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Clarifications over Closures PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Saturday, 14 April 2012 17:33

Jigsaw Puzzle

A few folks mentioned to me that I had been name-checked in the Hamilton Advertiser in the issue published this past Thursday. One reference was to the mock wedding with a Primary 3 class from David Livingstone Memorial Primary School which I have already blogged about, whereas the other reference (on the same page of the Advertiser) was of a rather different order in an article about church closures in Blantyre.

I would not ordinarily use this blog for this purpose, but as I was specifically named in the article inaccurately, I feel compelled to correct what was said in the article. Alas, the journalist from the Hamilton Advertiser did not contact me to confirm the details in the story before adding my name. This is always somewhat frustrating. [There's more...]

It came as somewhat of a surprise to me (and to the others who pointed me to the article) that I am now acting as the "shared minister" between St Andrew's and Livingstone Memorial Church. This is not the case. I was inducted as the minister of St Andrew's and will remain so until I leave. The charge at Livingstone Memorial Church is now under the Guardianship of presbytery until such time as I might leave the charge at St Andrew's.

The article is correct to say that the accepted Presbytery Plan (agreed to by all the Kirk Sessions in Blantyre, and indeed all the congregations across the presbytery) states that there will be a union between St Andrew's and Livingstone Memorial Church in the future. It is not correct in saying that negotiations are underway at this time.

There are discussions currently taking place with representatives from the three Blantyre congregations and Hamilton Hillhouse and Trinity churches to form a Parish Grouping between ourselves - a formalised agreement over matters of worship, ministry, administration, and so on that we can do together - but this is not the same as negotiations about potential building closures or unions between congregations.

At some point in the future there will be discussions about a Basis of Union. However, even if the Basis of Union is agreed between the two congregations, it will be a Deferred Basis of Union deferred until such time as both congregations have no minister. Only at that point will it be implemented.

A few folks have asked me why it is that I don't become the minister of a new united charge. Sometimes a Union will take place with the minister from one of the two congregations becoming the minister of the new united congregation. This would need to be agreed by both the minister and the members of the other congregation for which he or she was not previously the minister. In our local situation that would mean the folks at Livingstone Memorial and I would need to agree to this. The Kirk Session at Livingstone Memorial Church informed the presbytery that they would not accept my ministry, and thus that option was effectively closed.

The discussions relating to the Basis of Union will need to consider the role of buildings, which is the main concern of the article in the Advertiser, but this is just one of the areas that needs to be defined by the basis - and I would argue not the most important, although it often causes the most trouble.

We inevitably become attached to the buildings in which we worship, but it is always worth remembering that the church of our Lord Jesus Christ is not a building, it is a people. It is not a collection of physical resources, useful though these can be, it is a community of followers seeking to serve in the name of Jesus. 

My prayer and hope for the Christian community in Blantyre is that we can look beyond our own walls to see this bigger ministry on behalf of Jesus Christ as our principle concern and goal, and that anything else should serve that aim rather than distract us from it. As I walked around the David Livingstone Centre with the chaps from Malawi yesterday, I read again some of the notes about his life and reflected particularly on Livingstone's own ministry, forsaking material gains and comforts in order to share the gospel. I am convinced that Livingstone would want us to focus on the aims and principles that guided him through his own life, rather than concerns over stone, bricks and mortar.

The changes that our congregations will face in the future will be challenging, as the recent Reverse Missionaries documentaries reminded us. Following Easter Day we remember the disciples also grappled with their hopes and fears; we are not alone. Working together in the spirit of the Church of Scotland's mission statement (see the banner at the top of this web page) for the benefit of the people within our congregations and community may help us to keep our hopes and fears for the future in balance as we serve Christ together.

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