Monday, 22 November 2010

Thanks for the love

The funeral of the crystal bowl lady was today. It was a moving and uplifting service, made better knowing her strong, deep faith and her wishes. There was so much love in the congregation, but she had so much love for others.

After the service I got chatting to one of her nieces. As we talked, her niece talked of how at least her Aunt had been able to deal with most of her possessions - giving them personally and specifically to those important to her. I mentioned her Aunt gave a bowl to. "Oh, that was you. When do you start training to be a minister?". I was so touched that her Aunt thought highly enough of me to mention me being selected as a trainee minister to her niece. And exceptionally humbled.

I know her Aunt was very proud of me. Of one of her Sunday School pupils still being interested in her and going to be a minister. I only hope I can be half the person her Aunt was. That would be a lasting tribute to such a wonderful woman.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

A revelation

I've had a bit of a revelation today. The lady I visited a fortnight ago died. Although I will not be involved in her funeral, except as a mourner, her death has brought home to me something I will have to deal with in ministry. During my time as a minister, as Spot so eloquently put it, I will have to bury my congregation.

That will be hard.

To do justice to those I love.

To lead worship and hold it together when all around are suffering.

To not seem so detached I appear cold, but to do the memory of those I love justice.


I care. I care more deeply that I often show and sometimes am even willing to admit.

With such love, how can I do a funeral for someone I love?

Only through the support of God through the holy spirit. That's how.

I know being an ordained minster is 5 years off. But this is something |I will have to deal with sooner or later. There is at least one person who wants me to conduct her funeral. I pray it isn't for a very long time. When it comes, though, I will be gutted. But I will pray for the strength and guidance to do the one last thing I can for her. My act of love for those who love me. Through the strength of the one who loves us all.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Church - for those who can't come

Following on from my visiting last week, I started thinking how do churches include members of the congregation who can't attend? Okay, there's the obvious CD or similar of the week's service. That's a start, but is it enough?

The lady I was visiting commented she not only misses worship, but the community & fellowship aspect of church too. So, how do we , as a church, involve those housebound members so they feel part of our community?

I know I don't have the answers. I'm more thinking out loud & pondering. What do you think? What does your church do? What should churches do?

Thursday, 4 November 2010

A church in crisis?

Given the very positive response the sermon I have used for the last couple of weeks has received, and it's relevance, Spot has suggested I post it here. As always, comments are welcome. It's based on Joel 2: 23-32 and Luke 18: 9-14.

The church in Scotland, and I don't just mean the Church of Scotland, is in crisis. Membership and attendance is falling.

Buildings are closing.

Unions and linkages are taking place.

And look around...none of us are getting any younger.

What's to be done? At this years general assembly the decision was made to cut the number of full-time ministry posts – ministers, deacons and the like – by 300 in 5 years time.

Its very doom and gloom.

Where are the prophetic voices? And, frankly, does anyone in mainstream society really care about the church or have they all moved onto others things and see the church as irrelevant and out of date?

The good news is, all of this has happened before.

When Joel was prophesying, most of the Jewish people had been exiled Babylon. There had also been a famine caused by swarming locusts eating their crops, forcing many more of the Jewish people away from the promised land to seek work and food.

Time and time again, God's chosen people had turned from God – they had failed to honour God, to look after the poor and foreigner and follow God's law.

Throughout all this God's prophets had been telling them to turn from their wrongdoing, their greed and self-righteousness - their love of power and wealth - and follow God's law.

But they didn't listen. They didn't want to as that would have meant giving up what they had worked for – their fields and homes. Why should they help those without? Isn't another's poverty or illness God punishment for past sin - either them or their parents? Besides, why should the rich give to the poor? They haven't worked for it after all?

So, the exile began. God's punishment on his people for not observing his law. For not listening to the many warnings he had sent them through his prophets.

Israel became the property of the king of Babylon and with that the Jewish people lost the land and fortunes they had been clinging on to. Many of the Jewish people were taken into servitude in Babylon. The type of servitude they thought had left behind in Egypt. The servitude from which God had rescued them.

Those who had kept the faith – followed God's commands and listened to the prophets – must have felt God had abandoned them to their fate. All of the chosen people were suffering and there was no hope.

Or wasn't there?

“I will give you back what you lost in the years when the swarms of locusts ate your you will have plenty to eat and be satisfied...Then Israel, you will know I am among you” God tells us through Joel's words.

God had not abandoned them and it was all part of his plan. As Joel tells us “it was I who sent this army against you”.

Why did God do this? To bring his chosen people back to him. Their love of money and wealth was distracting them from their relationship with God. It was also getting in the way of them being his chosen people. other nations aren't going to admire and respect you - even use your way of doing things as a model for their own governance - if the chosen people were treating foreigners badly; taking land from the widowed and refusing to help the poor and needy. God wanted – wants - his chosen people to be a beacon of light for the world, but they couldn't when they were not following God's law and were concentrating on their own selfish desires.

God's law which judges people by what is in their hearts. Like the tax collector. He was humble before God and did not feel himself worthy to even raise his face towards heaven. Tax collectors were despised in Jewish society as they were in cahoots with the occupying force of Rome. That alone would be sufficient to be disliked, but they also had a reputation for taking more tax the Roman empire required to line their own pockets.

No wonder the Pharisee was indignant! He was without sin. He followed God's rules, didn't he? He wasn't greedy, dishonest or an adulterer like everyone else. Most of all, he wasn't a tax collector. That would be a great crime against God, wouldn't it?

Yet he didn't see his self-righteous attitude towards others, particularly the tax collector - his holier than thou attitude - was in itself sinful. Of course he wouldn't have. He was following the rules Moses has written down and they were handed down to him from God, so the Pharisee definitely was in the right with God, wasn't he?

But Jesus didn't think so. Jesus spoke of the Pharisee's self righteous attitude and condemned it. Jesus knew, though the Pharisee was following the letter of the law, he wasn't necessarily following spirit of the law. The spirit of the law which means God is concerned with what is in peoples hearts. Are we humble before God and non-judgemental? We do our best but don't always get it right.

There was a time, though, where the kirk was seen as judgemental and holier than thou.

Of the non-attender, the divorcee, the single parent, the list goes on and that's just in my family!

The kirk used to be a place where some went to see and be seen. Not to worship God or have fellowship with fellow Christians.


When I hear these stories, I am not surprised people don't come to church. I have read of people in deep trouble being advised by Christian friends to go to church – to seek a relationship with God - and the response has been along the lines of “I don't want to go their I feel bad enough already and want to be made to feel any worse”.

But there's more to it than just the headline perceived judgemental attitude. People are busier than ever and don't have time to come to church. Coming to church would eat into their precious time.

We're still here, though. Just as in Joel's time people had been exiled and turned from God, we too are keeping the faith. We know God has not and would never abandon his people. Things may look bleak, but are they really?

Can unions be positive? This church was formed from a union. The members worked together to create a new church from the old. Concentrated on what really matters – bringing glory and honour to God, forming a loving Christian family and serving the local community.

I think unions can be a positive thing for the local and national church.

It shows some unity of purpose - pardon the pun. Many church buildings were built as we kept falling out with one another. The free church, the united free church, the reformed united free church, the Church of Scotland. Coming back together shows we aren't a bunch of splitters.

It shows different congregations can grow and work together and, ultimately, become a worshipping community of God's children. Setting apart differences for the greater good of God's kingdom in the local community.

It shows the kirk is more concerned with bringing the kingdom of God to local, national and international communities, rather than clinging to bricks and mortar.

I know it can be difficult seeing churches close. My first church closed as a result of the union here. That's the building where we were married, where our children were baptised, where we starred as one of the shepherds in the nativity play! But the memories we will always have.

Most important, is our relationship with God. If we get that right, as the tax collector did, everything will follow.

Our relationship and trust of God will deepen. And others will see that in us. Perhaps question and want to find out more. Maybe even come along to see what all the fuss is about.

I feel the decline in church attendance and building numbers has to be part of God's plan for the church in Scotland and for all Christians in Scotland. It is a testing time, but we have and will keep the faith, though we are exiled in some ways – many people in mainstream society think religion is not for them and find the idea of going to church really rather odd.

I strongly believe the decline is God pruning the overgrown bush. Getting rid of the dead and dying wood. Pruning it down and into a better shape.

Now, perhaps, is the autumn or winter in the cycle of life of the church. God only knows what the spring may bring. One thing is for sure, though, in spring there will be new shoots from a bush with deep roots in God's love.

And, despite the statistics of a reduced number of ministers, that isn't all doom and gloom either. This year, 24 new candidates began their training. That's the largest intake for 10 years apparently and doesn't include myself and others in my position who have, for whatever reason, had to wait until next year to begin their training.

So long as we trust God and remain constant in him, he will remain constant in us. He will use us to create his church. A church about the people not about the steeple.

A church where all are loved and supported for who they are. A community of God's people sharing time and fellowship together and serving the community in which we live.

A church where the people of God are the prophetic voice Joel wrote about. Where we point the way to God through our words, our lives and our actions. Where we stand up for the downtrodden and neglected in society, no matter how difficult that may be. No matter what the politicians and leaders of our nation think is best.

In time, while we keep the faith and trust God, keep doing God's will in this community and communities throughout Scotland and the world, the bush will flourish in an amazing and glorious way. Of that there should be no doubt.