A Church in Crisis? or a Stitch up?

Last night’s TV documentary was billed in the paper thus:

Reporter Reevel Anderson evaluates the benefits of the Church of Scotland and considers whether diminishing congregations are indications of the Kirk’s waning contemporary relevance.

Yet, early in the day I received an email from the Church’s media unit, it said:

Tonight on BBC One Scotland at 10.35pm there will be a half-hour documentary about the 450th anniversary of the Scottish Reformation and the future of the Church of Scotland. Whilst no one in the communications office has seen the finished programme, we helped to facilitate interviews and filming at various locations including Orkney’s St Magnus’ Cathedral, Luss Parish Church on the banks of Loch Lomondand St George’s Tron in Glasgow.

Quite a difference in spin. I was too tired to do the programme justice last night, so recorded it to watch with coffee this morning. Oh dear – I don’t know if it was deliberately slanted editing or a fair reflection of most of those interviewed, but it came across in a mainly negative way.

The CofS has been in existence for 450 years and personally I would have thought that at the very least that fact could be celebrated. Instead, there were various attempts to talk about the historical legacy of the Church in Scotland today. For example they did mention that, the CofS is still the biggest employer in social care in Scotland today. Interestingly that is well known – indeed it was quoted to me when I was at a meeting for Learning Disability services in Oban this week.   But this was stated as if it was a spin-off or irrelevance. As a Parish Minister I spent time visiting people who had been helped by the social care side of the church and I know that it matters that one of its core values is the Christian injunction to care for the weak and vulnerable in society.

The Minister from Luss, Loch Lomond was more upbeat and he spoke movingly about the internet ministry of his church.  Good on him is what I say. It is true that overall numbers (bxxs-on-pews) throughout the national church have gone down in terms of adherents but the good news stories were not given air-time. In some churches there is vibrant growth.

A church where I was working had a special anniversary for the year 2000 and we were the subject of an in-house documentary. A team of three people spent 3 days with us – filming the area and interviewing people. I was given 9 videos as a memento; they amounted to 27hrs of recording time, which ended up as 10 minutes of finished movie. (Incidentally it was very positive and wisely edited thankfully!)  I merely point out that there could have been much that was good news and encouraging in footage that was simply abandoned. I know that much from home movie editing as well.

So what am I trying to say?  I am now retired and attend a church that is a part of a group of five little churches in the Scottish Highlands. Only this week I read some verses in the Bible where the church in Thessalonia was being encouraged because the members were growing in faith and love for each other and the vulnerable. It feels like that is happening with us, thanks to our hard-working, faithful Minister, energetic church leaders and caring helpers. That is real, it is happening now. Somehow I want to let people know that the CofS is at a critical stage because it is finding new ways to be church and to love and care for the people of Scotland and beyond.

Haven’t done a sermon for a while. Will that do God?

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7 Responses to A Church in Crisis? or a Stitch up?

  1. Rev Alistair Cook says:


    Very interesting post. Just beginning to wonder after discussion with a friend how much input the Church of Scotland had into this programme. There seemed to be a strong editorial line running through it that the church is heading for terminal decline in 2033 (an interesting date in itself given Jesus’ age when he was crucified) and a lack of expression of faith or vision. I am glad that Chris Rowe did speak (after a significant hesitation) of God still being at work. All very depressing.

  2. freda says:

    Thanks for the comment Alistair, as you can see I was a bit cross at it all myself. The good news rarely gets out as it should.

  3. Pat MacQuarrie says:

    I too live in the Highlands and I have to say I dont recognise the Church being portrayed in the programme last night. At end of programme I was totally ‘depressed’ by the tone and lack of any real positive input (though Ron Ferguson did mention Jesus and for that I was grateful) The Ministry of the ‘whole people of God ‘ is finding new expression throughout the land…………. anyone who was at the Church of Scotland inspired Aviemore Conference on the idea of the church as A Place of Hope can testify to what is being nurtured through the Ministries Council and the financial support of the Guild………… or the Church without Walls event at Ingliston…..
    I could list numerous other National initiatives and so many others could list local initiatives. I remind myself though that we belong in the words of an old chorus to a ‘ God who is not dead. He is alive! No BBC programme maker can kill that belief.

  4. freda says:

    Thanks, Pat, for sharing the positive signs – wish we could get the message out there.

  5. Allan says:

    Pretty livid about the TV programme but not for the same reasons. Can’t deny the decline. We must be realistic that our social care is not bringing huge numbers into the Kingdom (maybe making earth a better place for them). My concern is that nobody from the Church wanted to mention Jesus and the basic need for salvation. (have we really lost our core purpose?) Loving our neighbour is important but loving God is primary and as a Church our core buisness is to go and ‘make disciples’

  6. freda says:

    Thanks, Allan, I see what you mean about loving God being primary, but I also remember how Jesus tells us that whenever we give a cup of water to a thirsty traveller we give it to him. God is our motivation and our source, though how we interest those who feel there is no place for them in the church is up for grabs. I included the link to lussonline because they seem to be finding new ways to share the gospel. Every Blessing.

  7. freda says:

    A friend felt retiscent about leaving a comment, but gave permission for me to cut and paste it from skype: She said……. “until the hard core of narrow minded people move into this century and allow the church to move forward there will always be negativism within the church. Although I am no longer a church person I follow the CofS progress and it saddens me. Especially this morning when I was winding my grandfather presentation clock given him on moving from one Parish to another. While I never knew him I grew up with his comments and views very much part of my life. He was a very forward looking minister.”

    Anyone care to comment on that?

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