I was wrong, and I’m glad that I was wrong.
The great temptation faced by ministers is cynicism, that corrosive corruption of the soul. Continually we encounter people in need and experience teaches that when people want something they will say anything. As a result we begin to automatically expect the worst.
Yesterday afternoon there was a meeting of orthodox ministers and elders in Glasgow to consider the situation facing the Church of Scotland concerning recent General Assembly decisions rejecting the Bible with regard to the ordination of practicing homosexuals. I went anticipating the worst. I had two expectations: being Scottish we would never agree, being Presbyterians we would appoint a committee. I was wrong on both counts, and I am glad that I was wrong.
Arriving at St George’s Tron I found the novel sight of a queue of people snaking up Buchanan Street as they waited in the rain to file into the church. Among the 600 or so attending there were people I had studied with during my first degree, and those I’d met during my ministry some of whom I hadn’t seen for years. Some were in neighbouring ministries and others I had never met. A few were retired, a significant number were at the beginning of their ministry.
That there was no squabbling was, it has to be admitted, due in part to the effective stage management by the organisers. Wisely there was no open discussion, 600 Scottish Presbyterians discussing church politics, the mind boggles.
After opening worship there was a succession of speakers. Some represented strong congregations already on their way to leaving or effectively rejecting Presbytery oversight with all the consequences that will inevitably bring. Others were genuinely searching for a way in which they could deal with the painful situation. All thought that a line had been crossed at the last General Assembly regarding Scripture and that there was no going back.
In fairness to the organisers it has to be acknowledged that conversations before and after the meeting indicated that the speakers were largely representative of those attending. There were few who said as one friend did, “We have differing understandings of the Church.”
Apart from times of praise the meeting was quiet, the speakers listened to with respectful silence. There were no interjections, no applause. Only once was I aware of a low murmur of agreement. Throughout the meeting there was a sense of dignity mingled with humility in face of what was happening. This was a sober and sobering gathering; no rally of dissent, rather a solemn affirmation of where we are. Although no decisions were made the direction which we shall take when we meet again in the autumn is clear.
I cannot recall being affected emotionally to such an extent by a meeting. Mainly it was the impact of the realisation that what had been a matter of discussion, or even something accepted on an intellectual level, was going to actually happen.
I left the Tron with the strong impression that disruption is now inevitable. Shakespeare was wrong, parting is not “such sweet sorrow.” In this instance it hurts, and hurts deeply. We are rarely so unfortunate as to witness an historic occasion. I fear that I was present at one yesterday.