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A Call to Prayer

July 2011

Dear Friends,

A week in the life of the Church of Scotland is a long time! We all felt in advance that the General Assembly was going to be a defining moment in the history of the Church of Scotland, whatever the outcome. The distress of some of those who attended, as recorded in the personal account of proceedings from our commissioner, Alex Glen (see pp. 7-11), is indicative of the sense of loss which many felt at what was an explicit departure from the Word of God. As we have indicated in the statement from the Kirk Session (see pp. 6-7), the real issue is not just the ordination of those in practising same-sex relationships but the deliberate undermining of the authority of the Bible which underpinned the formation of the Church of Scotland and which has been central to its credal basis ever since. We are very grateful to all the commissioners who spoke at the Assembly in defence of the historic position of the faith, and, indeed, to all who have preceded them in previous Assemblies and in various committees of the Church, and who have over many years, and often at great cost, contributed in no small way to the relative close voting on major issues. In Sandyford, our strategy has been to work within the church and to try to persuade the significant middle-ground constituency. Sadly, judging by the 355 abstentions, so many of the latter did not see clearly the issues involved or their untenable position. What of the response in Sandyford? As a church without a minister we are even more dependent on God for guidance and there will be no ‘knee-jerk’ reaction. The responsibility in the days ahead of the Interim Moderator, Alex Green, and the Kirk Session, has never been more keenly felt. As we have stated, ‘We are as yet undecided as to exactly how we ought to respond practically. In the meantime, however, we shall listen to advice, wait, reflect, confer with others of like mind and above all PRAY for God’s clear guidance’. We can reassure the congregation that we will keep them informed of all developments and will consult them throughout.

Discussion so far, understandably, has focused on the decision of the General Assembly and its implications for churches. One issue which has not been yet been sufficiently addressed, however, but which remains a major pastoral challenge, concerns the seeming disproportion between the amount of prayer which has been made and the end result. Some with knowledge of history have said that never over the last hundred years have there been as many prayer meetings as there have been with regard to the General Assembly of 2011. We, along with so many, had special prayer meetings, at the last of which, again like so many, we focused on Jehoshaphat’s great prayer in 2 Chronicles 20, which has been such an inspiration to the church in times of great upheaval. We would still pray with the man of old, ‘We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are upon you’ (v. 12). Why, then, has God not answered in the way that we had hoped? Why not a victory similar to that given to Jehoshaphat? This is the question which so many have wanted, but have not dared, to ask.

As we know, God always answers prayer. Sometimes ‘yes’; sometimes ‘wait’; and sometimes ‘no’. At the General Assembly God did answer the prayers of his people, but not in the way that we were expecting. The major problem which this gives us is to know why and to try to discern His will in the situation. The Kirk Session understands that many in the congregation are upset and disorientated. However, if we can get over the very understandable period of sadness and of mourning, we can yet approach the future with confidence as we wait to see the unfolding of the mystery of God’s providence in this issue. On how many occasions in both personal and congregational experience has the turning down of a particular prayer been because God has had something much better in store for us. The Macedonian experience and the establishing of the church at Philippi would not have happened had God granted Paul’s prayer to go into Bithynia. There would have been no church history had Christ’s request ‘Lord, if it be possible…’ been granted. (And what sympathy Jesus can extend to all who are currently disorientated – our Lord and Saviour, who knew no sin, had to experience that momentary separation from his Father in his identification with us as our sin-bearer.) It may just be that the seeming denial at this time will herald the kind of kingdom building and of kingdom extension in Scotland for which so many have longed and prayed. As Luther affirmed at a time of great personal and ecclesiastical challenge: ‘We pray for silver, but God gives us gold’. All this, without prejudice to the question of whether we continue to contend for the faith within or without the existing structures. Already God has encouraged us greatly, not least in the recent baptisms and admission of new members on 12 June. Three who professed faith found that God had to take them away from their own countries to bring them to Scotland to hear the good news of the gospel. We must make sure that in all discussions with regard to the issues raised at the General Assembly – and the congregation may be assured that the Kirk Session will not be inactive on their behalf – that we do not lose sight of the great opportunities afforded to proclaim the gospel.

However, it is in such a conflictual situation that Jesus encourages us not to lose heart but to keep on praying. In the lead up to the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge (Luke 17: 20 – 18: 1-8), Jesus indicates that in a secular, God-forgetting age, as in the days of Noah and in the days of Lot, and indeed in twenty-first century Britain, there will be much suffering and discouragement. In such times of crisis the disciples of Jesus ‘should always pray and not give up’ (Luke 18:1). The parable, unlike many others, is one of contrast: if the unjust judge finally gives in to the widow who keeps badgering him (literally ‘giving him a black eye’ (v. 5)) in her pursuit of justice, how much more will God the father ‘bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him night and day’ (v. 5). The caveat Jesus gives, speaking of the period between His first and second coming (‘However, when the Son of Man comes will he find faith on the earth?’ (v. 8)), does challenge and encourage us to pray with faith as never before. It was, after all, in such a context of the establishing of the reformation church in Scotland that Mary Queen of Scots is said to have uttered the much cited words: ‘I fear the prayers of John Knox more than an army of 10,000 men’. May that be said of the prayers of Sandyford and of many other such congregations in days to come!

With very best wishes

Noël Peacock

Session Clerk

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