view from churches and faith communities on many of the challenging issues of our times. Society is changing rapidly but still needs roots. Just at the moment, there’s Assisted Dying, Alcohol and Addiction Issues, Sectarianism, Education, Same Sex Marriage, Welfare Reform, the NHS – all areas where we have been or will be asked for our views as churches. And I don’t think that what we produce really does justice to the breadth of what together we represent. The Occupy Protests seemed to seek to address some of the most immediate issues in our society but we haven’t quite worked out how to respond properly and the protests themselves seem to have lost the initiative.
There’s plenty more.