A gentleman at yesterday’s Kirk team meeting said one news outlet recently made this bold statement: The last parish in the Kirk of Scotland will close it’s doors in 2034.
Obviously, this type of doom-and-gloom prophecy is meant to be jolting and distressing. Just as obvious is the lack of good statistical analysis used to extrapolate these results.
This declaration is based off the current number of church closures and membership decline felt in the Church of Scotland over the past number of years. Assuming those numbers continue at the same rate, one could argue that the church will cease to exist in a mere twenty years.
I’ve heard nearly identical predictions about the Presbyerian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, and a host of other smaller and larger mainline denominations in the States that are going through a similar struggle with numbers.
There is no denying the numerical depression. However, based solely on anecdotal evidence, there are plenty of faithful men, women and children who will no doubt continue the good work of the church regardless of what the church resembles in the future.
This much is assuredly true – the church will not look the same twenty years from now.
At 35, the Presbyterian Church today looks vastly different than it did in my teen years before cell phones, rapid information sharing, social media, and the “shrinking” of our global community. The pre-digital church was something very different from our ever evolving digital landscape that the Kirk in all times and places struggles to make sense of. When I am 55, I’m not sure what the congregations I have served will resemble, nor am I sure what type of church I might encounter that proclaims the gospel. But it will be there, of that I’m am sure.
I preached three times on Sunday in Kirriemuir and Memus, here in West Angus, Scotland. My pulpit swap counter-part, Rev. Malcolm Rooney, is part of West Angus Area Ministries, a team ministry approach where a number of pastors serve as ministers for a variety of churches in one given area. The ministers serve the pastoral needs of the various congregations, while sharing the Sunday morning leadership roles, rotating between parishes. Because there are more churches than pastors, each clergy person might be expected to drive between parishes on a Sunday morning in order to preach at all the locations.*
*(as an aside, I also learned about a sever minister shortage in teh Church of Scotland. In 2014, there were only 13 divinity students preparing to be ministers in the CoS and this year there are 19. Friends in the PC(USA), if you are looking for a call, there are LOTS of opportunities for American pastors to serve here in the Kirk)
My rotation this past Sunday included the 9:00 service in Kirriemuir Old Parish, then drive ten minutes to make the 10:00 service in Memus before hopping back in the car and driving to Kirriemuir again for the “big” service in the Old Parish at 11:15. It was a whirlwind. I’ll never complain about our bakc to back services at The Peoples Church. At least in Michigan, I stay in the same building!
And here is the most stunning observation from my weekend that flies in the face of the predictions about the demise of the Church of Scotland – the congregations were so absolutely connected to one another. There was a genuine sense of fellowship and community.
Rather than speaking to the fears of closing church doors, I believe an emphasis should be placed on the existing faithful who come week after week to express their faith in Jesus Christ while supporting and loving their neighbors as themselves. That is an attractive church. That is an evangelical church.
I am so filled with hope for the Church of Scotland…but I believe they need to refocus their efforts on building up the faithful who are there, rather than bemoaning the missing numbers who are not present. Instead of reporting about the fifty who have left, celebrate teh fifty who are there. I would gladly be a part of those congregations and I believe many others in my cynical, authenticity-seeking generation would as well.
On Tuesday morning, I attending two “team meetings,” staff meetings really, for the parishes. The volunteers there were charming, loving, kind, grace-filled, and full of pride in all the right ways. I was honored to be a part of their discussions and I truly look forward to more of these conversations during my time in Scotland. I pray for the Church of Scotland and I give thanks for their good work. A time of contraction is difficult, but not impossible. Let this be a time of rebirth.
Friends at The Peoples Church, please join me in praying for the Christians here in Scotland, that they would be confident in knowing that they are not alone in their faith. We break bread with them each time we share communion. Remember them this week and give thanks.