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Emerging patterns PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Monday, 05 September 2011 21:57

Iron filings showing magnetic fields

Often in ministry it can be the case that you are involved with such a large number of different things that they seem disconnected and disjointed. Today it has been one of those joyous days when lots of disparate things formed a clear pattern in my mind of how they all fit together. Something like the invisible forces of attraction between opposing poles of magnets that are revealed by iron filings, so the links between a lot of the things I've been involved with over the past months (and years) really came clear.

Truth be told, I had rather looked forward to a lazy morning after an intensely hectic weekend, though I knew it was not going to be a day off as I had stuff in the diary for later in the day. But a phone call from my friend Bryan Kerr while I walked back from dropping the kids off at school led to a trip on the train to Glasgow Central to meet with Rev David McLachlan, minister at Langside Parish Church, who has been asked to lead one of the workshops at the What kind of church? conference that OneKirk are organising for late October. Over a Venti Cappuccino in Starbucks, we had a great discussion on what kind of community the church is and can be, and how that relates then to the wider community in which each congregation and community of faith is located. [There's more...] 

David came with lots of ideas that he wanted to share as part of the workshop which inevitably spurred conversation and sharing of good books we had read recently. It was a lively discussion, and very encouraging. One of the main themes is one that I have shared with many people after the General Assembly this year: although there has been so much negativity reported in the press about the church, with a few congregations trying to hold the CofS at gunpoint unless everyone else agrees with them, what we actually have is an opportunity for a real reshaping of the Kirk in a post-Christendom context. No longer is the church the place where one receives all the answers, but rather it is the community in which fellow pilgrims of faith can journey together: learning, sharing, laughing, crying, growing, questioning, doubting, all a natural part of that process.

Post-Christendom, to be very simplistic, refers to the period we are now in that has moved beyond a time of Christendom when the church was central to the life of the nation - as initially instituted by the Roman Emperor Constantine when he made Christianity the official religion of the Empire. This privileged status held until very recently, but now we are in a very different world. The church does not have the same place of respect, of status, of privilege simply because it is the church any longer. While this means that the Kirk has lost a lot of the moral and ethical power and authority it would once have exerted, I do not believe this is all a bad thing. It means that each community of faith has to strive to define itself in its own community, to find ways to serve the people, to live out the gospel anew each and every day rather than relying on a moral capital with its roots in the fearsome authoritative church of Christendom.

That we sat discussing these issues just opposite St George's Tron Church was not lost on us. The movement for a breakaway from the Church of Scotland over the last couple of years and especially in the last few months has been stirred and cajoled from its pulpit.

As we drained our coffees, a young couple with a wee toddler, who had sat next to us turned and asked if we were all ministers. We laughed and confessed we were. The young mother told us it was great to hear us talking about the future of the church and so good to see ministers meeting together and supporting each other. They were Church of Scotland members, but were unsettled and had not found a church home after moving to a new town.

Bryan, David and I also talked about the Spill the Beans resource material, and, if you have downloaded a copy, you will know that the theme for the remainder of the church year is "Community is..." - looking at all the different aspects of what it means to live together as people in community, a theme we started yesterday in St Andrew's, as did many others across Scotland. I had an email last night from a minister in Dundee informing that the material had worked superbly in their setting and he looked forward to using it in the weeks to come.

Then this afternoon I joined with Karen Harbison, Jonathan Fleming and Jen Robertson to meet with prefects at Calderside Academy to talk with them about the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. week that takes place next week for all the S1 pupils. We were not able to have a pre-meeting with the prefects last year, and so were really glad of the opportunity to introduce the four different workshops that we will be running next week. The prefects have volunteered their time to assist with us next week. It was good team building between the chaplaincy team and the prefects so we can work together next week for the benefit of all the first year students.

On my way back from visiting at Hairmyres hospital (great to see George Greenhorn back home now!), I was thinking about all these different things and also the Cosy Café that started last night and Juice that began on Saturday. This evening having put out all the tables and chairs for the Tuesday Tea Room with the help of the Girl Guides, I thought also about that Tuesday tradition in St Andrew's, and also the visits by pastoral team members that take place, so often unseen by members of the church family, and Beer 'n' Bible, and so on, and through them all the common invisible link of "building community" is at their heart. Though it is also more than that, it is because of our love for people - our desire for building a people united by common care and compassion - that we do all these things. We don't do all these things simply for the sake of doing them, we do them because we believe they make a difference and because we can do no other as followers of Christ.

And that is wonderful. It is good and right. It is our witness to Christ's self-sacrificing servanthood. As he worked to build a different kind of community through his life, his teaching, his actions, and ultimately his death and new life, he used all kinds of people, putting together a motley crew who yet served him and played their part in the community of faith he revealed as being his father's great desire - sometimes we call it the Kingdom of God or the commonwealth of God.

Whatever we call it, recognising the patterns of God working through and around us is exciting and challenging, inspiring and daunting. And there is a place for each and every one of us in this glorious community; a community that is bound together by God's love, and reflects that love beyond itself. This is not anything new, but sometimes we need to be reminded of it, and today was such a day for me.

I have to say, it has been a surprisingly and joyously uplifting day.

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