Friday, January 19, 2007

Personal Journey 20: Time for a Change?

So many different things going on here this week and it is not over yet! I am just off to a school Speech Day where I am leading the Opening Prayer.

I will post again on Sunday all being well.

Have a good weekend!

Personal Journey 20: Time for a Change?

In 1999, I was living a busy, but fulfilled life. My smaller Church in Kincardine O’Neil was happy and stable, the Church in Banchory was growing and there was an energy and enthusiasm about the place with several new ventures starting up. Indeed the biggest problem was the lack of space. We had simply outgrown our existing building. What is more, I loved living in Scotland, and in the north-east in particular. I had made some very close friends. And I don’t think I am being immodest if I say I was reasonably respected within the local community. Outside of it, I was much involved in the Scottish Episcopal Church, not least with Mission 21. I served on the General Synod and had a number of roles within the Diocese.

Whether it was the prospect of a new millennium dawning or something else, I did, nevertheless, feel that it was the right time to review where I was and where I was going. At the time, I would dearly have loved to have stayed in Scotland and in the SEC. I thought they were brilliant people: human as we all are, but sincere and committed. Nevertheless, where we had arrived as a Church forced me to think about the next phase in the Church’s development and to ask whether or not it was right to stay at Banchory.

I was conscious that if the Church was to go on growing it couldn’t stand still and this meant that there would have to be some changes. We couldn’t make the church physically bigger and so we would have to address the problem of lack of space. We had partially solved it for the children’s work by hiring the Town Hall on a Sunday. It was what to do about the main morning service that bothered me most.

Furthermore, the newer members of the church - many not that new by now - were wanting a further change in the liturgy. I had a near revolt on my hands every time it was the Sunday when the Mattins service was the main service and many wanted a modern language service for the Eucharist. These were not, in the scheme of things, major changes, and I think the majority were more than ready for them. Nevertheless, I knew there would be a big outburst from the usual suspects! It only takes one terrorist with a bomb to cause much destruction, and I feared the damage that would be done if the otherwise necessary changes were made.

I felt that there was a way forward and that was to have two morning services. Nothing unusual about that! Indeed, we had discussed the principle of having two main morning services on a Sunday in training sessions for Mission 21 facilitators. I did not want to do what many churches have done, however, and have one service for the traditionalists and one for the modernizers. This went against all I had taught and worked for at Banchory. I had constantly stressed that we were one body and that unity meant getting on with one another, listening to each other, and being willing to compromise and show tolerance towards one another.

Creating two ‘ghetto’ services in which one side could just ignore the other was not something I was prepared to go along with. I believed that if there were to be two services there needed to be two services that were more or less the same, where there could be an intermingling of the congregation. The only real difference between them being the time at which they were held.

This meant that the liturgy issue would have to be dealt with. It could have been avoided if I had been willing to have two different services! But, at the risk of repeating myself, I believed liturgy should unite, not divide, a congregation. In principle, I was sure that the right way forward if we were to have two services was to use a modern language Eucharist for both services keeping them otherwise much as they were in terms of formality, music, and so on.

But then there was another problem: how I was going to be able to staff the services? Having two churches already made it tight getting to both. I have never been lucky in getting help. I was very much on my own in terms of clerical help for most of the time at Banchory. This was hard enough on a normal Sunday, it was impossible when I wanted a holiday. I just could not find someone willing to cover when I was away. During my first three years on Deeside, I only managed one Sunday off. I could get away during the week, but had to be back for Sundays. Things got so bad in 1996 that I drove back from holiday in London to take the Sunday services, a journey of some 400 miles, and then drove back again to England to resume my holiday.

I felt the way round the problem on a normal Sunday was to try and find a priest for my smaller church on a house for duty basis. Perhaps someone semi-retired or studying at the University. I thought that this would be good for the village as well as the Church and would make expansion possible. Finding him or her, though, plus a house was going to be a significant task.

Basically, to enable the Churches to continue to grow meant that a major restructuring was needed. I was clear how I would want to tackle it, and I believe it would have been the right way to tackle it, the question was both whether I was the right person to do so and whether it was right for me to do so. I could see the arguments both ways.

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