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Recently BBC Scotland broadcasted a programme A Church in Crises to mark the 450th Anniversary of the Reformation in Scotland. The broadcast focused mainly on the Church of Scotland, the national church in Scotland. While the program was one sided presenting the down side of the church it had given food for thought to many in the Church. This week I attended the presbytery meeting and the outgoing Moderator gave a sermon which could be taken as a partial response to the BBC program. I found the sermon very good and I asked Peter for a transcript and the permission to share it with the world. He was so kind and as a result below is the transcript of the sermon delivered by Peter Kershaw the outgoing Moderator of the Westlothian Presbytery on the 7th of September 2010 at Bathgate High Parish Church. Thanks Peter!

“It’s been a very busy two years as Moderator of West Lothian Presbytery. At the communion service which opened the new Presbytery year, after which I handed the moderatorship (if such a word exists) to Rev. Norman Macrae, I had the chance to offer a few reflections on the last year. Scott has very generously allowed me to publish them in the magazine. The Bible readings which are referred to later in the address are Paul’s Letter to the Romans, chapter 12: 9 – 18 and the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 20: 1 – 16

There are two starting points for the reflections: one is the recent BBC television programme “A Church in Crisis?”. The other was Terry Pratchett’s latest book “I shall wear midnight”, where one of the characters reflects that “You need to know where you have come from to work out where you should be going.”

So where do we come from? This year we mark 450 years since the Scottish Parliament decided that the reformed church should be the national church of Scotland, commonly referred to as “450 years since the Reformation”. Of course nothing is ever that simple, and the work of reform had begun some considerable number of years earlier, and continued for many years after that date. I don’t think that John Knox would recognise the Church of Scotland if he saw it today. We no longer paint church interiors green for one thing — and please don’t tell Historic Scotland the the reformers had all churches painted green, or they will want to insist on it for all churches of that date! That is as it should be, for as a church we must continue to look for new ways to preach the gospel message, ways that will reach out beyond the walls of the churches to the whole of society.

With such a significant anniversary, you would expect the media to take some notice of the church. But the most prominent media event so far has been the programme on BBC Scotland, “A Church in Crisis” – its claims to accuracy were somewhat undermined by the illustration shown before the programme on the iPlayer, which was a picture of one of the Free Church buildings in Edinburgh. It claimed to find out “what the Reformation did for us” and “whether we would miss the Kirk” – I’m not sure who the “we” refers to. It was a very strange programme, and in the end somewhat depressing. It was very good on the “what did the Reformation do for Scotland” part: highlighting both the provision of state education and the provision of a nation wide framework of care for the less fortunate in society as two of the major gifts to Scotland from the reformed church.

But when it moved to the question of the place of the church in society today, all that there was ultimately was a hole. You were left with an impression of a young minister working hard in his parish, but with a “dwindling” congregation for a Sunday service in a community centre – and he had to set the chairs out himself – and over all the pictures of his parish work and the service you heard the usual commentary about the decline in numbers, a note about the dire financial straits that the church finds itself in, a comment about possible splits, and lots of pictures of closed churches, and a prediction of the end of the Kirk by 2030. And inevitably it came to the conclusion that the Kirk would have to change to survive. Not exactly a revolutionary conclusion.

But make no mistake about it, the Kirk would be missed at a national level if it suddenly disappeared. And one of the greatest threats to the Church of Scotland at the minute is the possibility of splits within it. There are many issues on which we disagree: liberty of opinion on matters which are not part of the fundamentals of faith is built into the DNA of the church – if it were not so we would not need the guidance of the Spirit to find new ways of living and preaching the good news – and we constantly need to do that as the needs of the society within which we live change constantly. But this is an agreement which only holds as long as people in their weakness, and in their humility, continue to stick to it. Paul would describe it as “Be not wise in your own conceits.” We must find a way of staying together to carry out the tasks Christ has entrusted to us: our witness to the nation is weakened if we cannot reconcile our different insights into the ways in which God is working in the world today, and recognise that what unites us in Christ is far far stronger and more important that anything that can divide us. We will shortly gather round the Communion table to celebrate our deep unity, not just with each other but also with all the faithful throughout the ages. Let us all remember this in all we do.

Despite this it has to be admitted that the message that is coming down from the central administration and leadership of the church is distinctly down beat if not depressing. This picture could have been replicated from parts of the General Assembly and these sessions were the ones that hit the newspapers and the television – they love bad news, it gives them something to comment on at great length! I wasn’t a commissioner, but I was at the General Assembly on the Saturday, when the report of the Ministries Council was debated. It was a debate which left all of us in no doubt that cuts were going to have to be made, and the plans that all Presbyteries had spent time and effort creating and implementing over the last 10 years were going to have to be completely re-written, as there was no longer enough money to fund them. And that of course means that plans which individual parishes have made will also need to be re-thought. It was a really down-beat debate, the Assembly Hall was hot and airless, it finished well after 5 pm, and the majority of the commissioners left wearily at the end of it – many were staying outside the centre of town and had arranged meals, and there were evening events starting at 6.30. All those who left were under no illusions that there were hard choices ahead of the Church, and that the near future promised lots of hard work and no certainty of a good outcome.

But it was followed by the report of the Social Care Council. It didn’t pull any punches, it didn’t pretend that things weren’t difficult. But it gave a picture of the church as the body of Christ in the world, people exercising their gifts for others, “contributing to the needs of God’s people” as Paul puts it – and doing it in Christ’s name. It was a most inspiring session, and those who had to leave early missed a treat. – and I suspect it’s a long time since a General Assembly debate was called a treat! The Church of Scotland is the largest provider of social care services in Scotland today. Caring for others in Christ’s name – it’s one of the things we are called to do, and it is one of the legacies that the Reformation has left to Scotland But what of the church in the parish? After all, that’s what most of us know as the church – we may realise that the church does other things as well, but the place where church happens for most of us is in the parish. Would the church be missed?

Well, the answer to that question is to ask what the church is actually doing – and if you look up and down the country you will find that the church is actually doing far more than those outside imagine. Even leaving worship out of the balance, churches up and down this Presbytery are vibrant, living places. Look at the way that young people are catered for – the group that is supposed to be untouched by Church. Again, leave out the work that is traditionally called “church”, i.e. the Sunday School, there’s hardly a Church in Presbytery that doesn’t support at least one youth group – in may cases a number of groups. They may be uniformed organisations, they may be youth club type groups, they may be groups of singers, they may be Scripture Union groups – but without the church none of them would exist. Add in the “caring groups” – after school clubs, holiday clubs, mother and toddler clubs – and then people say that the church wouldn’t be missed?? And then multiply that by the number of organisations which bring together people of all ages. That’s how you get a sense of the reach of the church through Scotland today, and find an answer to the question of whether Scotland would miss the Kirk.

This is why our two readings this evening have focused on working for the Kingdom. Paul points out that we all have different gifts, that we all need to use them with all out hearts in Christ’s service, in love for Him and the world. It’s one of the themes that he comes back to again and again: the overarching love of God for his world, and the way in which we as Christians need to reflect that love to the world. That was one of the things that so impressed the Greeks and Romans about the early church – “See how these Christians love each other” is a quotation from a writer around 200 years after Christ’s birth, and it was one of the reasons that he became a Christian. Things aren’t that different today: the “outside world” judges us not on what we say but on what we do: if we preach love to all but reject some, how can we seriously expect anyone to listen to us?

It’s not easy, Paul says we need “unflagging energy”. Live the Christian life according to the precepts he lays down, and we will be able to witness effectively to Scotland and the world. And we can do it – we know we can do it because we are doing it, person by person, each according to his or her gifts. The gospel passage, the Workers in the Vineyard, is a very profound one with many different shades of meaning: I think it is one of the deepest parables that Jesus gave us, and I really only want to look briefly at one aspect of it here – you could preach sermon after sermon on it, and still find new things to say about it. In some ways it is a very simple story, with a very simple message: God has chosen us to work for him, and has set each one of us tasks. But it also reminds us that God doesn’t have favourites: he loves all of us equally, no matter what the task he has given to each of us may be.

And that need to carry out the task God gives us brings me back to where we started. The reformers carried out the tasks that were set before them. They may still be remembered by name, like John Knox or Andrew Melville. Their names may have been forgotten on earth, though still remembered by God. But whether we know their names or not, we owe them a great debt. And we repay that debt by witnessing to Christ in the very changed society that we have today. That’s the real way to celebrate what they did for Scotland, the real way to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the Scottish Reformation – to carry on their work of bringing the Gospel to Scotland by prayer, preaching and practical ways of showing God’s love to the world”.

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In 2007 Britain marked 200 years since the British Parliament passed the bill to abolish the Slave Trade, or what is otherwise known as the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. As I was involved in marking this event, in particular throughout Scotland, I sought to inform myself about this issue. In addition to reading about the Slave Trade and the Scottish involvement with it (my friend Iain Whyte published his book just in time) I also sought to find out if there were any significant local links (where I live) with the slave trade. Well I did find that there were two buildings which were built with money from the salve trade, one of them is in Blackburn (Blackburn House) and the other one in Bathgate (Bathgate Academy).

I have also learned that Christians found themselves on both side of the argument in regards to slave trade and slavery: it is now clear that Christians played a very significant role in the abolition of the slave trade and slavery itself, but there were other Christians who sought to defend the slave trade and slavery (it took another 26 years before slavery was outlawed in the UK).

John Lampard a retired Methodist minister wrote an article in 2007 showing how Christians in particular in the American South argued for slavery on the basis of the bible. Lampard shows how Revd Thornton Stringfellow, a Baptist pastor born in 1788 and Ordained in 1814 argued that slavery was undoubtedly biblical. I recommend his article which can be downloaded from here (the Set all Free website).

More information about Slavery in Scotland can be found on Scotland and Slavery website which I helped create while working for ACTS, which is still hosted by them.

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When I arrived in Britain in 1992 I experienced a great cultural shock. I arrived from a country which until just over a year before that was ruled and policed by one of the most intolerant and controlling dictatorial regime. No amount of training and preparation could have made me ready for what life was like in a free country as the UK. I am sure that many other young people who made a similar transition might have had a similar experience.

When I arrived in the UK I was amazed that there was so little surveillance (people here did not even have an ID!)  and overwhelmed by the lack of directives and rules. It was left to myself to discover all the intricacies of life in a residential college and society in general. It took me more than 6 months to enter the local supermarket, as I was afraid that people would watch me! Now I find this embarrassing, and probably a little funny, but at that time it was really a struggle. It is dreadful to see (and experience) what a dictatorial system does with a human person. Over above the fact that it dis-humanises people, also it takes away one’s confidence and it installs in you paranoia.

Over the last few years, (since this tendency to legislate on anything), every time when I had an opportunity I sought to tell my friends and colleagues that at this moment in time we, here in Britain, are slowly sliding towards a totalitarian police state. The government is slowly bringing in, what they call, security measures, which are designed to spy and gather data about everyone, which could easily be used by the authorities to control people.

Recently the press reported on some of these intrusions. Remember this headline Council admits spying on family, (and see this link for coverage in other media) what about this one A spy in your bin? Then add the multitudes of cameras all over the place in towns, on the roads, even in public buildings. I think the UK is the most spayed on country in the world!

In my spare time I am a member of the local Community Council. (Last week I attended a a training session, with the local Council planning chief, on the new planning legislation to be implemented from August this year. To tell you the truth, the Scottish Parliament made a mess of this legislation).  Anyway, at one of our recent Community Council meetings (you can read the minutes now on line, and if would like to, just get in touch with me and I will give to the web address) some of the councillors come with a suggestion as to ask the council to install CCTV cameras in our area. Well, that turned me on, and you might guess that by the end of the conversation only the chair person was in favour of the cameras!

Timothy Garton Ash is raising this issue in a brilliant article last week in the Guardian. The only thing that I would like to add is that: I hope (and I will spare no effort to make sure) I am not going to relive again the nightmare of the communist regime! Only thinkig about it makes me shiver!

PS. Thefirst image is a Banksy borrowd from the Independent.

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For a number of years now I have been working with minority ethnic Christians in Scotland. I have heard personal testimonies of Christians who felt marginalised in their churches because of their ethnic background.

However I feel that the Asian Christians, and in particular those coming from Pakistan and other Muslim countries are among those that feel the most marginalised by both, the society and Churches.

Last year Rev Mahboob Masih a minister in the Church of Scotland, but originally from Pakistan, was suspended by a community Radio Station in Glasgow, Awaz Radio, for not apologising to Muslims! The details of this story you can find in the Sunday Telegraph, the Monday edition of the Herald, or on this blog.

In 2005 I met Mahboob while he was working for Queen’s Park Baptist Church in Glasgow and was studying at ICC (International Christian College) in Glasgow. He came to see me to ask for help in supporting the Asian Christian community in Glasgow, as the Awaz radio was discriminating against them. At that time Awaz community Radio station, which received at that time the bulk of its funding from tax payers, had given the Asian Christians an hour slot per week, at a very inconvenient time (I think Saturday 7 am), while the Muslims had their slot during Friday. (Even now if you look at their programme they have a Sunday programme for Sikhs from 6 am to 11am – no that I have anything against the Sikh community! Christians are having a more civilised slot on Saturday from 9am to 10 am. I find it bonkers how the management of this radio station – which I am told has no Christian representation – allocates impartially the programme slots and timing for each religion!)

I have tried to involve the local churches in supporting their brothers and sisters, but unfortunately the people in this country are not aware the subtle cultural manoeuvres of Asian management of Awaz. They said one thing to my friend from Glasgow Churches but acted in a duplicitous way! I wonder when will the Glasgow City Council have the guts to require these organisations that they fund and are community based and run by ‘ethnic minorities’ (as Awaz radio) to subscribe to the same equality laws as any other public body? As one who has worked in equality for many years I am fed up by these double standards!!!!!

I can understand how Asian Christians feel double discriminated here in Britain, and in particular now when the politicians and some quangos sucker a particular religion!

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As St Andrew’s Day is around the corner I thought I will share with everyone this prayer written by my colleague. She has kindly agreed to let me publish it here. You might see it published in the 2010 resources for the Week of Prayers for Christian Unity (published by WCC, I think).

Litany of the Scottish Mace

This prayer was written by Rev Lindsey Sanderson for the Opening Worship of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity International Writing Group, Sept. 2008.

The Scottish Mace is present in the debating hall of the Scottish Parliament when it sits in session. A new mace was commissioned for the re-establishment of the Parliament and was presented to the Parliament by the Queen at its official opening on 1st July 1999. Engraved in the mace are the words ‘ Wisdom, Integrity, Justice, Compassion’, the values which the Scottish people desire their Parliament to uphold.

Wisdom
‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom……’ Ps 111.10

God of wisdom, we bring before you the peoples of faith within our nation.
We pray for faith communities who seek to establish harmony within Scotland through the daily living of their faith.
We pray for the traditional churches, that in the challenging contexts they face, they may remain faithful to your Gospel.
We pray for the growing ethnic minority Christian presence in Scotland, that we may find ways of working together in our outreach to the nation.

R. In our witness to Christ may we reveal God’s wisdom through our faithfulness.

Integrity
‘The integrity of the upright guides them…….’ Pr.11.3

God who is righteous, we bring before you all who strive to uphold the values of integrity and righteousness.
We pray for all in positions of political leadership, that they may act in ways which brings about a healthy, vibrant and caring nation.
We pray for all who work with children and young people, that by their example our young people may become responsible citizens of our communities.
We pray for those in leadership in our faith communities, that they may be recognised for their discipleship and witness to faith.

R. In our witness to Christ may we act in ways which demonstrate God’s integrity.

Justice
‘ What does the Lord require of you but to do justice…..’ Micah 6:8

God who is just, we bring before you all who in our nation are denied justice, peace and security.
We pray for those seeking asylum and for those exploited through human trafficking.
We pray for migrant workers taken advantage of because of their lack of language skills and unfamiliarity with our systems.
We pray for all who are judged by the colour of their skin and not for the people they are.

R. In our witness to Christ may we reveal God’s justice to the world.

Compassion
‘As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion…..Col 3.12’

Loving God, we bring before you all who in our nation long to feel the compassion of another human being.
We pray for children, women and men trapped in abusive relationships, often fuelled by alcohol or drugs.
We pray for those who are wearied of caring for loved ones and neglect to care for themselves.
We pray for all who feel cast out by society and beyond human care.

R. In our witness to Christ may we reveal God’s compassion for the world.

God in whom we discover wisdom, integrity, justice and compassion, hear our prayer and enable us to play our part in shaping the life of our nation. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

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Did you know that if you are a Scot you cannot become the Pope!
His Scottishness
Well, dream over O’Brien!

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