“Victimised by nostalgia and buffeted by fear, the church is focused too much on merely holding the small plot of ground that it currently occupies to confidently reimagine a robust future.” (Michael Frost – Exiles)
But not only churches feel displaced and disorientated by pandemic pressures. In Easter Ross recently I was struck by the view from Nigg Hill, a good steep climb on a bike! Oil rigs being mothballed or decommissioned are many as our dependency on fossil fuels reduces. However, next door, like giant toothbrush holders, windmill stanchions tower, with turbines and propellers, readying for a windy spot to garner wind-power for the national grid.
Myriad redundant oil rigs clogging up the Cromarty Firth reminds me of the countless old church buildings no longer fit for purpose. However, the site of so many massive wind-turbines produced where oil rigs were once traditionally made heartened me.
At the annual Church of Scotland (C of S) General Assembly (22nd – 28th May) the Faith Nurture Forum will recommend that our presbytery of Irvine & Kilmarnock must reduce allocated ministers and ministry development staff from 20.8 to 13.5, with similar cuts across Scotland. Essentially, Covid lockdowns have accelerated church decline. But this is not a time to sink into nostalgia treacle: “I remember when there were hundreds coming through our doors!” or be dazzled or frightened into inertia. This is a time to recognise that the same God, who raised Jesus Christ from the grave, is at work in and around us; to confess our utter inadequacies and inability to go forward without God’s Holy Spirit help; and to allow the eternal gifts of faith, hope and love to energise and enable us to celebrate and share the Good News of Jesus Christ in fresh ways.
This is difficult for a Church, which has largely trained ministers as teachers and shepherds, while the other vital roles of pioneer (apostle), prophet and evangelist (cf. Ephesians 4:11-16) were neglected. It’s tough for churches which lean heavily on a paid person to lead and keep the show on the road and can’t imagine church without their 100+ year old building. A consumerist approach to Christianity, which expects to be entertained and fed from the front, doesn’t grow the kind of Jesus follower ready to die for their faith.
Present Moderator Martin Fair warns us that the present trajectory of the Church of Scotland is extinction by 2035 and calls for a radical re-imagining of church and committed expressions of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Indeed, for a brave new Church to emerge we need a similar revolution to the transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy.
Present Scottish targets for 2030 are to “phase out” new petrol and diesel cars and for renewable energy generation to be 50% of energy demand across electricity, heat and transport; and by 2050 to have decarbonised our energy system almost completely. In our presbytery, by 2030, with the help of pioneering mission, we aim to establish a loving, worshipping, witnessing ‘Kingdom of Christ’ community in every locality; growing new alongside existing expressions of church. Aim for nothing and you’ll hit it every time. It’s a prayerful move from self-dependency to dependency on The Holy Spirit and interdependency upon fellow followers of Christ.
New wind turbines or new wine-skins, as someone put it, “Evangelise or Fossilise!”