All over Scotland today, local congregations are meeting for the first time since the Referendum vote. Passions are running high. We’ve just lived through a moment at which many of the things which matter most to us about our country have been at stake. Those strong feelings are the natural and proper outcome of a remarkable level of political engagement – something which is to be welcomed,
There is much talk at present about the role of the churches and faith communities in reconciliation. It seemed to me that, unless we maintained neutrality in the pre-Referendum period, we wouldn’t be able to act as healers and reconcilers after it. More than that, I believed that it is the business of churches to be passionate about values and justice – but to be very careful about flags and identity.
The local church is very special at a time like this.
Everybody is welcome. People of strong and passionate views are welcome. But the church has to be a place where everybody recognises the integrity of the views of others. People aren’t expected to leave their views outside – indeed the church is precisely the place to which they should bring their visions, their hurts, their fears, their disappointments. For sharing and for healing – not for winning or for losing,
I have always believed that the church must be a place strong and confident enough to allow all voices to be heard – particularly the quieter and the contrarian voices.
I believe in the transformative power of prayer. Today’s papers describe a context of astonishing complexity and difficulty. I don’t believe that prayer will give us political ‘answers’. But I do believe that prayer will help us to live and work together so that new kinds of answer will emerge.
The role of local clergy is vitally important in all this. Some clergy have made thoughtful and measured contributions to debate. It’s understandable that other clergy have wanted to express their feelings about the future of their country. But if we are now addressing the challenge of reconciliation, it would be better now to set that to one side and to ‘be there for everybody’.
So maybe that sounds a bit soft? Well it isn’t. It’s very tough indeed. It means calling people to be bigger than – to transcend – their political passions. It means sometimes withstanding and sometimes carrying considerable amounts of other people’s anger. It means saying to people who crave answers and certainty that neither is possible at this moment.
I’m a parish priest at heart and I believe that that is where it is ‘at’ just now