At its meeting in Edinburgh from 11-13 June, the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church chose to delete any reference to marriage as being between a man and a woman in order to facilitate its clergy in marrying two people of the same sex.
In contrast to that decision, we reaffirm the doctrine of marriage as given in the Old Testament in Genesis 2:24, reaffirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19:5 and by Paul in Ephesians 5:31 - ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’
We are committed to loving and supporting all the people in our congregations, including many gay people, and in particular at this time those who are left confused and distressed by the decisions of the General Synod.
We will take some time to pray and reflect on what the General Synod has committed to, before we discern what must be done to support people in congregations all over Scotland who will be unable to support this innovation.
To some people's surprise, an amendment was put that would have allowed people who wanted to marry two people of the same sex to do so, but we'd keep the doctrine of marriage as being between a man and a woman. This would have put us in a similar situation to that of the Church of Scotland.
However, this gracious compromise was roundly rejected by around two thirds of the Synod.
I don't know that people understood just how costly this amendment would have been if it had been accepted as a compromise that held the Biblical line but offered space to those who want to depart from the teaching of the Church to do so. It was too messy an option apparently. Those evangelicals who put it forward would have faced a great deal of criticism from around the world for even suggesting it. It would have hurt us a lot. Yet it has now been rejected, and we are left with a situation where there are no options on the table tomorrow that someone like me will be able to support.
It does seem that this is a situation where the winner must take it all, and those who are holding to what the majority of the two billion Christians around the world would understand marriage is about will be the new minority, who might have a conscience clause to protect them, and that will be it.
It will leave me having to think carefully about what my future relationship can be with a denomination that chooses to go its own way.
A friend shared a hard word with me this evening, that stopped me in my tracks. The context of this verse is even more sobering:
Judah’s leaders are like those who move boundary stones. I will pour out my wrath on them like a flood of water. Hosea 5:10
There's still time to re-establish those boundary stones.........
"The mind that is too ready at contempt and reprobation is, I may say, as a clenched fist that can give blows, but is shut up from receiving and holding ought that is precious." Felix Holt, the Radical by George Eliot
"Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." 1 Thessalonians 5:11
I've been watching the unfolding story of the secession of the people of the Tron Church in Glasgow from the Church of Scotland with some concern. I have questions about the timing of such a move and whether it would be better to have waited to see what happens in the coming year, but that is a question of tactics. My understanding is that the Tron congregation is willing to come to some financial arrangement with the Trustees of the Kirk that would allow for payback of monies owed and the continued use of the Tron's facilities by the existing congregation for Gospel ministry in the city centre. Yet, no such agreement has been reached at a time when the Kirk is seeking to close churches down, merge others and sell off the assets released.
Something seems not quite right here. Yes, I've heard it said that the Tron has not payed its full dues in years gone by and that harsh things have been said on both sides, but there seems to be a vicious attempt to shut down the congregation's very existence. Some point out that the buildings don't belong to the congregation and that they belong to the Church of Scotland. Of course, that's true legally, but morally they belong to the people who pay for them and spiritually they belong to the Lord.
Since my letter which urged grace upon all concerned appeared in The Herald last week, several good folk have written lengthy letters to me seeking to clarify some aspects of the situation. I know there is a lot of hurt around. But the response to hurt is not to lash out but to forgive and be reconciled.
Therefore, I'm thinking that this situation is degenerating into questions of power, ego and worst of all, punishment. None of this is good and I'm cnow very concerned that this will play out in the glare of the media as it comes to court. My wee congregation knows what that is like from a situation it faced thirty years ago. In the end, the legal result was favourable to the congregation, but the resulting emotional and spiritual pain took many years to heal.
In all of this, I'm reminded of the separation of Paul and Barnabas. In Acts when a second missionary campaign was planned, Barnabas proposed taking Mark as a helper, but Paul resisted the idea. The New Testament record indicates that a “sharp contention” developed between them (Acts 15:36-41). This was over an opinion, not doctrine. They could not reach an agreement, and so they split up. As far as the biblical record indicates, these two remarkable people never saw one another again. However, the segmentation of their work did not disrupt permanently the love and respect that Paul and Barnabas had for one another. Paul would later affectionately mention Barnabas as being worthy of financial support in his work of proclaiming the gospel (1 Cor. 9:6).
On a wider note, it's worth thinking about the significance of this for "evangelicals" in Scotland. It seems there is much tribalism and little unity among us, and I feel ashamed of this. David Robertson of St Peter's Free Church in Dundee has written very perceptively about this over the last few days in his blog, "Why I no Longer Call Myself an Evangelical". It is a scandal that we do not speak of or treat one another well, but perhaps it's because when we can't agree on tactics (in this instance - stay for now, stay at any cost, or go now), we aren't mature enough to honour our brothers and sisters who discern a different way ahead. Such disunity hinders any possibility of the transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ impacting very many people in Scotland, for we reveal that we are not very transformed ourselves. Now, I wonder whose plan that is?
This Holy Week we are trying a fast from being negative. It's not about the power of positive thinking - it's what we are called to be as the Holy Spirit transforms our lives and helps us refrain from bad-mouthing, slagging off, or bringing down others. It's also about not listening to the lies about ourselves that we so often believe. I think it might be a lot tougher than any other fasting I've ever done......
"Finally, brothers & sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4:8 (NIV)
It's been a most interesting end of the old and start to the new.
The rectory was burgled one early evening just before Christmas. The intruder was met by GV Boy, who is stilll struggling with the shock of that confrontation. I know what that's like - a few years ago I returned to the rectory during the day and discovered the front door smashed. As I got into the house and called the police, I heard movement upstairs and went to confront my visitor. He was out on the roof, making his escape by jumping off. If I 'd done the same, I'd have broken my neck, so thought better of it. A few months later the culprits (for there were two) were caught in another house nearby and given short sentences after admitting several dozen other offences. It's painful dealing with such events: the sense of violation and the fear of it happening again can linger for a long time. It does look like we'll need to increase the security arrangements at my home -"Machine Gun Preacher"?
No damage to the rectory or church in "Son of Bawbag", though I had to rescue GV Girl #1 on her way to work on Tuesday, after she was blown into a lamp post. Thankfully her injuries were slight.
The damage around the city however is very great and I saw several streets in the West End blocked off by police cars, as the fear of chimneys and slates falling was so great. Many trees have come down, and the debris is still being cleared up.
Yesterday, I was out getting soaked in the rain as I assisted the Dynorod man who was trying to sort out a damaged drain. I think he appreciated me holding my ladder for him. I wonder if his employers will accept my hourly rate?
Despite all of that disruption and difficulty, there has been much good time with family and friends as well as some wonderful worship (with larger attendances on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, possibly because the latter was on a Sunday?), especially on New Year's Day, when we had a simple eucharist, with one musician, some old songs and hymns and a lot of reflection. More people were present than I'd anticipated, and it felt like a good start to the year.
Today the sun is shining on Glasgow - I know it always does during the day, but it seems like it's had to do it through clouds forever!
I preached on the following passage last Sunday. It can easily be taken too personally and out of context, but this year I'm seeking new things in my following of Jesus Christ, not resting on my laurels or taking anything for granted.
"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." Isaiah 43:18-19
It's been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster over the last few weeks.
It was a privilege to lead and speak at Alan Ervine's funeral. I don't have to do such things very often because we are such a young congregation, but when I do, generally I know the people who have died quite well, and more often than not count them as friends. Alan was no exception to this - he offered wise counsel, generous encouragement and helped me to keep leading when I felt like giving up. He is sorely missed by St Silas'. We share some of the grief that Liz and Paul are going through.
The following Sunday night I was to preach at Nick Cox's ordination. Again, it was an emotional time. I commented on feeling that I was at a wedding, but that I wasn't sure if I was best man or a bridesmaid. Perhaps I was a bit of both, lending support to my dear brother Nick? Or maybe even the father of the bride 'giving her way'? It was a grand occasion with the preaching described elsewhere as 'exuberant'. Which is good given that I'd left my Bible and notes for the sermon in St Silas' that morning. Cue me furiously scribbling some headings down at 5.15pm. I preached on the ministry of deacons (and their spouses!) from 1 Timothy 3. I missed out my whole reflection on 'Welcome to the world of Rev', in which I would have pointed out that, in this world, one has to laugh every time someone says, '"You only work one day a week," and laugh as if you are hearing this comment for the first time. I loved it that many St Silas' kids were present and that they were so well behaved during the extra long distribution of communion (comment from one child on seeing Bishop Gregor:" God is here and He's speaking to us!"). Prayers for Nick and Karen in their new ministry in South Ayrshire.
Now who else is God encouraging into ordained ministry?
We've got an Australian friend, Gary Nelson, arriving tomorrow. He is Director of External Studies at Moore College, Sydney and he travels the world offering courses in theological education. He arrives in Scotland having spent two weeks in Nigeria. He'll be preaching at St Silas' on Sunday night.