Four months after a General Assembly calling for radical change and still nothing has changed…
This is an edited article, which I wrote for St John’s Bulletin in June, which I thought I would share here:
Friends, I feel that it is important to tell you all the truth. For too long we have buried our heads in the sand and pretended that everything is alright. It is time that you all know the truth. It isn’t…
The Church of Scotland, as we know it, is in trouble…
• We are haemorrhaging members, and locally (and nationally) we are doing very little by way of invitation to attract new ones;
• We do not have enough Ministers and Deacons entering training to cover the vast number of pending retirements;
• We have too much money tied up in old and crumbling Church buildings and Manses, that needs to be released to further the work of the Kirk across the nation;
• More than half of our congregations do not have enough income to cover their expenditure without drawing on their reserves – a practice that cannot go on indefinitely. For many congregations, their reserves give them a false impression that they are ‘alright’, while their income is not fully covering our expenditure.
• We have become so tied up in coffee mornings, fêtes and concerts, that we have very little to show by way of evangelism, social justice, etc. Besides one of the many toddler groups in the town, what are we providing for the young people as a congregation?
• We have wasted so much time talking about building work, while others complain or even skip Worship(!) when the Minister is not in ‘our’ pulpit, that we risk losing focus on what it means to be a church of Jesus Christ.
This cannot continue.
But this is not the end… It is an opportunity; a chance for a new beginning, but it needs to start now, with everyone playing their part in embracing such change…
We have a great opportunity for new things, growth and still being here if, and only if, we embrace radical change.
As part of that change:
• We need to focus on building community and relationships.
• We need to rebrand ourselves as a listening Church.
• We need to speak out on the issues of the day and take action.
As the General Assembly heard, I have experienced first-hand the things that happen when one is imprisoned by the past; when risks are not taken and uncharted territory left unexplored; when a refusal to accept that an old model has passed its sell by and a new, fresh approach is needed.
Although I am only 36 – one of the 4.8% of Ministers under the age of 40, I would like to think that my experiences can be used and learned from as we as a Church struggle across this land with a model that, in many parts but not all, needs to die and await resurrection.
We believe in loving God and loving neighbour.
In what ways can we do that?
We have been commissioned to make disciples by Jesus Christ.
How are we going to do this?
Our members all made vows, promising their Minister to encourage and support them, and to share the responsibility to follow and serve Jesus Christ in their Parish. It is time for us all to get out there, to make disciples and to rebuild.
During a recent shopping trip in Irvine, I saw this in one of the retail parks.. Talk about a blast from the past!
Blockbuster Video is possibly one of the closest examples of where the Church is heading at the moment…
Did you know that in 1997, a customer called Reed Hastings was charged $40 for being late in returning “Apollo 13” and, out of frustration, went on to create Netflix – a DVD subscription service without late fees?
In 2000, Hastings pitched this idea to Blockbuster, offering to sell it to them for $50 million. They declined the offer…
10 years later, Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy, while Netflix had a revenue of $2.2billion. In 2017, that was $11.7 billion.
Blockbuster did not want to change its model (they enjoyed the late fees too much), and when they realised that they had made a big mistake, they were years behind their rivals when they finally set up an online DVD subscription service.
When Netflix realised that their subscriptions were starting to decrease, they made the move to online and the rest is history.
People still want to watch films. The way in which they view them has changed. Some like to watch movies on the go, others on the sofa. Some like to pause and return to a movie later, while others like to binge watch.
People still want to worship God, but do they want to do it on (often) uncomfortable pews, being talked at for long periods of time and drinking instant coffee from a polystyrene cup after the service? In many cases, this is the only option…
Yes, there are a number of ‘VHS and Betamax’ members, who faithfully and lovingly serve Christ and his Church.
Many younger people and families do as well when and however they can, yet very few churches offer any other options such as streaming online or sermon downloads (sometimes location will make that impossible). Many churches offer CD recordings of services and consider this a great innovation when most new cars don’t even come with CD players now!
It shouldn’t be, but with resistance often being faced from those most fearful of change, innovation is hard. Innovation often comes at a cost, be it financial or otherwise, but we MUST stay relevant and explore our provision of options. It takes time; it will involve painful decisions, but I believe that we have a responsibility to the Church of today and tomorrow to provide a variety of ways of hearing, learning and growing through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that allow for all ages and stages to feel able to be part of the life of the church in a way that is compatible with 21st century life.
I have recently finished reading Tod Bolsinger’s ‘Canoeing the Mountains‘, which is where my title comes from… I am still processing this incredible work and will hopefully post something soon…
Note: I am writing this while still VERY tired so sincere apologies for typos, omissions etc…
I am still struggling to believe that it actually happened.
I keep having to remind myself that we managed to pull this off.
From a single post on Facebook just before 11pm on 3rd September, Erskine to Calais has succeeded in taking two full vans of items needed to help those currently staying in the refugee camp in Calais (known to many as ‘The Jungle’).
Like so many people, that single photo of young Aylan Kurdi, lying dead off the shores in Bodrum, southern Turkey after a boat carrying refugees sank while heading for the Greek island of Kos, broke me inside. I sat staring at the screen of my laptop and something snapped. I truly felt useless.
I opened new tabs in my browser and looked up flights for Easyjet and Ryanair to Germany and Bucharest thinking that I could take a rucksack of things, leave them behind and fly home.
But then I had to give myself a shake…
It was a nice thought, but with a full diary, a hectic family life and a Parish, it just wasn’t going to happen.
I felt useless again.
I felt useless all day. My body felt heavy and my eyes stung.
That same evening, somebody asked if we could take in donations of clothing for Calais.
We could do that…
So, I went online and discovered CalAid, who had a list.
Then came the questions in my head…
‘Where would we store it?’
‘How long would we be able to keep it?’
‘What would we do with it when we were overflowing with donations?!’
And so, at 10:50pm that night, I made a decision. I’ll take it myself. And I pressed the ‘Post’ button on the Facebook page…
Over 25,000 have viewed that single post to date.
From support, to questions, to xenophobia, hours of typing and occasional sighing resulted in a campaign that caught the attention of Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire and Glasgow as donations of items and money began to pour in.
We opened the doors of Erskine Parish Church on Tuesday 8th September at 9:30am with donations already lying on the steps outside.
Just 8 days later, we had filled an entire room to the ceiling (these photos were taken last Monday), filled over 100 bags of items that were not on the list (which have since gone to Cash4Clothes and generated £140), and raised several thousand pounds in financial support!
I would like at this time to thank Anne, Caroline and Jean for all of their hard work in sorting, boxing, tidying etc as well as Aileen for taking carloads of items to various charity shops as the room filled up at a rapid rate of knots!
Thanks to Norman and Sheila Baird, we were also given two vans from A.K. Rental free of charge! It has been wonderful to work with our neighbours and friends in Erskine Church of the Nazarene. Your support and prayers have been much appreciated!
Soon after starting our drop off point, Erskine Baptist Church dropped off carloads of items, which they had in stock at their Thrift Shop, for which we are also truly thankful.
With Norman and Sheila driving one van, I drove the other with Rev. David Burt, Minister of Old Gourock and Ashton Parish Church (I said he could choose the music!).
With the help of the Brigaders of 1st Erskine Girls’ Brigade and some volunteers from Erskine, we loaded both vans on Wednesday night in order that we could leave early on Thursday morning.
We left our respective homes at 6:30am with dry roads and droopy eyes and met for breakfast in Tebay Services.
We arrived in time for tea (hurrah!) after 533 miles of driving and just one tank of diesel used by each van. After a walk along the shore, we ate together before getting some much needed sleep before heading to Calais the following morning.
Our aim was to catch the 6:40am ferry to allow for a whole day in Calais. The plan was for us to empty the vans at the new warehouse for L’Auberge des Migrants and then go to prepare food supplies for the regular distribution at 2pm before preparing to head back in time for the 17:15 ferry back to Dover.
Unfortunately, we were associated with a unexpectedly large convoy of vans and placed in a long queue, which delayed our departure until 8:25am. As a result of this, we reached the warehouse just before noon (local time) in time to empty the vans and help sort items out in the warehouse for the day.
On one hand, I was really disappointed that we did not get time to go to ‘The Jungle’ and spend time with those staying there, but on the other, I think it would have been VERY difficult (emotionally) to leave, having only being there for such a short time.
Having only signed the lease on Tuesday, the warehouse was already ¾ full by the time we offloaded late on Friday morning. With about a dozen volunteers spanning ages, countries of origin and faiths, we worked together to try and make some sense of the avalanche of donations before us.
I spent the day in ‘Trouser Town’, where I became very good at identifying waist sizes from just holding up against mine and briefly lamenting at I would have once fitted them before folding them and boxing them up!
It soon became apparent that a number of the items donated from across Europe were not going to be of any use at the camp. With very few women and children and a warehouse that was reaching capacity, we decided as a group to take what we could back to Scotland. Following a phone call to Cash4Clothes, they kindly agreed to allow us to go straight to their warehouse upon our return on Saturday.
(In the end, we took 1.6 tonnes of clothing and shoes with us, which generated another £846!)
With an overnight stop just off the M6 Toll Road, four very tired people returned to Paisley, Erskine and Gourock on Saturday afternoon after 1100 miles of driving in under 3 days.
Returning back to a full church on Sunday for a baptism was a wonderful experience. I don’t quite know if the sermon made any sense as I was struggling to string sentences together by the end of it… 🙂
So, what have I learned from this?
* If people want to make donations, then they need to prepared to hold onto them for quite some time. Calais cannot cope with the amount of aid pouring in at the moment. (L’Auberge des Migrants kindly agreed to our drop because we contacted them in advance and offered to stay to help put it away!) Storing them in churches is not the answer as space and halls are always needed. If finances/support allowed, a warehouse to store items until the end of the year would allow for donations of necessary items to continue.
* Money and volunteers in Calais are urgently needed. If people were able to go over for at least 3 days, then the amount of sorting and distribution you could achieve in that time would be greatly appreciated.
* DO NOT TRY AND GO OVER WITHOUT MAKING CONTACT WITH A GROUP THAT ARE ALREADY ON THE GROUND.
Distributions MUST be coordinated, even and fair to prevent chaos in what was a very calm camp on Friday.
* If I could go back tomorrow and give of my time I would, but at present I cannot. But this is not going to change overnight…
* There is talk of another camp starting to develop in Dunkerque which currently has no sanitation etc. This is not being talked about in the press at the moment with attention being focussed on attempts to cross into the UK by the Channel Tunnel. This means that more people and support will be needed, but until things are made official, it is not wise to act.
* There are refugees in Scotland that also need our support. If you were intending on giving donations to support the work in Calais, they have asked for people to NOT forget about those on our own doorstep as well not to mention the numerous homeless people who are about to endure the cold of winter. We delivered about 25 holdalls of toiletries to Glasgow City Mission before leaving as Calais had already received too many! It is important that we do not forget those near to us who we can reach out to and support.
I am really glad that we did this trip and I hope that our findings have been helpful as people make sense of what is happening across the water and are still working out what they can do to help.
Allow me to finish this by thanking everyone who has supported Erskine to Calais with items, money, prayers, time and energy.
I will keep you updated as things develop.
It has been wonderful to see the community of Erskine take this initiative to their heart!
A number of church congregations have supported our work with donations of items and money including (in alphabetical order) :
Ayr: St. Columba’s, Bearsden Cross, Bearsden: New Kilpatrick, Erskine Baptist Church, Erskine Church of the Nazarene, Erskine Parish Church, Greenock: St. Margaret’s, Hamilton: Trinity, Kilbarchan Kirks (in collaboration with LEAP), Lanark: Greyfriars, Neilston, Paisley: St. Fergus’ Church and Sherwood Greenlaw Parish Church, as well as members of other congregations who have been involved at on a personal level. (Apologies if I have missed anyone!)
We were also supported by Mary Fee, MSP and Cllr. Paul O’Kane.
Many thanks to you both for your time and support!
As I enjoy a bit of time to myself while Rachel plays in a soft play area, I thought I would share some thoughts that surfaced over the course of today…
Rachel and I went for a haircut earlier today and while talking with the man cutting my mop, we talked about some of the things ministers and hairdressers share. One comment that he made was people tend to share a lot of the happy parts of life with a hairdresser as opposed to ministers, who share in grief or sadness (unless they are getting their hair cut for a funeral).
As I listened, I realised that I was very comfortable in discussing many aspects of what the future holds as well as the privilege of being a minister. Then I realised that I was looking at myself as we talked.
Do people open up more in this context because they are looking at themselves? Do people take a good look at themselves and decide to ‘reflect’ on what is going through their minds?
Do people see the hairdressers as a mirrored confessional where we empty our troubled minds and hearts before leaving with a clear head, a fresh style and a fresh outlook?
Over the summer months, the Spill the Beans material is focussing on the story of David from shepherd boy to sovereign ruler. In the series Windows to God…Mirrors of our Souls, we are using David’s story to reveal elements of God as well as reflect on aspects of our own lives…
What do we see in the mirror?
What do we see in ourselves?
Are we a true reflection of what is going on inside?
It has been a great day and I wanted to share something from it…
Yesterday, my friend and fellow probationer Brian contacted me to ask if I could help him to set up a Skype connection for a funeral that was to take place today. Intrigued and without a school assembly to go to, I jumped at the chance to help.
And so today after 45 minutes, a webcam and a wireless extender, we had a connection to stream the funeral from Kirkintilloch to Canada. The family across the pond had Skype on their television set, which meant that they could see and hear everything clearly.
After a short discussion and some minor adjustments to the position of the camera, I left the laptop unattended in order that I may prepare the iPad to record the service as a backup in the event of the connection dropping. As I looked over at the laptop screen, I was amazed to see that the brother-in-law of the deceased was sitting quietly, looking at the sanctuary beginning to fill with people. Even several thousand miles away and out of sight of everyone else, he chose to sit peacefully in quiet contemplation as he waited for his family to join him in front of the screen for the service.
As we drew closer to the start of the service, the family turned off their microphone. This is part of what made this experience so powerful as all I could see was a family talking to one another and wiping tears from their eyes. As the service progressed and the Rev. Mark Johnstone began to bring memories of the deceased to mind, I watched a sister sitting across the Atlantic Ocean laughing at humorous tales and sharing comments with her family. At this point, I felt quite emotional – it felt wonderful to have been able to help make it possible for a family to share in the celebration of the life of a loved one without distance being a barrier…
Thanks to Skype, stories, sorrow, sadness and smiles were shared. It was a privilege to have been able to help make that possible…
Many of you know that I love technology – I even preach from my iPad, which I know many other people are planning on doing in time to come. I have now helped two churches (including Trinity) make the idea of installing screens in their sanctuaries a reality with a number of other churches looking to follow suit.
But in spite of all this, I know that there are limits.
There are buildings where such installations would not work or would require a great deal of thought; there are situations where it is best to leave the screens shut off and folded back against the wall…
But there is a place for technology in the church and today’s example was just one of many…
As may be the case for a number of Spill the Beans users as well as those who decided to break away from the Gospel for a spell after Easter, some people have been journeying through the first letter of John where we struggle to avoid the fact that God loves each and every one of us as his children.
When the time came for me to preach on 1 John on April 29th, it became clear that it was going to be difficult to escape doing another sermon on… you’ve guessed it! Love…
I wanted desperately to find something new, exciting, and challenging, but alas the text had its way with me — all I could hear was that bloomin’ four letter word — a word that has become so overused, misused, and abused.
You know the one I am talking about . . . love!
I am just as guilty of this… A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from Church of Scotland HQ to tell me that I do not need to do a second Church Law essay. I immediately said out loud – Yes! I love you!!!
It’s very easy to do isn’t it? But it’s nice! It’s great to be passionate about things, to enjoy someone or something, as much as to say that we love them.
There is, however, the risk that if we say something too often or for the sake of it that the shine is rubbed off it and the meaning that is carries begins to disintegrate.
In his introduction to the letters of John, Eugene Peterson writes in The Message:
…the two most difficult things to get straight in life are love and God. More often than not, the mess people make of their lives can be traced to failure or stupidity or meanness in one or both of these areas…
If we want to deal with God the right way, we have to learn to love the right way. If we want to love the right way, we have to deal with God the right way…
God and love cannot be separated…
Still, in an attempt to steer away from using the ‘L’ word too much, I turned my attention to the Gospel reading for that Sunday.
There are some scholars who also believe that 1 John was written to allow people to make sense of John’s Gospel and suggest that 1 John should be read in light of John’s Gospel. These same scholars have reason to believe that this section of 1 John is supposed to explain what Jesus meant when he said that he was the Good Shepherd in John 10. This was news to me as well as I have always gone back to the 23rd Psalm or Ezekiel 34 for my reference so I was keen to see what happens when I used this approach instead.
Before I go any further, I need to make a confession. There is a type of painting that many people use to depict Jesus as the Good Shepherd, which I really don’t like. It’s the kind of painting in which Jesus is shown holding a pure, white lamb against his pure, white, dirt-free clothing. I don’t like these images for one reason and one reason alone – I don’t think that this is what a good shepherd looks like. And as we explore these passages a bit more, you will see what I am getting at.
Look at the first two verses of today’s reading from 1 John as they appear in The Message:
‘This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears.’
Now look at these verses from John 10:
‘I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.’
When we love somebody with the love described in 1 John and that of a Good Shepherd, we go to the ends of the earth for them. We will go to places where we wouldn’t normally go. We are prepared to take risks to help them when they are in distress. We are prepared to stand in the way of things that seek to harm those we love.
I’m sorry, but I don’t see how this would be achieved without getting our hands dirty. Going far from home in order to pasture the flock, shepherds would go for days without a bath, or change of clothes, sleeping outside on the ground in the rain and facing the dry, dusty heat. Clearly, far from beautiful, shepherds are dirty, even filthy, and they probably do not smell very nice.
Is this a startling image for Jesus? Jesus as a dirty, filthy, stinking shepherd. This tells me that Jesus is someone who will get his ‘hands dirty’ in order to lead us to life. It tells me that no matter what kind of a mess I have made of my life, Jesus will not hesitate to come and join me on the way in order to lead me through the dirt, the mess, the trouble that I have made of my life.
Jesus truly is a good shepherd. What makes him such a good shepherd is that he has not, does not hesitate to take on the pain, brokenness and mess of our human lives, joining us on our way, so as to lead us to freedom, healing and life.
And that is what this passage in 1 John is telling us to do:
Let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love.
We are being called to love a love of truth and action. A love for the unloved, a love for the marginalised, a love for the poor, a love for the excluded, despised, rejected. A love that will not let go. A love that abides people and abides with people.
It is in loving such love that we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us; by the Spirit he gave us.
When writing this, I couldn’t not shake these words from my head and so I will close with them, because I feel that they sum things up perfectly.
‘What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I would do my part.
But what I can I give him, I will give my heart.’
I have finally decided to sit down and get this blog up to date…
So what has been happening since I last posted apart from the whole of Easter?!
As a Candidate and University student, it was very difficult to get too ‘involved’ with the plethora of events that take place in the run up to and the week preceding Easter Day. This year, it was an entirely different ball game and I feel very privileged to have been part of such a wonderful series of events.
During the month of March, I had the pleasure of working with the Calderside Learning Community Chaplaincy Team to bring the message of Easter to over 300 P7 pupils across schools in Hamilton and Blantyre. From the devouring of Creme Eggs to reflecting upon the Crucifixion of Christ, The Easter Code, takes its participants on a journey through the events of Easter.
Beginning at the point where Bubblegum ‘n’ Fluff ends, we acted out a ten minute Gospel, which stops at the point where Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem. The journey then continued with the young people moving around different stations, some of which were set up inside the famous Calderside Chaplaincy Team gazebos! (The one shown here is the tent where we show the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane using the video The Miracle Maker.
I got a terrific opportunity to lead the different stations and experience what message they had to offer. I learned an incredible amount about Pesach, the Jewish Passover meal, with its variety of symbols, signs, scents and savourings!
I really enjoyed hosting the Gethsemane tent however as it was great to speak with the young people about the fact that the right thing to do is not always the easiest. In the video clip, we see Jesus asking if there is any other way. From there the attention turns to temptation as a road out of the garden appears and the chance to bail. But Jesus knew that he had to go through with this for it was not his will but his Father’s. We compared it to school life where sometimes when people are picking on others, it is all too easy to join in or walk away and pretend that it is not happening instead of telling someone who might be in a position to stop it. I could see the cogs turning in the heads of some of those present by the way they were engaging in our conversations, which was great!
Through different media and discussions, five topics were covered in the course of this journey: Sharing, Seeking, Serving, Struggling and Sacrifice, which allowed the young people present to see what Easter is really about.
Having been involved in both of the chaplaincy team’s programmes and now thinking towards where I hope to begin my ministry, I hope that I will be able to take these ideas with me to wherever I end up and share them with the young people I get the honour of serving in the days ahead.
After recovering from the repeated building and taking down of the equipment required for The Easter Code, it was time to think about the events of Holy Week. This year, Karen (my supervisor) and I worked on the theme of …holding the story of love…, which you may have followed at the blog published especially for that week.
That week was special. To have been able to help put such a creative and thought-provoking series was something that I have been desperate to be able to do since doing ‘bits n bobs’ throughout my candidacy.
The process of weaving together a tapestry of words, textures, symbols and songs in a way that transports us through the events of Holy Week in a way that people with some understanding of the events or none at all can feel included and challenged by what Easter means to us in the twenty-first century.
On Easter Sunday, we moved from holding to letting go – letting go of our grief andgrievances, just as Mary had to let go of Jesus. Each of the congregation were given a small token with a crown of thorns – the same as the one on the back of our Holy Week bookmarks. Towards the end of the service, the congregation were invited to come up and put these tokens at the foot of the cross as a symbol of leaving our burdens behind and picking up a daffodil, a symbol of new life, new hope and new beginnings…