As a Church of Scotland minister, it’s hard to believe a recent PR survey suggested more people believe in wee green men than God.
In her Evening News column, Sandra Dick regards her Kirk upbringing as a close encounter of the lost kind, and claims the Church of today is alien to the communities it seeks to serve. For those of us still firmly rooted here on planet Kirk this seems a strange claim.
In Edinburgh, thousands of people go to church on a Sunday morning. Every week Christian people put their faith into practice, supporting food banks, the homeless and the lonely. They form a large part of the volunteer base in all sorts of groups and charities. Parish ministers give freely of their time to school chaplaincy, to young people’s organisations, to services at the highs and low points of life regardless of whether people are members or not. In the Capital, church buildings offer the majority of community space for every kind of club, society and organisation.
On a national scale, the Church of Scotland has for years been “shouting loud” about the impact that grinding poverty has on the life of too many citizens. We are closely engaged with policy makers and we work in partnership with secular charities where we share common concerns. We are embedded in our poorest communities – our people actually stay in places affected by need and our buildings offer a warm welcome.
We can also rise to the occasion. During the referendum campaign, our national church played an important role calming tensions when the campaign threatened to become divisive. Our moderator appeared on television and in the press across the UK and around the world as the Church reminded people we’d all have to live together after polling day regardless of the outcome. If we are on another planet, why was our voice received so well by the media and the public?
As politicians continue to struggle with the implications of the independence vote, the Church is satisfying the renewed appetite for public debate by involving people in its Scotland’s Future Now events. There’s one in Glasgow tonight, which will be streamed live through the Church website to hundreds of people holding their own meetings in church halls around the country, including Penicuik.
Remembrance Sunday is in a few days and again the local church will be the focus for the increasing numbers of people who need a way to grapple with terrible loss that conflict brings. Then it will indeed be on to Christmas – for me, it’s the story of how God became involved in ordinary life, and brought comfort to those most in need while society looked the other way. That’s not so different from today.
Believe it or not the Church of Scotland, and more importantly the God she serves, is very much alive.
• Edinburgh minister Rev Dr George Whyte is the acting principal clerk of the Church of Scotland