Friday, December 15, 2006

Personal Journey 13: Arrival in Banchory

Everything is happening at once this weekend so I am hurrying to make this post now. I will tell you all about the weekend on Monday!

Personal Journey 13: Arrival in Banchory

Bishop Bruce kept his promise to write, but he phoned me first and told me that he and both the churches wanted me. He said, however, that he understood that I had doubts and that I should take a couple of weeks to think about it. There was no rush. I was very moved by his understanding and kindness. I had expected him to want an answer there and then and, if so, it would have been no. His sensitivity and obvious desire to do the right thing convinced me that the least I could do in return was to think again. This I promised to do.

Quite why I changed my mind I do not know, but in those two weeks I did. Bishop Bruce’s letter came, and I replied accepting. I was the first person he appointed as Bishop, and he became a much loved and trusted friend. One of the biggest sadnesses I felt when the time came to leave Banchory was knowing that I was losing Bruce as my Bishop. Bruce himself went on to succeed Richard Holloway as Primate of the Scottish Episcopal Church. He is a truly good man!

Banchory wanted me to start at the beginning of the New Year. It was quite a rush, but people at College were very supportive and everything seemed to go smoothly. I arrived in Banchory on a cold, snowy day only to find that all the pipes in the Rectory were frozen. Next, the pipes in the church hall burst flooding the hall just before the service to install me as the Rector. A cold welcome! Not nearly as cold as the welcome that I got from some members of the church. I must stress that many were extremely friendly and helpful. I suppose the colder reaction makes a greater impression.

A group in the church had already decided before I came and before they met me that I would want to change everything and were determined to stop me. They had reached this conclusion not because of anything I had said or done, but because of what they had seen happening in other churches. They knew that their style of worship belonged to a certain era, but were determined to resist any attempts at change it.

After I arrived, I was summoned to the house of a prominent member of the church who asked me for an assurance that I would change nothing during my time there. I replied that change for the sake of change was not my style, that I was not in a hurry to make changes, but that no-one could give those sort of assurances. The irony of this was that this member of the church was a member of Margaret Thatcher’s government which was of the most radical post-war governments Britain has had. It was a government that was changing every aspect of British life.

The culture shock for me was intense. Not in Scotland, in general, which I liked even more now I lived there, nor in Banchory, which was very lively and international. I soon made friends in the town. I loved the people who I found warm and welcoming. But in the church it was like being in a different world. I knew that I had to move slowly and that radical change would be wrong. In any case, I genuinely believed it was not so much my church, but our church, and that change should evolve gradually and by consent. More than that, I disliked confrontational styles of ministry and wanted to take people with me. But I hadn’t grasped quite how intense the opposition to change was going to be.

Evensong was held once a month. The choir loved this service as they got to sing on their own at it. The problem in my mind wasn’t just that, in this form, it was not a service I would have ever chosen, but that there were very few people in the congregation. I commented on this and said we should try to get a few more to come. The reply was, ‘What’s the problem, the choir are here.’ That was the problem.

I was convinced that Banchory was a mission opportunity. Many of the incomers were from England and were naturally sympathetic to Anglicanism. There were four churches in the town. Relationships were friendly between them and we all offered something different. I wanted to reach those who did not go to church, but who were open to the idea. It was clear that interesting times lay ahead.

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