The courage of faith
Over the last month there has been continued encouragement for us in Sandyford, as indeed there has been for some of the congregations and individuals for whom we pray. There have also, as ever, been challenges to our faith, sometimes from an email, a letter in the post or a telephone call bringing bad news of a friend, a relative or a church situation. Almost immediately after writing a letter in the February Congregational Record on ‘Living by faith’ came the first test of it congregationally in the publication of the Presbytery Plan. We would sympathise with those who have had the unenviable task of drawing up a plan which, from the very outset, in view of the required reduction of full-time provision of ministers, could please few, and cause disquiet among many congregations. We will continue to hold up in our prayers on Wednesdays all who have responsibility for squaring this local Presbyterian circle. Along with many others, we would confess to feeling somewhat disappointed by some of the proposals. The Kirk Session has had one special meeting devoted to the issue and will be addressing the matter again on 5th March. A draft statement has been prepared for this discussion which will, subject to the approval from the elders, form the basis of our response to be given at a meeting to be held on 14th March, at which three representatives from Sandyford will meet with three representatives from the five other churches in the area in which we have been placed. The congregation will be kept informed of the outcome of these meetings.
In seeking God’s wisdom we have to ask ourselves: is this a further opportunity for kingdom building and for kingdom extending or is it the kind of distraction that Nehemiah faced when Sanballat asked him four times to come down from the wall that the people of God were building? (Nehemiah, 6: 1-4). As with all other churches, we shall need the courage of faith in the days ahead. That same courage which in 1956 saw the work re-established and the Word of God restored to its central place in the life of the Church, and which has been at the heart of all that has been good in the days since.
The mountainous challenge
Whatever the outcome of the Presbytery Plan, we can leave it in God’s hands with the confidence that He will, as in times past, exceed our every expectation. In the meantime, for the present initiatives that are being launched to reach out to the community around us we need to have a measure of the faith of Caleb, who asked God to allow him to take on the giants, the walled cities, in his famous prayer: ‘Give me this mountain’ (Joshua, 14: 12). A plea which has fuelled so much missionary endeavour and outreach, and which was memorably adopted as the title for Dr Helen Roseveare’s autobiography. At the end of a long life Caleb could have understandably opted for an easy inheritance, perhaps some green valley. Instead, he chose the challenge of the rugged mountain that blocked the path of the people of God. There may not be any physical mountains in our parish or intimidating giants obstructing our way. But the unbelief which underpinned the opposition to Caleb has not diminished or been confined to his mission.
The Kirk Session has not wanted to skirt round these mountains. In the words of the business cliché ‘every challenge is an opportunity’, we have been seeking to respond to the changed demographic landscape, which has seen over the last twenty years the demolition of tenements around the church and the construction of halls of residence and new housing which has been bought or rented largely by young professionals. In the next few months some six additional halls of residence will be constructed, the latest being right opposite the Church. As has been indicated in Outreach Reports, Louise Murray’s outreach among the international students together with Teaching English through the Bible organized by Alex and Esther Glen, admirably assisted, among others, by Rosemary Nash and Pauline Wright, have brought many overseas students to our church, a few of whom have become members on profession of faith. The Kirk Session has, in faith, extended Louise’s contract for a further two years.
However, some 3000-4000 non-international students will also be living within a thousand yards of our Church. To attempt to reach out to this cohort the Kirk Session unanimously endorsed a proposal to appoint a full-time Student Worker for two years, subject to there being additional financial support from within the congregation for the proposal (see details below).
At the same time, lest some of the older members of the congregation might feel marginalized, and to meet a real need for people who are unable to come out to evening meetings, a Tuesday Afternoon Fellowship has been launched. Already from the first two meetings organized by George and Jean Chalmers and David Kennedy the outreach potential of this meeting is clearly encouraging. These are the latest initiatives which complement the existing outreach activities contained in reports given by Douglas Humphris elsewhere in the Congregational Record.
But I’m a coward at heart
But do I have the courage of faith? There are probably fewer brave people than we can sometimes imagine. Many of us have all the courage of the lion in The Wizard of Oz, which was unable to roar and was ashamed of its cowardice. We can so easily hide our faith once we find resistance from our circle of friends, our family or in our places of work. Not that to India, was a shoemaker; David Livingstone, whose medical missionary work in Africa attracted recognition beyond the church communities, started off as a mill worker. What united them was their belief in Jesus, the Lion of Judah, who transformed their weakness into strength, and their fear into courage. They were all prepared to trust in God and to use the weapons He advocated, such as, in Gideon’s case, trumpets, jars and torches.
The courage of faith and prayer
One of the significant encouragements over the last year has been the increase in attendance at the prayer meeting and the spirit of prayer in these gatherings, encouraged by bible studies which have been faith-enhancing. In the remaining time of the vacancy, and indeed beyond it, the prayer life of the congregation, both individual and corporate, is going to be of immense importance. The courage of faith of a Caleb or of a Gideon can only come from a closer communion with Jesus, the source and inspiration of that faith. As Spurgeon said, the carte blanche which God promises to give in passages like ‘ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you’ (John, 15: 7), can only be given to those whose very life is ‘Not I, but Christ living in me’. May God grant such a relationship and greater courage of faith in the challenging but exciting days ahead.
With very best wishes