This morning began in our small group conversations, talking and listening. As I suggested in an earlier blog the subject we were talking about was not contentious but it was nevertheless very helpful. The task we had was a simple one – to talk about how we came to faith and specifically what age we were when we made a commitment to Christ; what have been the fruitful and energising experiences we’ve had of evangelism and what have been the challenges to that. As is important in these conversations we were operating in a framework which created a safe space to speak openly about our own story. So I can’t attribute anything to anyone in the group but what was fascinating, and especially around the subject of coming to faith, how similar many of the stories were.
The common factor for many of us was the importance of family, Sunday School and day school in sowing the seeds of faith. It was in childhood that many of us first experienced faith, whatever then happened later on. I was taken to church from being quite young, my mother taught us to pray and prayed with us every evening and we went to Sunday School. The latter didn’t do much for me but church did. It was the liturgy that set my heart on fire. How old was I? About 5. I joined the choir when I was 7 and by then my faith was as alive as I think it is now. I say this with no sense of pride but it is just as it was. The smoke, the ritual, the music it was all transporting, a glimpse of heaven. It set my heart on fire then and the embers still glow and I thank God for that.
But given that this was such a formative time for so many of us, what does that say about what we do now with children and young people? In the debate that followed after the Group Work on the report of the Evangelism Task Force we were being encouraged to get excited about the possibilities of evangelism and made aware of the challenges – not least with young people and not least in the inner-urban and outer-urban estates. It was an excellent morning and there was a lot of passion in the Chamber that I hope, and pray, converts into real action. After all perhaps we, as it says of Queen Esther in the book that bears he name
‘have come … for just such a time as this.’ (Esther 4.14)
The afternoon began with a debate on the proposed agreement – the Columba Declaration – between the Church of Scotland and the Church of England. Though they are Presbyterian and we are episcopal we have things in common, not least that we are both national, established churches on the one island. But the factor which caused all the heat in the Chamber and which had caused something of a ‘Twitter-storm’ when news of the agreement first broke is the presence in Scotland of the Scottish Episcopal Church. What did it say about our relationship with SEC to be going into this relationship with CoS? The need to work for Christian unity is a dominical command, the disunity of the church is a visible scandal and a barrier to mission. But achieving that whilst respecting the relationships that we are already in is not just necessary but vital.
I felt distinctly uncomfortable. As the debate progressed I felt I knew less and less about the truth of who knew what and when they knew it and who had participated and who was happy and who was unhappy. The two amendments sought to make a better way – one more radically and I think better than the other – but it was the latter that received support. In the end I did what I seldom do and that was to record an abstention. I hate doing that but I felt unable to do anything else and I left the Chamber dissatisfied.
The close bonds of friendship with the churches in Scotland need to be deepened and where rifts have occurred they need to be healed – and not new ones opened. The amended motion was passed. I just hope that what happens now is more sensitively handled than was the case so recently.
For bonds of friendship,
for the faith we share,
Lord, we give you thanks and praise.