In Africa, chatting about faith to your neighbour on a street corner, bus, train or plane was very natural. People were open and ready to talk about unseen worlds of the spirit and what life might be (or is) all about. In Scotland, chin-wagging about faith isn’t quite as natural, a frowning cloud of skepticism often overshadowing such conversations. The unwritten sign on many pubs is “Talk about everything except religion & politics!”

sunbeams breaking through a cloud in a stormy ocean

My cobbled together definition of ‘secularism’ is ‘the view that God doesn’t exist, or if he does exist, is impotent to helpfully engage in our everyday life & living.” I regularly see shafts of sunlight cut through secularism’s oppressive clouds, people changed by the infectious Christ’s Love, so captivated and changed by it that they can’t keep quiet about this newfound intimacy with their Maker. Through community connecting ventures like: those of Whiteinch Church of Scotland, Missional Communities of Central Baptist Church, Edinburgh and our own Fullarton ConneXions, I sense the ‘smog of secularism’ lifting.

The Church of England are at least 10 years ahead of us in encouraging pioneering experimentation: incubators for nurturing new life and laboratories of innovation. Stefan Paas (Amsterdam), speaking in Glasgow last week, encouraged us to listen well to our neighbours and their needs, serve them sacrificially, and learn languages through which the Good News of a God, who loves them extravagantly, can be truly felt and telt. I like Paas’ description of ‘Christian Communities, where uncertainty and creativity are joined in hope’ or as someone put it, FAITH – ‘Fabulous Adventure In Trusting Him’.

Chatting to Stefan in the coffee queue, he was surprised to hear how well chaplaincy is received in a thoroughly secular UK. Work Place Chaplaincy Scotland and Sports Chaplaincy UK have been able to tap into the deep human need for ‘someone to be there’, willing to unconditionally listen to, care for and signpost people towards the help they need. It’s the offer of genuine pastoral friendship in a competitive, ‘dog-eat-dog’ world. Such friendship is not dependent on people coming to ‘my church’, adopting ‘my values’ or ‘believing in my God’, but it can start some sniffing for more scents of an invisible spiritual world, hungering and thirsting for a higher power and deeper significance. And where requests are made for the opportunity to explore faith, hope and love in Christ, it’s important to be able to channel people into relationships and groups, like Alpha, which can take people closer to Jesus and the purpose-filled eternal life he leads us into.

At our biennial ‘Faith n Fitba’ charity dinner, Linvoy Primus, Mark Fleming & Matt Baker shared on the role of faith in the world of football. Linvoy spoke of the freedom he felt from trusting Jesus as his Saviour & Gaffer, with the legs of Usain Bolt as he chased each ball and played for ‘an audience of One’ (Jesus). Mark revealed the phenomenal growth of sports chaplaincy in Scottish football, where almost all senior clubs (men’s & women’s), Highland & Lowland clubs, and some Junior clubs, now have trusted chaplains, getting alongside players, staff & fans to pastorally support them, no strings attached.

Marriages are being saved, life-skills (e.g. anger management / attitude of gratitude) taught, comfort shared, esteem encouraged, lives brightened and hope grown, as chaplains join Jesus where he is, calling all his followers to join him in the ‘real world’ to share his love in meaningful ways and help them make it easier for people to trust and believe in Him. Jesus, in here, out there, everywhere!