Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Why the Kirk?

This is a deeply unfashionable subject, but it's my blog and I want to raise it:

What do people find in Church of Scotland services? Why do they go? Presumably they are Christians - but what sustenance does the service give them? If a congregation is fortunate enough to have a gifted and thoughtful preacher as their minister, then they will at least be stimulated and perhaps moved by the sermon, but other than that? Bellow five hymns, sit passively through several extempore prayers - the quality of which again will depend on the ability of the incumbent - and that's it. Unless, of course, it's one of the infrequent communion services.

I was brought up in the Kirk. One of my great-uncles was a minister. I went till my early teens and then had had enough. I'd still be unchurched, 50 years on, if that was all that was available. I was reminded of it today when an acquaintance was bemoaning the dreadful sermon he'd had to suffer - all 20 minutes of it - on Christmas Eve. He no longer goes to church on a regular basis because it is so boring.

Sermons in the - to which I belong - are not the central part of the liturgy. The Eucharist is. The prayers are well-written and familiar enough to provide a vehicle for meditation. With or without music, the service can be beautiful. The celebrant can be a wonderful preacher - but it doesn't matter so much. There is movement, congregational participation and silence. There is a sense of "other" - it is not mundane.

And there are so few of us that we all know one another. Not entirely a good thing, as we're lumbered with a lovely but scabby building to maintain. But I'd love to hear from someone out there who can tell me why I'm arrogant, self-satisfied or just plain wrong about all this.


  1. Never mind "Why the Kirk". Why the church? Kirk vs Episopaleans vs Baptist? Doesn't it make more sense to start with the more basic question first? A bit like asking "why food" before discussing meat vs vegitables.

  2. Hmm. I guess I was starting from the intital premise that I need to eat. It's been a long time since I considered living without food (to continue your metaphor). It's another subject altogether, I suppose. Is it *your* question?

  3. Hmm. I guess this is a case of the other man's grass always being browner! Your experience of the C of S sounds significantly more extensive than my experience of Episcopalian/Anglican services (about a dozen perhaps) but my experience has been that the getting up, keeling down and moving about was more annoying than helpful; the formulaic prayers sounded odd; and I was frustrated that the sermon seemed not to be the central part of the service! :-)

    A couple of comments on your comments. If you "sit passively" through any service, in any denomination, you're not doing it right. Worship is an active process and you should be actively involved on worship though all the aspects of a service.

    Also, in my opinion, the problems in the church, well at least in the Church of Scotland, can be traced to a loss of confidence in the preaching of God's word. Some people think the way to get more people attending church is to minimise or cut sermons altogether - I remain unconvinced. Certainly one of the best attended churches in my local area (not the one I attend, and not C of S!) has a packed church including loads of young people and yet has a lengthy, meaty, Bible based sermon at every service. There is something attractive about God's word being faithfully preached. (Although the corollary, as you imply in your post, could be that a poor preacher may do more harm than good.)

    A couple of your points I agree with however - I have sat through enough duff services, in a variety of denominations, to wonder why on earth anyone goes to some churches. Also, I agree that it is bizarre we celebrate communion so infrequently in the C of S.

    Finally, to answer your final question. Are you arrogant, self-satisfied or just plain wrong? I think you are none of the above. I am reminded however of the story of St. Peter showing a new arrival around heaven. At one point they pass a walled off area and St. Peter asks the newly arrived chap to be quiet as they pass. "Why?" the chap asks. "Well that's the Episcopalian section." St. Peter replies, "They think they're the only ones here." :-)

  4. David : love the St Peter joke - new to me. I don't think I disagree with any of this except your exception to physical participation in worship; when you're used to it (and therefore don't feel pushed) it seems a natural extension of what you're doing. So for me it feels unduly casual to sit during a prayer - though again I'd do this quite naturally, say, at a Cursillo weekend where worship takes many different forms. But there are times when kneeling seems the obvious thing to do in response to the presence of God, and times when it seems right to stand, or to cross oneself.
    I wasn't brought up to any of this; it's been a process of my adult life and I'm still finding the journey extremely stimulating!

  5. I cannot tell a lie, the joke is a variation on a theme and I first heard it from Paul when we were at university together many moons ago. When he first told it to me, the butt of the joke was the Brethern.

    I'm not sure what point he is making in his comment, but it was seeing his picture that reminded me of the joke. :-)

  6. I have just remembered that you used to be an English teacher and I am now in a panic. Should it be, "...was the Brethern." or "...were the Brethern"? In this case, "Brethern" is a singular proper noun ( I think) so I'm sticking with "was"... but it sounds odd hence the panic. :-)

  7. "Brethren" (note position of the second "r") is the plural of "brother", slightly archaic and nowadays fairly specialised, being applied to (mainly) religious groups - or trades unions!
    I suppose in your point we encounter the common dilemma of the collective noun - which can be thought of as either a singular entity or the various components. You use the verb number appropriate to the way you're thinking.
    Oh dear. I sound hopelessly didactic. :-(

  8. Once a didactic teacher, always a dominatrix. Oh no, that's not quite right . . .

  9. Ha! typical. I'm worried about my grammar and as usual it is my spelling that lets me down! In primary 1/2 I was taught to read and write using the Intial Teaching Alphabet (ITA) system - a form of phonetic spelling. I can't resist asking the old question at this point... why is the word "phonetic" not spelled phonetically? :-)

    ITA was a system that was tried in the late sixties but abandoned fairly quicky. I have always blamed my poor spelling on ITA, but when I said this a few years ago, a colleague at Jordanhill exclaimed, "Don't be ridiculous. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence could make the transition to standard spelling!" Well that put my gas at a peep. :-) Of course, it turned out this colleague was one of the educational experts that pushed the system into schools. Clearly this is why she complained about the stupidity of teachers ignoring sound educational research. As a victim... sorry... subject of this daft system, I'm afraid I have more sympathy with the teachers than the researchers.

  10. David, I was so glad my kids came along too late to have this inflicted on them. I think there was a kind of collective mania in educational circles while I was safely at University - by the time I hit teaching I wasn't allowed to teach grammar except in the Latin class! (I taught this some of the time till it went out of fashion - hence the pedantry)

  11. Anonymous9:29 PM

    I like Captain Kirk
    and I like his big caravanette too
    He's the man
    and his Star Fleet directives are immutable