Saturday, 9 February 2013

Gilcomston South, St Georges Tron, and...?

Last night, the BBC Scottish News had an article on Gilcomston South Church, Aberdeen. They are about to leave the Church of Scotland over the issue about allowing practising homosexuals to be Ministers of the Gospel. At least Gilc will slip anchor in March a tad more quietly than the Tron, with no impassioned stuff about evictions and the like, and Gilc's minister, the Revd Dominic Smart even allowed an interview and explained why they were leaving and did so in measured and unexcited tones. Much credit both to Aberdeen Presbytery and the Kirk Session and minister of Gilc.

Who will be next? The big three very successful conservative evangelical churches in the Church of Scotland for the last 60 years or so have been Gilcomston South, St George's Tron and Holyrood Abbey Church in Edinburgh. Gilcomston's conservative evangelical era began with the ministry of William Still in the late 40's, and was followed fairly quickly by the Tron and Holyrood, who both called ministers who had been influenced by and were close friends and confidants of Willie Still - the Philip brothers, George and James (Jim). To say Gilc's ministry has been formative for generations of evangelicals within the Church of Scotland would rank almost as an understatement. Many ministers were inspired by his bold forthright unashamedly Biblical style, and by his determination to see the life of the congregation come under a simpler more Biblical regime: namely no organisations to speak of; a weekly congregational Bible study held midweek, and a congregational prayer meeting on a Saturday, yes Saturday, evening. 7pm-9.30pm (nearer 10pm in the early days of its life!). Willie Still began to gather a few like minded friends around him in the fifties, gathering in Sandy Tait's manse, in Crieff. This grew into a formidable number of evangelicals in the 70's, meeting thrice yearly in the Crieff Hydro, and was in no small measure a major influence on the evangelical population of ministers in the Kirk. It went largely unrecognised by Kirk officialdom, and Willie Still was never offered nor is has to be said, would he have sought, official recognition for his truly immense contribution to the life of the Church of Scotland. I know he was offered an honorary doctorate from Aberdeen University, but turned it down.

So, who will be next to leave? The problem with conservative evangelical ministries in the Church of Scotland is that while there were and are, many who are deeply sympathetic to the conservative cause, not many congregations were won over in quite the wholesale way in which the big three were. There were some notable ministries down the years and some sea changes in congregational life to match: David Searle at Newhills Aberdeen, (followed there by Norrie McIver),  then at Larbert Old, Tom Swanson in Inverness, and a few others. Now, in order for a minister to leave and be able to keep paying the bills, there has to be a congregation large enough to go with him, or, he leaves and goes on the dole. I believe that most conservatives will find a good spiritual reason to stay in the church and continue to fight the cause from within. Some very few ministers have already resigned (not taking congregations with them), and they have my utmost respect. Out of the big three, Holyrood is the last man standing. My feeling is that they will go, because the vast majority of the congregation would no doubt support such a move, (if they can tear themselves away from the building extension projects into which they have ploughed much money and effort in recent years). There are very few other congregations within the Church of Scotland which would give majority support to a move to leave the Kirk.

Some may have been holding their powder dry until the General Assembly reports on the whole affair, but for the reason above I doubt that a report in favour of allowing practising homosexual ministers to hold office will have an impact as big as that which we are already seeing, namely the exit of 2 of the big 3. Their financial and other contributions to the Kirk have been not inconsiderable.  But if Holyrood Abbey goes, I believe that that will be the last of the major repercussions in terms of large wholesale exits.

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