From “coffee with Louis “(copyright)

I spoke with a friend today. We had coffee and caught up with where we both are in life and in ministry. It was good to share some time together, and to talk about our congregations, especially about how our congregations are dealing with the repercussions of the last General Assembly of our Church. His set of circumstances isn’t widely different from my own. In both of our instances, our congregations are experiencing a significant drop in income as church members and adherents divert their Christian liberality in any other direction but in the direction of the Church of Scotland. Like me, he has experienced congregational disunity and a loss of members.

Coincidentally, I spoke to a Church of Scotland minister yesterday who, in another part of the country, has experienced precisely the same things, on a different scale. A loss of members and adherents; a drop in income; a slump in morale and a sense of being unsupported and alone.

It has been striking since May how ‘a Church of Scotland spokesman’ has from time to time told the media that it is ‘business as usual’ on each occasion a congregation is reported as having left the Kirk or held its first service outside the fold. Each time a congregation leaves, our spokesman tells the world that our business is going on just as it always does. It is business as usual for the Church of Scotland.

I find it to be a callous and insensitive statement. I regret its use, and I wish that our administrators in Edinburgh would abandon it and find something more understanding and, well, realistic to say.

I don’t for a moment think that we are so strong a denomination that we can simply shrug our shoulders whenever a congregation leaves and say that it is just business as usual for the Kirk.

How does the Church of Scotland possibly think that we can conduct our ministry and mission, just as usual, each time we lose congregations, ministers, members and adherents?

Of course, what we are really being told is that we can all relax. There is no need for anyone to be worried. After all, it is only a congregation here, and a congregation there. We don’t have to fear the worst. It is not the mass exodus that some would have hoped for, and which others predicted. We can all breathe a little more easily. The apocalypse has not materialized. We can get back to business as usual.

But I find the assertion that it is business as usual each time we lose a congregation to be theologically deficient. How can it be business as usual each time the body of Christ is lacerated and dismembered? How can the loss of ministers and congregations not affect our denomination deeply and lastingly, at this stage of numerical and financial decline in every sphere of our work? How can it conceivably be described as business as usual when a congregation divides, when some who have worshipped together for years and years now meet in the community centre whilst others remain in the church building down the street? How can it be business as usual when families are divided and worship separately? When hearts are broken? When the friendships of decades are torn apart? This is what is happening in evangelical congregations in the Church of Scotland.

Is that business as usual for the Church of Scotland?

Two nights ago I spoke to a couple who have left our congregation because they felt we ought to have seceded, and we did not. We have been friends for twenty years. From now on, we won’t eat and drink from the Lord’s Table together any longer. We won’t sing the Lord’s praises side by side any more. We won’t pray together.

Is that business as usual for the Church of Scotland?

In my congregation, as with many evangelical congregations in the Church of Scotland, friends and family members have left, whilst others have stayed. Finances have been massively hit, by those who have left and by those who have stayed but who don’t want to support the Church of Scotland’s mixed agenda any more. There are great and pressing financial problems for many of us, right now. We are deeply worried, at one level, though at another we believe that God will show us a pathway through the Red Sea.

But is this business as usual for the Church of Scotland?

The claim that the Church of Scotland can sail on as though everything is just business as usual is simply theological nonsense, and pastoral clumsiness. Like all pastoral clumsiness, it hurts, at the end of the day, and it alienates.

When my friends told me two nights ago that they were no longer going to associate with my congregation, or with me, that did not feel like business as usual.

But perhaps decline and disinterest is business as usual for the Church of Scotland?

Soli Deo Gloria

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