Sunday May 30th 2021
A warm welcome to worship. You will find the intimations at the end of the service.
Our opening hymn is:
Hymn 625 O thou who camest from above
Prayer of Approach and Confession (by Gwen)
Almighty Lord God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
We come together to worship you this morning, full of wonder at how your mighty hand has shaped our world and shaped us to live in harmony with your creation and with each other. You made Nature to supply our every need abundantly, with enough to share with everybody where no one is in need and no one goes short. Yet we do not conform to taking only what we need; we are greedy and destroy more than we require for our own use. Forgive us Lord.
We praise you for the Farmers busy making silage to feed their animals in wintertime and praise you for the growth we see in our gardens as the heat and the rain make our produce grow, whether for our table or to admire bloom and perfume. We praise you for the trees and bushes now in their summer finery as we see the myriad of greens in the hedges and woods around us. We do not always appreciate your involvement in our lives and fail to praise you for how blessed we are compared to others in our world. We pray Lord for a fairer world.
We praise you for always being with us and for the help of the Holy Spirit as we have struggled with the corona virus pandemic and we ask that you continue to keep us safe as we face the further lifting of restrictions. Give us cool heads to be sensible as we relax more each day and keep us ever mindful of the devastation these virus mutations can cause and ever mindful to think about the safety of others not just ourselves.
In the name of the Holy Trinity we further pray together saying - - -
Our Father, - - - - -
Hymn 111 Holy, holy holy, Lord God almighty
Reading: Matthew 28:16-20
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Anthem: Holy, holy holy (Schubert)
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen
For the past week, as you may know, the Church of Scotland General Assembly took place, but it was an Assembly like no other. This year the modern world took over the Assembly and it was not always a comfortable relationship. For hours on end, computer screens and internet connections replaced real people, and almost everything was online, as hundreds of commissioners, myself included, struggled mightily to make Zoom work on their antiquated home computers.
So, not surprisingly, it all started in silence. In silence, people who were zoomed in from all over the world watched the procession past the statue of John Knox, up the time honoured steps, along the black and white corridor and into the Assembly Hall.
In silence, we watched Nicola Sturgeon, as first minister, and Prince William, as the Lord High Commissioner, climb into the gallery and take their places. In silence we watched the outgoing Moderator, Rev Martin Fair, take the Moderatorial Chair. In silence we watched the Moderator’s lips move and the words for “Be thou my vision” appear on the screen. In silence we watched a past video of the 2019 General Assembly singing that beloved hymn.
All of this was like watching an old silent movie, without even the benefit of a tinkling piano in the background, and I suppose not many of us could lip-read. Quite a bit noisier in its own way, however, was the Zoom chat line which had been set up to allow commissioners to contact the Assembly’s technical team to report online technical problems. Even as the Assembly proceeded in sedate silence, the chat line was going mad. It turned out that nobody on Zoom was hearing anything and hundreds of commissioners felt the need to say so, all scribbling chat messages at the same time.
The tech team, who I think deserved a medal, worked very hard and by the time we got to the end of the hymn, sound was beginning to come through.
Well, that was the first major glitch, and it wasn’t the last. But considering that we were breaking new ground, I think it ran surprisingly smoothly.
But when we were finally able to hear one another, was it actually worth the effort?
I think opinions on that will be divided this year, because it became increasingly clear as the week progressed that the Church is facing some severe challenges, which have been made much worse by the Covid pandemic, and in some cases the proposed solutions are both debatable and uncertain in their outcomes.
Much of the Assembly was dominated by a rather depressing subject---finance and cutbacks. Obviously, congregational giving has been badly hit by Covid. As well as not having services for a large part of last year and 3 months of this, fundraising events have not been able to go ahead and rental from buildings has been almost zero. The result is that the current income in this year’s budget is only enough to cover the payment of ministers’ stipends. All the other aspects of the Church’s work---overseas mission, the Church’s social care work in Crossreach, and all the admin costs--- are this year coming entirely from reserves. Obviously, such a situation cannot be sustained in the long term.
It was against that sobering background that the Assembly proceeded to consider the actual work and mission of the Church. The bulk of the General Assembly’s time was taken up discussing the work of what is now called the Faith Nurture forum. Faith nurture covers the work which was previously done by the former Ministries Council.
The convener gave us some depressing statistics. Currently in the Church of Scotland there are 685 ministers in post. There are 299 vacant charges. 36 congregations are in guardianship. Therefore, like me in Sally Russell’s former charge, 335 ministers are interim moderators, as well as ministering to their own parishes, and there are 151 locums. Even as it is, this is an unsustainable situation and it is likely to get worse as older ministers retire and are not replaced. And many cannot be replaced because there is not enough money to pay for replacements.
The solution proposed by the Faith Nurture Forum was that by 2025, in other words in four years’ time, the Church of Scotland needed to cut the number of charges by roughly 33% and reduce the number of ministers by 12%, getting us down to 600 ministers and 660 charges by 2025. That is affordable and allows some flexibility for ministers wanting to move, students coming in and ministers wishing to retire.
And, of course, the actual effect of these cuts is felt at the Presbytery and parish level. Currently, our own Presbytery has a notional allocation of 20.9 ministry posts. That is being cut back to 12.5 ministry posts. So as you will see from that, there is going to be much more work for the ministers who remain in post and many difficult decisions ahead.
In the midst of all of this discussion about the increasing workload on ministers, a motion was brought by a Commissioner proposing that all ministers should lose their right of tenure in order to allow their posts to be placed entirely at the disposal of Presbyteries, regardless of what the congregation or the minister might think. This would mean that any minister could be ordered at any time to leave their charge in order to allow the Presbytery to make readjustments. This did not strike me as a way of encouraging either ministers or congregations to do their best, when the results of their efforts could be snatched away from them at any moment by Presbytery. I confess I voted against that motion, and, I’m glad to say, so did a majority of the General Assembly.
Summing up the larger picture, the convener of Faith Nurture said that if she had to use three words to describe the position that the Church of Scotland was in at the moment they would be: tension, challenge, and opportunity.
We are obviously in a tense and challenging place with the cutbacks that have to happen and the effect that that will have on ministers, on congregations and on buildings. But she encouraged us to think of it as an opportunity, a chance to think of “doing church” in a different way, perhaps inspired by some of the changes that have taken place during Covid with online worship. This would certainly not be everybody’s cup of tea and one can foresee many difficulties, but it does remind us that throughout its history the church, its institutions, and its methods have always been evolving in response to new situations, and there is no reason to suppose that the current situation is any different.
Although most of the energy of the General Assembly was spent on the report of the Faith Nurture Forum, we did not spend all our time navel-gazing! Thankfully the Church is still looking outwards into the world.
Many of the reports on this outreach work took their focus from an interesting analysis of mission which was developed by the Anglican Church. That analysis highlighted five aspects of the Church’s missionary role. They are:
1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
3. To respond to human need by loving service
4. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
In particular, the Report of the Faith Impact Forum focussed a lot of its work on the last 2 aspects, noting particularly the role of the church and its members in safeguarding the integrity of creation and encouraging churches to work on reducing their carbon footprint towards net zero by 2030.
A motion was moved and approved which deplored the government’s cutting back of aid to poorer countries. And the Assembly agreed to urge the UK Government to do all that it can to ensure Covid-19 vaccines are available throughout the world, particularly in resource-poor countries, on the basis of clinical need to preserve human life.
As the outgoing Moderator emphasised in his speech on Assembly Saturday:
There is still work for the Church to do.
For as long as there is still one single Foodbank operating in Scotland, there is work for us to do.
For as long as people sleep rough on the streets of our cities, there is work for us to do.
For as long as women are scared to walk home alone at night, there is work for us to do.
For as long as bombs fall on Gaza and rockets are fired into Israel, there is work for us to do.
And that is surely the point of it all: as a Church, as congregations, and as individual Christians we are not here just for the sake of being here. We exist in order to do things, to act in the name, and for the purposes, of Jesus himself.
Regardless of cutbacks and lack of finance, there is still work for the Church to do, and I was heartened by the words of the current Moderator, Lord Wallace, who reminded the Assembly that at the end of the day:
“The power that is behind us is much greater than the task that is before us.”
So holding on to that thought, let us grasp the challenges of the 2021 General Assembly and remember that the power of Christ can overcome even the greatest obstacles.
Hymn 270 Put all your trust in God
Prayers of Intercession
We are a world that is desperate for You, God.
When powers struggle for dominance,
and war, oppression and abuse result;
When groups of people oppose one another
because of ideology, religion or culture;
We need a God who is bigger than ourselves,
and our personal interests.
When people are disregarded and devalued
because of poverty, geography or disease;
When compassion and justice is withheld to some
because of sexuality, race or gender;
We need a Saviour who is more compassionate than we are
who includes even those we would exclude.
When resources are mismanaged and abused,
and the world and its creatures are destroyed;
When motivation is scarce and creativity is in short supply
to address the challenges that we face;
We need a Spirit who is more powerful and more creative
than we could ever be.
Lord God, Loving Saviour, Empowering Spirit,
we offer You these prayers
because we need You so desperately.
Captivate us, call us and fill us,
that we may be carriers of Your eternal life
to this world that You love so dearly. Amen.
Hymn 182 Now thank we all our God
As we walk onward with God, Three in One,
May we be called once more to faith by our rock and redeemer, God the Father,
Sent again to meet the need of the world through our Lord and Saviour, Jesus the Son,
And inspired anew by the gusting winds of our restless provoker, the Holy Spirit,
And may the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be upon each one of us, and everyone whom we love, this day and for evermore.
Closing voluntary: Karg Elert: Nun danket alle Gott
Minister on Leave
The minister will be on annual leave from May 31st – June 16th. The services for the next 2 Sundays will be taken by Mrs Gwen Corson who will also be providing pastoral care in the event of emergencies, tel: 01557 870328.
Volunteering at the Mill
The Mill on the Fleet is needing volunteers to man the information desk. There are quite a few empty regular slots during the week (open 7 days) and they’d also like to build up the reserve list for short notice cover. The Mill is definitely getting busier with many people having holidays in the UK and probably a low Covid area like Dumfries and Galloway is a popular reason for people coming here. It can be really interesting chatting to visitors, quite often you meet people you have some sort of connection to. Also it's not necessary to be incredibly knowledgeable about the town, you learn things all the time and it's surprising what you already know anyway. There is information to help volunteers who might not be confident about this. Can you help? The slots are 10.00 til 1.00 and 1.00 til 4.00 and you get free drinks and cakes from the cafe, or lunch if you happen to be there then. For more information or to volunteer, please contact Susan Smyth on 814458 or 07761 460049 or email email@example.com
General Assembly highlights
General Assembly highlights are to be broadcast on BBC Scotland this Sunday evening at 10.30pm.
Advance notice that the June collection for the Stewartry Food Bank will be on Tuesday 8th June, 9 - 9.30am at Kirkcudbright Parish Church.
While most of our shelves are still well stocked, we are running short of the following:
small packets of cereal (not the mixed individual boxes but smaller packets of eg Weetabix, suitable for a single person)
We are still working our way through our stock of tea, biscuits and pasta, so have no need of these. Thank you for your support.