Tag Archives: Church of Scotland

Losing my Religion

from the BBC News website

More than half of people in Scotland now have no religion, according to research.
Findings from the Scottish Social Attitudes survey show 52% of people say they are not religious, compared with 40% in 1999 when the survey began.
The proportion who say they belong to the Church of Scotland has fallen from 35% in 1999 to just 20%.
Other religious groups, including Roman Catholic (15%) and other Christian (11%) have remained steady.
The number of non-Christians has remained at 2%.
The research, published by ScotCen Social Research, also reveals attendance at religious services is at the lowest level recorded since 1999
Two-thirds of people living in Scotland who say they are religious “never or practically never” attend services, compared with 49% when the survey began.
Ian Montagu, researcher at ScotCen, said: “Today’s findings show that Scottish commitment to religion, both in terms of our willingness to say we belong to a religion and to attend religious services, is in decline.
“However, this change doesn’t appear to be affecting all religions equally. Affiliation with the Church of Scotland is in decline while levels of identification with other religions remain relatively unchanged.
“As fewer Scots are acknowledging even a default religious identity, it is affiliation with the national church that is the hardest hit.”
The 2015 Scottish Social Attitudes survey interviewed a representative random probability sample of 1,288 people between July 2015 and January 2016.

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Day visit to my old congregation at Sangre Grande, Trinidad. 22 February 2016

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February 23, 2016 · 03:03

Sunday Worship at St. Ann’s Church of Scotland, Port of Spain, Trinidad

21 February 2016 – first time back since August 1983

Sunday worship at my old church, St Ann’s Church of Scotland in Charlotte Street, Port of Spain.

It was a 9.00 am service – and, in typical Trini style, we started at ten past the hour.

A kind of liturgically different service. Though we did use (as in my day) CH3. The organist however, played the wrong tune (wrong metre too) to “The God of Abraham Praise” ….reminded me of my organist in the church where I ministered on my return from Trinidad; he would turn his hymnary to the wrong page, and play whatever hymn was there to the metre and tune recommended. So, while the congregation was trying to sing – say – Hymn 367 which was Common Metre, he’d be playing the tune for Hymn 368 which might have been 76.76D. (please note that I don’t have a clue what these hymns are – I picked the numbers at random. I don’t actually carry a hymnary with me when on holiday! Nor a “dog-collar”, although I did hear of a C of S minister who, even when vacationing in foreign climes, wore his…”so that I can be recognised as a clergyman, in case other holiday-makers need pastoral support”)

Ministerial friends and colleagues- how about this: no children’s address, even although there were about half a dozen kids there. Instead, they were asked to come forward, and “The blessing of the Sunday School” was prayed.

OK, so you get the youngsters out, pray that they’ll have a spiritually enlightening time at SS, then they leave!! No story, nowt, zip, zero!!!

Oh, the prayers – for the first prayer (confession and assurance) the Minister actually stated that he’d got it off the internet…. wow!

The sermon was obviously not from “Sermon Central” or whatever other American/Canadian “help for lazy pastors” website

It was one minute short of half an hour – fully ten or more minutes of which was an explanation of what the early Christian symbol of the fish meant.

Laboriously, he went through the Greek word for “fish” (ICHTUS), which he explained was an acrostic for I = Jesus, C = Christ, TH = God’s, U = Son, S = Saviour

And was literally spelling out each Greek letter – occasionally glancing at me to see if this were right!

He looked at his watch twice during the half hour, and then abruptly stopped.

Now, don’t get me wrong – he was a warm and welcoming guy; totally sincere and dedicated…. but, “hey, man!” ah didn’t preach like so!

What a wonderful welcome for this old pilgrim! Handshakes, hugs, reminiscing – and so many folk remembered me.

I felt very emotional when asked to address the congregation, especially when I recalled that Helen loved worshipping there. This old softie had a tear in his eye, and a lump in his throat.

Lovely, warm, special time of fellowship and of memories.

Just a very special and moving experience.

A post-note: in the congregation was one of two sisters who were very straight and narrow, and although very pleasant, just a wee bit too religious.

Yvonne was there – she’s 96!!!!! And we talked for a while after the service.

I’d been “advised” beforehand that she might be there. I was told by Cliff (my Trini pastor friend) that many years after I left, she still referred to me disparagingly as “The Minister who drinks beer” shock! horror!

It goes back to a Sunday lunchtime when, after church, the two sisters (for some reason long forgotten) turned up unexpectedly at the Manse. In those days, shops were closed on a Sunday, and we’d run out of fruit juice for Mat and Richard; so Helen and I gave them a VERY small glass of Carib lager. The ladies looked askance, but Helen justified it by saying that “it’s not very strong”. I’ve since discovered that it’s 5.2 % proof!!!


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February 22, 2016 · 13:08

Where it all began….

The seventy-odd year old patient in one of the EMI wards at the Mental Healthcare Hospital always greeted me with, “What are you doing here, you stupid (expletive removed) old parson?”.

Then there was Bernadette, in another facility, who always groaned when I came to conduct a worship service in her Care Home. “It’s that blethering bugger – again! Why? Why?”

As “Withnail” said, “We’ve come on holiday by mistake”, so I often felt that I had stumbled into Holy Orders by accident.

Wanting to stay on at University after my MA, and interested in Ecclesiastical History, the only way to secure a grant in those days was to become a candidate for the Church of Scotland ministry.

The “Selection School”, a three day residential series of interviews and psychological and other evaluations and tests, was the “way in” on a journey that began in 1970.

At the last minute, I had cold feet. Yet I attended. And literally had cold feet…and legs, arms, torso; obviously, the Church, being perpetually skint, couldn’t afford the shillings for the meter.

As Rabbie Burns, in one of his most stinging poems, put it,

“As cauld a wind as ever blew,
A cauld kirk, and in’t but few”. (“In Lamington Kirk”)
It was grim, especially at night: icy, numbing, desolate.

There’s a Bible verse that speaks exactly of the conditions in the small cupboard of a bedroom assigned to me: Isaiah 28:20 (New International Version)

“The bed is too short to stretch out on, the blanket too narrow to wrap around you.”
The window didn’t close fully, and a freezing Edinburgh “hoolie” roared through the large gap (handy in one respect, in that, as smoking was banned on the premises, I could blow cigarette smoke out through it).

The bed was, if not short, then narrow. This was Kirk property, and, no doubt, it was designed to prevent anyone else “sharing”

I had to lie on my side. More, because of the cold, I wore my dressing gown on top of my pyjamas and socks – on my feet, naturally, but also a pair on my hands in a vain attempt to keep warm.

Was it the cold that stultified me so much that I zipped through all the various tests, in order to get first to the one bar electric fire in the library in order to thaw out?

I don’t know.

But here I am, forty something years later, a paid up member of “God’s Frozen People”

I wonder what the journey would have been had I not travelled the Ministry route….
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

“The Road Not Taken”
Robert Frost – 1874–1963 – Mountain Interval, 1920.

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losing my religion

Michael Gray: How can the Kirk bring itself back from the dead?
MAY 19TH, 2015 – 12:30 AM. The National newspaper
THE General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was once as close as it got to a Scottish parliament. As the assembly meets this week, times have certainly changed.

Relevance, it seems, is in short supply for organised religion. The national church – for all its significance to old, civic Scotland – is suffering a deep decline in membership and in ministers.

It’s a lack of youth that’s the problem. Believers pass on faster than the newly born can be converted. That trend doesn’t end well.

I remember my own ritual trips to local Kirks. My parents – less inclined to the CoS than their own – allowed our grandparents to give us a taste of faith.

I remember the awkward bonding sessions at “Sunday school”: the Bible stories and strangers frothing together in a strange faith-based experiment.

Then – after you were promoted – there were the cold, grey halls. Those five times my age huddled in dignified silence as words rained down from the lectern. The drone of the organ was followed by the congregation. At least they had music and biscuits.

The order, community and gentle sense of purpose was comforting to church regulars. For a young person, however, is was restrictive and all a bit stuffy. Can you really have authorised fun in the name of God?

It’s one of the reasons I doubt the church can avoid slipping slowly into terminal decline.

The assembly is attempting a “rebrand” to cross this generational divide. But the trends aren’t isolated to Scotland. Across Europe, we’re losing our religion.

Science has risen. Why seek knowledge from ancient, narrow scriptures, when vast digital encyclopaedias spring up by the gigabyte?

Authority has changed. Rampant individualism means – for better and worse – that we determine our own lives and priorities.

And Scotland is now a secular and multi-faith nation. Religion no longer has a Christian monopoly.

Change wasn’t within church control, yet it has now left organised religion looking less relevant to young people.

The church should be commended for its work on social justice, democracy and disarmament – but that doesn’t articulate a purpose for religion and scripture.

This change is not sudden. David Hume, famously, was a sceptic of religion. Karl Marx, father of communism, was even more scathing.

He described religion as “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions … the opium of the people.”

The direction of modern Scotland suggests that in the face of change the old national church will struggle to stage its own resurrection.


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“God is not politically correct”

Letter to the Scotsman newspaper

19:22Sunday 17 May 2015 00:00Monday 18 May 2015

I WAS exceptionally disappointed with the Church Of Scotland’s decision to allow gay ministers who are in civil partnerships to be ordained. I feel this is a grave mistake and will cause more division and disunity within an already divided church.

The Bible is very clear on this subject, that marriage is for a man and a woman and it seems that the Church Of Scotland have departed from the word of God and bowed their knee to political correctness. However, God is not politically correct. On their own head be it.

With a 182 against the decision and 309 for, it cant be seen as an overwhelming majority that supported this move. I congratulate the 182 for the courage of their convictions and being prepared to stand by the Bible.

We live in an age where almost anything is tolerated and if we don’t stand for something, we will fall for anything.


Simpson Square


a comment on the above:
‘Mr Kennedy, you are absolutely right. The bible is perfectly clear on this subject. God hates gays. It is also clear on the fact he likes slavery. And sexism. And genocide.

Will you be urging the Kirk to return to traditional values in all these respects, or just the one that resonates with your homophobia?’

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Like a mighty tortoise moves the Kirk of God….. but we’re getting there

Church votes in favour of allowing ministers in same sex civil partnerships

16 May, 2015
The Church of Scotland has voted in favour of allowing people in same sex civil partnerships to be called as ministers and deacons.
The Church of Scotland has voted in favour of allowing people in same sex civil partnerships to be called as ministers and deacons.

The historic decision was made by the General Assembly on the Mound in Edinburgh today, where the motion was passed by 309 votes in favour and 182 against.

The outcome is the culmination of years of deliberation within the Church. The motion has faced a series of debates and votes before the final decision was arrived at this afternoon. This included 31 of the Church’s presbyteries endorsing the move to 14 who opposed it.

This means the Church has adopted a position which maintains a traditional view of marriage between a man and woman, but allows individual congregations to ‘opt out’ if they wish to appoint a minister or a deacon in a same sex civil partnership.

In a speech later today the outgoing Moderator Very Rev John Chalmers is expected to say:

“There’s something else that we have to learn as a Church and that is the power of harmony. Of course we need the freedom across the Church to shape the life and worship of the Church according to local needs and local gifts (and we have seen wonderful examples of this – from Soul Space at Johnstone High Parish to the Shed in Stornoway) but we cannot go on suffering the pain of internal attacks which are designed to undermine the work or the place of others. It’s time to play for the team.

“And let me be very clear here – I am not speaking to one side or another of the theological spectrum. I am speaking to both ends and middle. It is time to stop calling each other names, time to shun the idea that we should define ourselves by our differences and instead define ourselves by what we hold in common – our baptism into Christ, our dependence on God’s grace, our will to serve the poor and so on.”

Co-ordinator of the Principal Clerk’s office, Very Rev David Arnott, said: “The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland decided today to allow individual Kirk Sessions the possibility of allowing a Nominating Committee to consider an application from a minister living in a civil partnership. During a vacancy a Kirk Session may, but only if it so wishes, and after due deliberation, agree to a Nominating Committee accepting an application from such a minister. No Kirk Session may be coerced into doing so against its own wishes. This decision was in line with a majority of presbyteries who voted in favour of such a move.”

Because the debate predates the legalisation of gay marriage the proposed change mentions only civil partnerships, not same-sex marriages.

The Assembly will be asked on Thursday to consider amending today’s new Church law to include ministers in same-sex marriages.

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The Joys of being the Interim in a Church of Scotland Vacant Church

When a Church of Scotland church becomes vacant, a nearby Minister is appointed to guide, counsel, and, effectively, to act as the Minister of the Charge that is looking for a new incumbent.

Almost all of the time, it’s a very fulfilling experience.  Most often there is a locum appointed to take Sunday worship, but I have, in the past, conducted weddings and funerals, and have, as a result, felt more in touch with that Kirk and Parish. Obviously, I’ve also chaired Meetings, and have been present at Vacancy Committee (now “Nomination Committee”) to guide, advise, and give point out rules and regulations regarding Church law.

Yep – great times….. with one exception:

Two churches in the one town were amalgamated.  Let’s call them “St Agnes by the Gasworks” and “St Botox on the Brow “.  The first of these kirk buildings was closed, and both congregations met in the latter’s premises.

It was very much a case – for many from each former congregation – of “them and us”.

When the Nomination Committee was elected, the balance of Church membership of St A’s and St.B’s, was reflected in the make up of the group.  The larger number came from St.B’s.

Meetings were civil enough, and reasonably united, until……..

…. a particular applicant was suggested as being the “anointed one” – the potential new Minister.  All hell broke loose, as this guy had previously been an assistant Minister in the old St.Agnes Kirk.

“Debate” isn’t a word that I would use to describe the deliberations; more a verbal punch-up, with both “sides” literally shouting at each other.  I metaphorically held the jackets, as they laid into each other, all the old historic rivalries rising to the surface, and un-Christian bile being spat out venomously.

Surprisingly, after the dust had settled, a vote was taken, and the Minister- in- waiting was agreed upon – by the slimmest of majorities – it was something like 7 for and 6 against.

I phoned the “lucky” winner. He seemed delighted. Then he asked if it had been a unanimous vote, and I had to tell him that it was a majority, to which he asked the dreaded question, “by how much?”.

Well, he naturally turned it down.  The news wasn’t greeted with tearing of hair nor gnashing of teeth, but some of the Committee members had wry smiles on their faces.

One should always expect the unexpected.  Not I, when someone proposed that the Committee be disbanded.  And it was: those “for”  reflecting the party line split; St.Botox showed these upstarts from St Agnes!

Christmas intervened.  Discussions were held between me and the vacancy advisory group.  Then – in the following January – it was decided to elect a new Nomination Committee.  During the hiatus, a couple of attempts were made to “nobble” me, but without success.

So – here we go again!  But with a twist: instead of the Congregation openly voting for members of the new Committee, by show of hands, it was decided that nominations should be done by secret ballot.  Can you begin to imagine how long that took?  I was counting the voting slips for well over an hour.

And, surprise! surprise!  The top twelve “winners” were all from St. B’s; only one – with the lowest score – came from their “rivals in Christ” and was number 13 of all those chosen. Moreover, many of the old Committee members were voted back on.

We met as a Committee immediately afterwards, and, before a Clerk could be elected, the poor guy who was #13 launched into a tirade against the whole sorry procedure and those involved in it.  Having been just elected, he then immediately tendered his resignation, and stomped off in high (or is it low?) dungeon.

I suppose we should have started all over again – again.  But we carried on, twelve good men (and women) and true, and muggins here too.

Eventually, someone WAS chosen, and I bowed out gracefully – certainly, gratefully.  Yet, I lost about a year and a half of my life that I’ll never get back.

The joys, oh the joys, of practice and procedure in the Kirk of Scotland!  So much better than having a Bishop appointing someone – NOT!





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One Lewis congregation gets even smaller – Lesley Riddoch’s Blog (12 March 2015)







Angus and elma


By Lesley Riddoch

A month ago I wrote about the sad death of Angus Morrison from Valtos on Uig. I first met tall, softly-spoken Angus Kenneth (to use his Sunday name) and his twinkling wife Elma in 2007, when Maxwell MacLeod and I stayed at their B&B on the lovely, remote west coast of Lewis near the border with Harris. We were recording material for a Radio Scotland programme, On the Bike and later I wrote a book about the experience, Riddoch on the Outer Hebrides. Max and I planned to stay for just one night but eventually stayed for three — such was the warmth, humour and support offered by the Morrisons to their noisy, demanding guests. I went back to stay with the couple several times in the years that followed – hauling initially doubtful family members to share the delights of long walks and swims on nearby Uig beach, the Gala Day and a ceilidh at the local hall. Most of all I loved the Morrisons’ insatiable appetite for stories. No matter what time of day and night, Angus and Elma lit up at the prospect of hearing well-told yarns about the day past and had a fount of stories about their own long lives on the Western Isles. Angus died suddenly in Raigmore Hospital on February 1st after complications following surgery. He was 70. That was shocking enough for Elma and their children Christina, Angus , Donald Calum and Cathie Margaret who were all with Angus during the final days at Raigmore. But more unexpected difficulties lay ahead.

Once home, Elma contacted an elder at her church – the Free Presbyterian Church at Miavaig, Uig — to arrange the funeral. Elma had been an adherent for 47 years (attending church but not taking communion) – Angus for 70. The Church currently has no minister – there are only two Ministers covering four Free Presbyterian congregations on Lewis. So Elma asked if Angus’ cousin and retired Church of Scotland Minister, Rev Willie Macleod from Barvas could conduct the funeral. The couple had agreed that if Rev Macleod was alive when either of them passed on, Willie would be the man to officiate. He had known four generations of Angus’ family. Indeed, Willie remembered meeting Angus’ great grandmother when he was just a lad of five. Anyway, the elder said the Rev Macleod would be made welcome and Elma relaxed. But later that evening Reverend Allan MacColl from Ness called – Uig’s interim moderator. His message was abrupt. He was sorry but couldn’t allow the family to use a Church of Scotland minister to preach. Elma explained the family connection and the agreement between the couple and said the Rev MacLeod was “a gracious, godly man” Allan would doubtless enjoy meeting. The Minister replied that the Free Presbyterian church couldn’t allow a Church of Scotland Minister to preach on their premises because of the Kirk’s support for gays and lesbians. Elma pointed out the funeral was a private family affair and that the church was – after all — only bricks and mortar. The Rev MacColl held firm. He asked if Elma would still come to hear him preach. Elma replied; “You’ll never see me again inside a Free Presbyterian Church” to which the Reverend said, “You will come and listen.” She hung up.
Elma’s next call was to the local Church of Scotland who told her she was welcome to use their church. So Angus’ funeral was finally held in Uigean Church of Scotland, Miavaig on February 6th with the church full to overflowing. Elma reckons there were almost 300 people present including the twelve-strong congregation of the Free Presbyterian Church. The turnout wasn’t surprising since Angus was well known in fishing circles across the islands as part-owner and skipper of the “Sovereign.” It was by all accounts a marvellous, knowing and intimate service led by Rev Willie Macleod. The night before, another long-standing family friend and Free Church Minister — Rev Kenny I. Macleod from Stornoway – led prayers at the wake. It was also held in the Miavaig Kirk. None of the Ministers or elders from the Free Presbyterian Church has since been in touch — in stark contrast to Elma’s neighbours, friends, family – and new congregation members at the Church of Scotland.

I knew nothing about all this until I went up to visit Elma in Uig last week. You’d think a grieving widow might want to avoid any further friction – instead Elma wants other islanders to know how the Free Presbyterian Church handled the worst hours of her life. She told me; “I went to church twice on Sundays and once on Wednesdays — health permitting. I looked after the building for the past 12 years. I did the hoovering, dusting and cleaning – and that was all fine. But this – is just a slap in the face. No Christian names are used at a Free Presbyterian funeral. Angus would have been called ‘the deceased’ throughout — and I’d be ‘the widow.’ There’s no warmth, no compassion in their services.”

It seems Free Presbyterian numbers on Lewis have been dwindling since the former Lord Advocate, Lord Mackay of Clashfern was suspended as an elder for attending the Roman Catholic funeral masses of fellow judges. But Elma has been torn between competing loyalties even more harshly. She has lost a wonderful husband and life partner. Did Elma have to lose her church too?

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“Change and Decay in All I See”

The Courier


‘Time for someone to say it’ — Minister warns lack of interest is killing the church

By RICHARD BURDGE, 27 February 2015 3.25pm. Updated: 28 February 2015 10:10am.

Rev Scott Burton decided it was time to speak out after facing more and more empty pews in his church.Shaun Ward
Churches face an “intolerable and utterly unsustainable” lack of interest from their congregations, according to a minister.

An outspoken and wide-ranging attack has been made on members who fail to attend for worship or offer financial support to their churches.

The Rev Scott Burton, minister at St Matthew’s Kirk in Perth, said: “I have no reason to believe anything other than the fact that it’s only going to get worse in the next decade.

“It’s time for someone to say it as it is I’m afraid — and I’m either brave enough or stupid enough to be the one who’s choosing to say it.

“I see the bank balance (deficits), I lead worship in the more than half-empty buildings, I feel the never-ending pressures, I counsel the office-bearers who are tearing their hair out to make ends meet. So I assure you, I’m not exaggerating.”

He hit out after studying the number of people attending churches in Perth but his comments resonated with congregation leaders across Tayside and Fife.

The Rev Michael Goss, Angus Presbytery Clerk, said: “The general perception is that attendance at services runs at about a third or a quarter of the congregational roll.

“The picture is a continuing downward trend, which has been the situation for a long time.”

The Rev James Wilson, the clerk of Dundee’s Presbytery, said:“Our membership is gradually getting fewer and older. We are slowly but surely struggling to find people to do additional tasks and take up positions of responsibility.

P“It is a problem for us in the Church of Scotland in Dundee certainly — a major problem — but it is not one that only the church is facing.”

Ministers in Fife confirmed numbers were dropping, with the Rev Jan Steyn, minister of Cupar St Johns and Dairsie United Parish Church, saying “generational change” was required to keep churches relevant.


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