We are very encouraged by Glasgow Presbytery’s decision to allow us to call a minister without restriction. We would like to thank all who have joined us in prayer during the vacancy which, beginning on 1st May 2011, will have extended longer than many of us had anticipated at the outset, on account of the moratorium on filling vacancies within the Presbytery. We recognize, however, that there is a considerable way to go before we reach the stage of recommending a ‘sole nominee’. A draft of the Parish Profile has been agreed by the Kirk Session and we look forward to a meeting with the Presbytery Advisory Committee before proceeding to elect a nominating committee.
One of the temptations now that there is a realistic prospect of finding a successor to Peter White is to sit back and relax. During the vacancy we recognized from the start that to do nothing would squander the rich legacy left us on Peter’s retirement. The scaffolding erected to enable work to be done on the masonry in the sanctuary in Sandyford offers us a helpful metaphor of the work that lies ahead of us. Just as the maintenance of the fabric of an 1855 building is a work in progress (happily the repairs have been carried out in timely fashion and the scaffolding has been dismantled (see the December/January Congregational Record)) so the maintenance of the spiritual health of Christ’s church will be ongoing this side of eternity.
The Master Builder
Images from the construction industry are used throughout the Bible to refer to the church. In one of his parentheses, Professor Donald Macleod, preaching in Sandyford on 6th January, reminded us that God is both the Architect and the Master Builder and that we are merely labourers. This allusion made me think of the focus for the next few months.
How good it is in all the uncertainty within the church both locally and nationally to realize afresh that the Architect has a plan both for Sandyford and for the Church of Scotland. In Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder (1892), there is a fatal gap between the ambition of the architect, Halvard Solness, and his ability to realize it. On the completion of the roof of a new building, Solness reaches the top of his high tower and, overcome with vertigo, falls to his death, symbolizing his inability to climb as high as he builds. However, there is no such gap between God’s ambition for us and His capacity to fulfill it. One problem for us is our failure to grasp God’s ambition both for the church, and, indeed, for ourselves, as His builders.
One of the major challenges is to keep our eyes on the Master Builder. The folly of not doing so is graphically illustrated in the three-fold repetition of the adverbial phrase ‘in vain’ in Psalm 127:
Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early […].
(Psalm 127: 1-2)
So far, God has watched and stood guard over our vacancy. We cannot doubt that He will continue to do so during the rest of the process, from the appointment of a nominating committee to the conclusion of the search and the induction of a minister, and beyond that, for the sustaining and developing of the vision for the congregation. We need to keep these words ‘Except the LORD build […]’ on the lintel of our hearts as we wait upon God in the days to come.
Where do we fit in? God could so easily do all the work Himself – and sometimes does when He finds His workers in the church unresponsive to His schedule or to His method of working. But He has chosen to work through His people to extend His kingdom and to build the church for whom Christ died. Now this work can take on a diversity of forms. How ill-judged for any of us to be selective and to dismiss some of the more menial tasks as not constituting spiritual service. The first seven deacons in the early church who were set aside to wait on tables were men ‘known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom’ (Acts 6: 3). In Sandyford, much of the more menial tasks have tended to fall to some of the older folk in the congregation. However, how gratifying that so many under 50 year-olds responded to the call to join work parties to clean the church and to move chairs back into the sanctuary and gave wonderful support at Christmas. There was a slight blip in not getting enough postees to deliver all the 3500 Christmas cards from the church to those living within the parish. No doubt many thought that someone else would volunteer. However, for next year, let us remember the well-known little story (probably more suited to a Christmas cracker than to the Congregational Record!) about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody:
There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.
The work does not have to be physically challenging. So many to whom we are indebted for the rebuilding of the congregation are no longer able to assist with all of the tasks. However, their ministry of prayer and encouragement, be it from their homes or even from a hospitable bed, is of incalculable benefit to us.
One of the great scourges of our times has been that of unemployment. Despite the jobless total falling by 37,000 between September and November the official total of 2.49 million economically inactive people is a very real cause for concern. So many of the unemployed are sadly from the construction industry. We should not forget those who would love to work but are unable to find jobs and how stressful this event in their lives can be. We have not as a church been immune to the challenge of unemployment as our Wednesday prayer news bulletin indicates. However, there is another kind of unemployment which can damage the spiritual health of a church: a kind of voluntary severance from the work of kingdom building and church building. Now we are very privileged in the wonderful cohort of workers, both young and old, that we have in the church. But a few may think that they may be redundant. Nothing could be further from the truth. The opportunities for service within the congregation and beyond have increased over the last two years. Besides, as Paul stresses with an image drawn from both the agricultural and the construction spheres, working for God is not done in isolation but as a fellowship :
For we are God’s fellow-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building
(1 Corinthians 3: 9)
Some translations render ‘fellow-workers’ (NIV) as ‘labourers’. Peter, too, emphasizes just how vital every single contribution is from every person in the church:
As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house […].
(1 Peter 2: 4-5)
If we were to remove some of the wonderful stones from our building, which had been quarried from Caen in France in the mid-nineteenth century, the building would be exposed to the ravages of Glasgow weather. Similarly, if we renege on our commitment to our fellow-labourers, we expose them and the work to all the spiritual blasts from the kingdom of darkness. How much we need to encourage one another in our service.
The privilege of labouring
What a privilege, too, to work for such an Employer. In the secular realm, there is hardly an employee who does not have some (legitimate) complaint against their employer. Though we may sometimes, along with Habakkuk of old, ask ‘Why LORD?’, yet we have to acknowledge that never did any employer give us such a privileged position or such resources. Sometimes, there are issues in Sandyford as in any church which need to be put right and it is good to address them. Positive criticism can help us advance God’s kingdom. But sometimes we can complain on account of matters of personal preference. Worse still, we can grumble at those with whom we serve in our church. In this respect, we must guard our hearts against imitating God’s people of old who could not see just how much had been provided. How many times did God stop the blessing on account of murmuring and dissatisfaction from His people.
As we go forward to the next stage of our vacancy the encouragement is not just that we have so many fellow-labourers (and yet again expectations are exceeded as we hold the latest Enquirers' Class designed for those wishing to join by profession of faith) but that we are labouring for and with God, the Master Builder. Ultimately, it is His glory and His greatness that we want to be seen by all who come to our church. For that, we have to remember our position as labourers invited to share in His work. As Augustine said in defining the hallmark of the true Christian labourer:
For those who would learn God’s ways, humility is the first thing, humility is the second, humility is the third.
May we all know increasingly the privilege of working for the Master Builder in the year ahead.
With very best wishes
Session ClerkView All Letters