Rector’s letter May 2017 You might remember that last year all the Scottish churches were asked to complete a census.  I just received the report with all the statistical analysis and it makes for challenging reading particularly as it arrived just after Easter Sunday. We rightly rejoice in the miracle of the risen Lord with all its implications for renewal and new life.  Yet on the face of it the census returns show decay and decline (other than for the Pentecostal churches).  I can only give you a flavour of the results and offer you two findings – “the 2016 Census shows that some 390,000 people regularly attended church, being 7.2% of the Scottish population, down from 17% in 1984”.  The second finding is this – “two-fifths or 42% of Scottish churchgoers are 65 or over, of which a fifth are aged 65 to 74, and a fifth are 75 or over.  This is twice the proportion in the population and has obvious implications for the future.  The oldest churchgoers are either in the Church of Scotland or the Scottish Episcopal Church, the youngest are Pentecostal.  Declining numbers are especially seen in those under 45”.    So there it is and I hear you say no great shock there Rector.  What ought our response be as people of faith?  Let me offer you the thoughts and sage advice of John Bell of the Iona Community.  I am fond of listening to Radio 4’s Thought for the Day slot on the Today programme.  John Bell is a regular contributor to that slot and it so happened that he had the slot on the day that the census results were made public. He started off the slot by setting the context in the Easter story and the story of Mary Magdalen being told by the risen Lord not to touch him.   “Don’t cling to me” he says and there is a lesson to be learned here – we can only have the Lord if we let him go.  Developing that theme, John Bell reminded his listeners that Churches are human institutions and not a substitute for God nor for the good news of the gospels.  Nostalgia for the institution, for our heritage, our fondness for tradition, our fear for the future, all, he says, can make us cling to what has been, rather than what is to come if God is a dynamic presence and not the keeper of the fossils collection.  The litmus test, according to John Bell, is to ask whether the institution and its structures offer a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven. Do they bear the hallmarks of justice, joy, a rooted faith and radical hospitality?  Perhaps most challengingly of all he ended the slot with these words – “are our hands so tied to the past that we cannot open them to serve God’s tomorrow?  The great feast of Pentecost will soon be upon us.  Perhaps, like the Pentecostal churches, we should take much more seriously the power of our witness fuelled by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which so amazingly demonstrated that day in the upper room.  We are used to the ancient prayer, “Come, O Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful people”; but the Holy Spirit is already here! Could it be that our hands are so tied that we deny entrance to that Holy Spirit?                                                                                             The Rector       
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