Believing in God. #pisky

I recently found myself starting to complete one of these surveys. By the time I reached Q4, I stopped and binned it. There were two reasons for that.

Firstly the relatively small size of our church means that any set of responses risks not being representative of the whole

Secondly I think it is always unwise to deal with deep and personal issues by responding to a set of questions posed by others. The result is likely to be what we see in this article. In a very different context, we regularly respond to requests for responses on matters of policy from the Scottish Government. I am usually an advocate of a response in which we disregard the supplied Questionnaire and write a statement of our position. Only in that way can we hope to achieve clarity with balance.

I see no evidence that clergy of our church are sceptical about God. We are at present seeing an influx of people into our processes of discernment – people wanting to test an inner conviction that God is calling them to ministry in our church. As part of that discernment, we expect people to be able to articulate clearly their experience of God at work in their lives – and their deep conviction about God’s presence, power and love. Nobody would make the commitments – and the sacrifices – which are involved unless they had that faith present as a vibrant reality in their lives.

But of course there are other realities.

We minister and pursue our mission in a very secular society. That society is full of quiet voices which erode conviction and attenuate passion. When you are tired and disappointed, the inner voice which says, ‘This isn’t doing any good, you know’ can be a disturber.

I see clergy who have done their best – who have bravely pointed the way forward – but have been ‘knocked back’ one time more than their resilience can stand.

Yes this is difficult – difficult because we carry faith right at the very centre of our being. So when we are hurt in the cause of faith, we are deeply hurt.

People who read this may say, That’s what you would expect’. To them I say that they should look at the life of the Scottish Episcopal Church today – at our energy and growing confidence, at the quality of our clergy and our ordinands …


  1. I think I agree with the sentiment of what Scott has said although I don’t understand what he meant by this “social god clap trap”…

    In any event I would respond to this survey – whatever it’s actual value – in a slightly different way than is apparent from your own response.

    I think scepticism about God – what we mean by God, what people claim about God etc… – is to be largely welcomed, especially among the clergy. Most people struggle with doubts (even the ABoC) and there is probably more of a spectrum here than is honestly admitted to within churches. The problem with beliefs is that they are always changing. In my own experience I have gone from trying hard to believe all the right things about God (from an “orthodox” Christian perspective) to an initially hard scepticism [but not quite militant atheist] to a softer “atheist with doubts” to my current position of what one might describe as Christian agnosticism (a phrase adopted by your own predecessor and great hero of mine, Richard Holloway).

    I was glad to see that the discernment process in the SEC focusses on people’s “experience” as this is – I think – the only real benchmark by which we can judge our suitability for any role – irrespective of alleged and often ephemeral beliefs. If my life experience was one of mercy, pity, peace and love (as giver and receiver) then I would be content to call this experience – experience of God – and so might still be a suitable candidate for ministry. Yet if asked do I believe in a God outside our natural universe who makes parking spaces available in response to prayer but does not cure children of cancer then I would be in more difficulty.

    The only caveat that I would add is that there are clergy (believing and sceptical) who perhaps should not continue in their role – when their vocation has become a stumbling block and when their humanity has become stifled due to their excessive belief or perhaps unbelief and is deemed by them at odds with the world in which they live so as to create a kind of unhealthy dissonance. But a priest who lives out of mercy, pity, peace and love is to be welcomed, irrespective of what the say they believe in (broadly speaking).

  2. Yes or no answers on a survey certainly capture no nuance. If the world were black and white that might be OK, but simple clear answers to questions of faith… In my life I have really never felt a need to question the existence of God. But as I grow in faith I find an ever greater need to question the things I think I know about God. And as for the things that get said in public about God – I find an increasing need to reject almost all of them. So on a survey I might well appear to not believe in God – or perhaps that should be lower case god. I think the growing willingness of people of faith to reject much of this social god clap trap is an extremely healthy thing. It is part of the way I am growing to understand crucifixion. I crucify the god I have manufactured and, bit by bit, year by year, God resurrects. So how does one construct the survey questions for this…???

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