A word for today?
"In that day I will restore David's fallen shelter, I will repair its broken walls and restore its ruins, and will rebuild it as it used to be" Amos 9.11
It's not that I have discovered how to be in two places at one time but through the wonders of technology that I am writing this in Skye, while attending the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. The latter should have been "done and dusted" back in May but coronavirus put paid to that and so we are catching-up with a truncated version via Zoom. You can imagine the mile-wide margin for technical error in gathering several hundred people in this way. Credit where it's due, the tech team are doing an amazing job, as are those who are having to adjust to this unfamiliar modus operandi. Yet there is also the impossibility of squeezing a quart into a pint pot, which is the task facing organisers trying to cover what normally takes a week in an evening and a day!
There is no denying the willingness of commissioners to recognise that these are critical times for the church, which faces significant internal challenges of our own as well as the more general crises facing all of society. The conversation around what can, indeed must, be done remains cordial and thoughtful. Perhaps the most illuminating remark came from the individual who wondered whether the Church's legalistic structure constitutes the most significant barrier to our taking the necessary action. If that is the case, then cnag na cùise is: should we throw our energy in reforming the system, working around it, or scrapping it in favour of something different and, one would hope, better?
It would be easy to become frustrated or cynical about the ability of an organisation like the Church of Scotland to move with the fleetness of foot required by the challenges which face us. Yet two other shafts of light offer a more hopeful prospect: one is the Moderator's exhortation that we "hold our nerve" as we work through these challenges and the other is the (recently appointed and first ever) Chief Officer's remark that our aim is not the management of decline but getting back onto a growth curve. And is that not what this is all about? We have Good News to share and prophetic things to say. We owe it to God and we owe it to our homeland to come good on our calling to be Christ's witnesses in Scotland. When the Church faced a crisis in its earliest days, the apostles met at Jerusalem, listening intently to God and to one another. Then James, the Lord's brother and leader of the Church, quoted the words above from the prophecy of Amos. Could they be a word for us today, for the General Assembly of 2020? It does not tell us how but it reassures us that what we believe in and long for will happen. It will not be through our own ingenuity but from God. Yet, according to what we know of his method, he will act through us. So let's hold our nerve, get listening and prepare to grow...