What are churches for?
23 MARCH, 2018
I am delighted and honoured to be invited to give this lecture. Lady Marion Fraser, was a remarkable person with significant achievements in so many areas, in music, and the church, as High commissioner of the General Assembly, and of course in the University, with Sir Kerr. As you will all know he died recently, and a Memorial Service will be held on the 24th Nov 2018 in this Chapel. It is an honour and privilege to deliver this lecture and I have thought about often about both of them while writing this talk. It is a pleasure to welcome you to the University
Cathedrals, Churches, Religions, Denominations, and Faiths are interesting subjects which I have enjoyed thinking about over many years. This lecture has given me an opportunity and allowed me to consider my own beliefs and how they might be used in the wider world and linked to what churches are for.
But first a word on the history of the University and this chapel
Glasgow University was founded in 1451 and moved from the High Street in 1870 to these Gilbert Scott Buildings. The Chapel built after 1st World War and the names of the 755 students, alumni and staff who died are recorded on the walls. Added to this were those who died in the 2nd world war, and poignantly those who have died in conflicts since. The chapel, after some delays, was finally dedicated on the 4th October 1929. Since 2014, we have marked these WW1 deaths on the anniversary of the date they occurred with a short service and the planting of a poppy and cross in a small garden near the memorial gates.
The Architecture was by Sir John Burnet. Stained glass windows on the west are of Saints-Andrew Columba, Ninian, Mungo. Subjects taught are set out on the north and south windows, Law, Medicine, theology, science, philosophy, history and literature. It should also be noted that there several carved pipe-smoking monkeys in the chapel, which is a repeating motive. See if you can find them. The carving on the pews is also special.
Above the stalls are the coats of arms of the Chancellors of the University, something to which I will return
Professors Square is just to the west of the chapel was built for 13 professors whose children used to play on the grass and those from Hillhead joined them. It became very crowded and a Notice was placed which said “Only legitimate University children can play here” I will say more about the chapel, and its functions, later.
– a Victorian/Edwardian stained glass window designer and fabricator with studios and workshops in Glasgow from 1895 through the late 1920s. Graham was tracing his family genealogy and had discovered an advertisement in an old Glasgow trades register for 1914-15 that listed the location of over 18 stained glass windows by his grandfather. These locations were scattered all over Scotland and so the great Benson window hunt began.
Glasgow Uni Cathedral interior.
So what are Churches for?
Jesus did not teach in a church, but on hillsides, lakes, houses
Churches often seem to present the importance of “religion” rather than “faith”. I recently visited Salamanca cathedral. Fabulous building but I felt in awe of the building.
Churches are places of peace and worship, my visits still to this chapel give me that peace-I occasionally pop in when passing. There is a camera always on and the Chaplain keeps an eye on it and sometimes comes to see me.
Used for Baptisms, weddings, funerals, memorials
A place for music
A place for events and services-Christmas, Remembrance
Place to come together, but numbers falling
A welcoming place-are they always? And what happens after worship? Often seem shut, doors closed, no notices outside, not welcoming. Look round churches as you pass by.
Places of Pilgrimage, Iona, St Ninian, St Cuthbert’s Way,
In Durham we lived in a house called Hollingside, the name of an important hymn tune to “Jesu lover of my soul” and it was regularly visited, It had a lovely garden and needed a dog, so we got one but what would it be called?-Mungo was the obvious name in such a saintly city
Churches also have an important role in culture, history and education. This University began in the Cathedral.
Importantly, the word “Churches” might have two meanings, First the building, and second those who worship there, the congregation. I will return to this later.
“My motto is Cum Scientia Succurro, “Through knowledge I help others”.”
A little about me. Long-time church attender, Sunday School, Young worshiper league-five years perfect attendance, Scripture Union and camps, like the Moderator Designate. I also attended Billy Graham’s memorable visit to Scotland in 1955, at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow. I have been an Elder in two churches, and now member at Glasgow Cathedral, and of course the links to the Boys’ Brigade.
My long interest in Churches, CMO England visits, hospitals GP practices etc which I enjoyed. As time went by I said I would only come if they showed me the local cathedral. Saw lots of them.
Central to my discussion about churches, are two related and relevant issues, the concept of God and the importance of Love. These are both connected and key to the discussions on what are churches for, and to understand my need for them.
First then the concept of God. God for me, is not the old man in the sky, but Paul Tillich’s definition as the “ground of our being.” My interest in the definition of God, really began when I read John Robinson’s book “Honest to God” (SCM Press Ltd, London 1963) which I must have bought around that time. I have read it regularly ever since. It introduced me to a number of important authors, including Paul Tillich, and his work on “The ground of our being”. Subsequently, the work of Martin Buber in “I and Thou” (2nd Edition, T and T Clark, Edinburgh, reprinted 1984) became important to me. A few other works have also been inspirational, Henry Drummond’s Essays “The Greatest Thing in the World” (Hodder, first published in 1890, 2009 Edition) “A History of God” by Karen Armstrong (Vintage Press, 1999), “God: a human history”, Reza Aslan, (Transworld Publishers, 2017) and, “The Sixth Paradigm” by Richard Holloway. These books and writings have taken me into new paths and made me think differently.
Robinson begins by challenging the God “up there” and “out there” and the assumptions which don’t fit in the 20th century when the book was written. He refers to several pieces of writing which helped his thinking. The first is by Paul Tillich and “The Shaking of the Foundations” (Pelican Edition, 1962) in which one of the sermons is called “The depth of Existence”. I quote (p57);
“The name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your lives, the source of your being, of your ultimate concern, of what you take seriously without reservation. Perhaps, in order to do so, you must forget everything traditional you have learned about God, perhaps even the word itself.
Robinson makes the point that this is just not the old system in reverse, with a God “down under” for a God “up there”. When Tillich uses the term, he is not speaking of another being at all. He is speaking of the ground of all being. Tillich says, “Perhaps you should call this depth hope, simply hope”. Robinson goes on,
“It is saying that God, the final truth and reality “deep down things, is love.” And adds “and the specifically Christian view of the world is asserting that the final definition of this reality, from which “nothing can separate us”, since it is the very ground of our being, is “the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
My own thinking on this debate relates to the points noted above. We all have the ability to Love, and in Tillich’s words, God is the “Ground of our Being.” God is in us and is expressed in the love we have for others. God is the Love within you and me. The soul is where our love resides.
This completely changes the definition of God from “the supreme being, a power, a force and the object of worship,” to” the depth of our own being, associated with love, our love”. But a word of caution, as Tillich says (p6)
“But man is not God, and whenever he has claimed to be like God, he has been rebuked and brought to self-destruction and despair.”
He also makes an important point about joy.
“The last thing I want to say about the way to the depth concerns one of these paradoxes. The end of the way is Joy. Joy is deeper than suffering. It is ultimate. ….. Eternal joy is the end of the ways of God. The message of all religions is that the Kingdom of God is peace and joy. And it is the message of Christianity…. For in depth is truth; and in the depth, is hope; and in the depth, is joy.”
This concept of God is central to how we need, and use, churches.
Much of my recent interest has been on happiness and quality of life, partly from a clinical perspective, and from this I derived my interest in the role of love as a source of happiness.
If we assume that Love is the source of happiness-joy, this implies that each of us can provide, with that love, care, compassion, concern, happiness, for individuals and families, communities and causes. Through love, we have the ability and power to change things for the better and increase happiness
Everyone has the capacity to love, it is a universal attribute. Everyone can express feelings, feel concerned, want to help others, and help to achieve the greatest happiness for the greatest number. This is the great power of love, which is regardless of race, religion, gender or colour
This can be done acting alone or acting together. But it does require action, energy, passion and in some cases personal hardship and sacrifice. Tackling poverty, neglect, prejudice, racial tensions, etc is not easy. Sometimes it requires special skills, but everyone can, and must, be involved if the world is to be a better place. This inherent love, inside us all, is the motivation to help others.
This love can be delivered in many different ways, and at many different levels. For example, being good parents, neighbours, friends, companions, workmates, volunteering or through education and learning, health and social care, culture, creativity or by developing new knowledge, etc. In some instances, these initiatives will require new funding from philanthropic or recognised bodies.
It also requires people of vision who can set the agenda, set out the values, and show how it can be done. In the past, present, and surely in the future, such people have, and will continue, to provide the leadership, the ideas and the language to change things. In the past these were the prophets, the teachers and gurus, who were able to provide ways of understanding love and its power and how to achieve change. Jesus, Mohamed, Buddha, would be key examples of this, transforming the ways in which we think about things and showing how powerful love could be.
Shared love has a particular power. If you put all this love together then it becomes a remarkable resource for change and the promotion of goodwill; a source, through love, of energy, passion and power. This love defines God and is an enormous power for good, available for anyone and everyone, if we want it. God is love, and we can tap into this power through prayer, creating a kind of spiritual internet, connecting people and ideas.
How do we learn about love? In some senses, this depends on who you are and where you are from. By accident of birth you may have been brought up in a particular faith background, or perhaps none. There are two assumptions to be made. First, that all of us have an innate ability to love. Second, that it is possible to learn to love more. As Adam Smith said,
“Howsoever selfish man may be supposed there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortunes of others, though he derives nothing from it but the pleasure of seeing it.”
We learn about love in many different ways; from family and friends, from our peers, from workmates, from heroes and heroines in literature and the cinema and screen, and our values are often learned from our faith background.
My thoughts on happiness thus considered the following. Happiness could be seen to be the outcome of love which, in itself, is a deep inner passion to care for others. It is a process motivated both by faith for those who have one, and also in those with no faith. Happiness is the outcome of actions to help and care for others and comes from the heart. It can both be given, and received. Both give happiness to each of the parties, and these can be individuals or communities. As Henry Drummond says (p13) “There is no happiness in having or getting, but only in giving.” Happiness is thus a by-product of doing something. It depends on action. Yours or someone else’s. Your happiness is a consequence, a secondary issue and not the primary aim.
My colleague the Reverend Stuart MacQuarrie, Chaplain at the University of Glasgow, pointed out to me that while everyone has the capacity to love, not everyone has the capacity to accept being loved, or to be loved. Much effort has been spent trying to help people who could not accept that they could be loved. In such people their behaviour and conduct might be seen as attempts to prove that they could not be loved. Others have written about this, as in Karen Armstrong’s book “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life” (The Bodley Head, 2011) to guide people to be loved.
Richard Holloway’s lectures on the Sixth Paradigm are relevant. (Richard Holloway is a former Anglican Primus of Scotland) (http://homepages.which.net/radical.faith/holloway/sixth%20paradigm.htm) These were written from notes taken of largely extempore addresses given at Cheltenham, UK in May 2003. In these talks Holloway lays out the way in which the practice of Christianity has changed over the centuries. These Paradigms show how things have changed, but also how little they have. He contrasts this with science which, when there is a major change in our knowledge, it means that we forget the last paradigm and work with the new. Whether it be evolution, genetic screening, understanding of astronomy, and others. (see The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn, University of Chicago Press, 2012)
The first paradigm relates to the first century of Christianity, when it was supposed that there would soon be the end of the world, and that Jesus would return. The second paradigm goes from the first to the sixth centuries and is associated with Greek culture. Paradigm three is the medieval Roman Catholic church between the 11th and the 15th centuries. This helped to organise the church, of which much still remains. The fourth paradigm is that of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation. The fifth paradigm is that of the 17th-19th centuries. It was an attempt to change things, and sometimes called “liberal Christianity”. Holloway makes the point that this is a way easily attacked, from within, and without, the Church.
The sixth paradigm is in the process of emerging, and it takes us into new ground. It seems we are trying to understand how things should be now, and how Christianity fits into the world. It is regularly challenged by those outside the Church particularly in relation to the concept of God, the way in which the churches display their methods of worship, and their role in the world today. Part of the function of this talk has been to help me to determine, and set out, my own Sixth Paradigm.
What then is my sixth Paradigm? I can’t believe in God as a man in the sky, that God, is up there or out there. But I do believe that there is a power, a spirit which binds us all, love. It is the depth of our being; it is the love within you and me. My faith rests on the power of Jesus, who, in his short ministry set out values which have lasted 2000 years, values of love and support for others. There remains a need to bring the various churches and faiths together to demonstrate the power that is available if we really work in partnership.
So how does all this fit into what churches are for? What are the use of churches?
Who goes to church in the 21st century? Much on this subject has been debated recently. For example, Dr Martin Scott noted that the Church of Scotland could be dead in 30 years (Sunday Herald, 20.5.18). Susan Brown Moderator talked about a lost generation (27.8.18, Herald) and in the Church of England a Judge wrote that it must modernise its churches and not be swayed by heritage issues (Telegraph 18.9.18)-relevant to the Scottish Churches Trust. Most recently it is reported that 20 out of 31 churches will close on Shetland (October 2018).
So what do churches do? They can be, sources of peace and worship. Help us to cope, help us to care and leave the church with a purpose in mind; about yourself, others, family, friends, work etc
Others include Youth organisations, women and men’s clubs, age span, demographic, would you pop in to a church if you were passing on a Sunday morning?
Sunday on film National Library of Scotland in the Kelvin Hall Moving Image Archive at the Botanic Gardens, in 1915, leaving Church with their hats and dresses and showing how well off they were
What is a welcoming church? Why would you wish to worship in a church? What else could Churches do?
They could be the Centre of the community-a community hub
Giving Community support-showing the love
Tell the history of Scotland, St Giles, High Kirk Glasgow, St Magnus, Border Abbeys, Alloway
Music- Link to Lady Marion and Sistema, Richard Holloway
A place for fun, so said Dr Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (Times 18.9.18)
A place of inspiration. A place from which to distribute love.
As I noted before, it can be a building, or a group of people who come together to share their faith, the congregation, to help each other, and to help others in the wider community.
Love is at the heart of faith . Professor John Hume in Scottish Churches Trust Annual Report 2016-17 wrote.
“In the end I said what I now believe more strongly than ever: that the world’s faith groups have far more in common than the detailed differences which separate them. All in their different ways believe in love of God, love of neighbour-things outside themselves-a belief that as I grow older I feel is all that really matters.”
Religion is the organisation of Faith within a community. It is the way in which we worship together and share our feelings and sorrows. It is very much a human construct. Jesus made no statements on what we should wear, or how, or where we should worship. Most of his speaking and teaching was outside the Synagogue, as in the Sermon on the Mount, or because of the crowds, he spoke from a boat in the lake. This is not to suggest, of course that n Scotland we hold our services on the hills!
Perhaps the only instance of religious action which comes directly from Jesus is the observance of Communion, from His act at the Last Supper, and the Lord’s Prayer spoken at the Last Supper. Over the centuries, a large number of denominations have been established, all with different organisations and structures. As an example, there are six Christian denominations on the Island of Arran in Scotland, with a population of around 5000 people. I used to go to Geneva regularly when I was on the Board of WHO, and usually visited the Calvin Auditorium, run by the Church of Scotland, and the services just like home!
Somewhere I read that some church services are dull and boring. Not my own view of course! However, we need to ensure that the services mean something to people, and that they wish to come and share their faith with others. There must be a case for denominations of the same faith working together, and indeed links between different faiths. If the primary function of faith is, through love, to improve the lives of all people, then such links matter. Part of this might be the organisation of community support for those in need and there are some remarkable examples of this in practice, over the centuries and in different religions. Continuing to teach each other through speaking, and through prayer and example, are also relevant. All communities need leadership through the role of a priest or minister, who understands the community and can develop ways in which those in need, are cared for. This is the role of the church, to provide a focus for care and love.
Robinson notes (p40) “The test of worship is how far it makes us more sensitive to those “beyond our midst”, to the Christ in the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the prisoner. Only if we are more likely to recognise him there after attending an act of worship is that worship Christian rather than a piece of religiosity in Christian dress.” The religious ceremony in church, should fire us up to help others, and not just help our own souls.
Worship is personally important for each of us, but it is what we do afterwards that matters.
Faith is the belief in someone, or something. It is a belief, and it is not a certainty, indeed it is the opposite of certainty. It cannot be proven. However, it is an important part of many lives. Christianity is one such belief in which the individual concerned is Jesus. It is a remarkable story. Jesus was born in a small country which was then part of the great Roman Empire. His work and preaching took place over a period of around 3 years. The four Gospels which record his life and work run to 150 pages, depending on the text and page size, and covered in about 60,000 words, just 10 times the length of this paper,, and the impact lasting over 2000 years. Such a short time, and words and actions, associated with such power. The use of parables and speaking in a language understandable to all was clearly important. The power of the parables is significant and re-reading the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew Chaps 5-7), shows just how effectively it conveys such important messages. As the gospel notes at the end of the sermon “the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching as one who had authority, and not as their scribes”. These thoughts and words were taken forward by others, through speaking and demonstrating love in action. They then became fired up for action and the faith is carried forward.
How about setting up a new church in a new place? Imagine you have been given the brief to design a new church for a new housing estate, let’s call it Easterchapel. The Architectural design, what would it be like? How would you do it and how might it be used?
How would you encourage widening the faith, bringing churches and faiths together?
What kind of church would you like to see, and be a part of?
Welcoming and integrated into the community. What would a welcoming church be like?
A quiet space for services and events. Join with others, learn with others working with others, share our experiences, share our love
Multi -purpose buildings and open a lot for many activities and welcoming.
Love then is thus the ground of our being. It gives coherence and purpose to life. One of the most powerful books I have read is by Henry Drummond, “The Greatest Thing in the World” first published in 1890 (Hodder and Stoughton, 2009). The greatest thing in the world is Love. Although a minister of the church, he was also interested in science and its link to religion. It is interesting that the Introduction to the 1902 edition was by J.Y.Simpson, a nephew of the great pioneer of obstetric anaesthesia, Sir James Young Simpson. At its publication millions of copies were sold and it was translated into a number of other languages. The text is from the first Letter to the Corinthians chapter 13, and he recommends reading it once a week for three months. I have completed the task.
He covers the characteristics of love, expressed in Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians. These include, patience, kindness, generosity, humility, courtesy, unselfishness, good temper, guilelessness, sincerity. The key is to practice these attributes, amongst real people to assist with their needs. Drummond recognises that knowledge, will vanish and new knowledge will be discovered. Money, fortune and fame won’t last. But love will last.
There is thus a real need for different branches of the Christian church to work more closely together and in recent months there have been strong messages from the Church of Scotland, the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic church about just that. In January 2018, I attended an important service in Glasgow Cathedral, organised by “Glasgow Churches Together”. It brought together a range of denominations and recognised just how much we have in common; celebrating unity in diversity. What a power of love they can make together. The fact that sectarianism remains an issue between faiths in a country such as Scotland, with the same background is astonishing. Love is at the heart of faith and should capable of overcoming differences in which the faith is practised.
In a similar way, the different faiths coming together would be a very positive way forward. Using, once again, the power of love to help those in need and to work positively for the benefit of all. In Karen Armstrong’s Book “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life” already noted, she makes the point that Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism all subscribe to the “Golden Rule” that is “Always treat others as you would wish to be treated.” This allows each of these faiths to come together with a shared belief. In 2008, with world-wide help, she established a Charter for Compassion which puts the Golden Rule at its core. There is so much to be done to build on this initiative.
Using another quotation from Kahil Gibran in The Prophet (Heinemann 1980 Edition, p35)
“Work is love made visible”
No matter what you do, baking bread, teaching students, preaching sermons, being a carer, it is through love that your purpose is achieved.
For all faiths, the speaking, writing and actions of the founder have been taken up by others over the centuries. In Christianity, this was done first by the disciples. Then over the years through the spoken and written word, music and the arts, and particularly by example, the principles set out at the beginning of the faith, have been developed and supported.
While writing these words I developed some serious physical symptoms at 3.00am and was taken to the local Accident and Emergency hospital. As I sat in my bed worrying about the problem, I thought of God and prayed. I needed help from God, then I remembered that if God is Love and love is God, I had it all, my wife and daughter with me, the medical and nursing staff, the ambulance team, had all shown God’s love to me, Love and God in action. One of the “Circles of sympathy”, developed by Adam Smith and others.
The primary reason for this is the power of the message, and the way in which it was delivered. This includes the use of parables and stories and the obvious care and concern for people of every age, race and gender. The messages are short and simple and are about loving each other and doing your best, through that love, to help others. Jesus, like God, is considered, with the Holy Spirit, to be the Holy Trinity, and Jesus spoke about the Spirit, on a number of occasions. If I have challenged the idea of God as a man in the sky how then does the Holy Spirit fit in?
The Holy Spirit could be seen as the way in which people with love, communicate with each other, through prayer, or through worship together. It is faith in action. It is the part of the Trinity which brings life to the faith and connects people across all ages and cultures. These “Circles of Sympathy” discussed earlier, where there is contact and communication across families, communities and the world. The Holy Spirt gives life, by linking people to each other, and is the practical expression of faith. In Walter Scott’s words, it is the “Silver Link” (The Lay of the Last Minstrel XIII)
True love’s the gift which God has given
To man alone beneath the heaven
It is not fantasy’s hot fire
Whose wishes soon as granted fly
It liveth not in fierce desire
With dead desire it doth not die
It is the secret sympathy
The silver link, the silken tie
Which heart to heart and mind to mind
In body and in soul can bind
It is the “silver Link” which joins us. Jesus gave his truth on how to love others, and The Spirit provides the means to achieve a better life for all. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one, with the Ground of our Being, the way in which love, joy and happiness are shared and supported. It is a kind of spiritual internet, connecting to the world. Carl Gustav Jung said, “We can communicate the love through prayer, the collective unconscious.”
The concept of the soul is relevant to this discussion as the place, not anatomically determined, which holds our love and can connect with others.
I was given a present, on Christmas day last year, of Reza Aslan’s “God. A human history”, noted earlier and it fitted into my own thinking. It is a remarkable book, and covers a wide range of issues around God, and the concept of God. Here is an extract from the final chapter of the book.
“God did not make us in his image; nor did we simply make God in ours. Rather, we are the image of God in the world-not in form or likeness, but in essence.” P166
These words resonate with my own thoughts noted above. The ground of our being, its link to the soul, and to love.
With that as a background, what is the way forward? How can the various Churches and Orders, show what matters, and how the world could change? In one sense this is what I have been searching for and will now explore. What does all this have to do with churches?
In the December 2017 Edition of Life and Work, the magazine of the Church of Scotland, the Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, a past Moderator of the church makes a plea for change. Like me and many of you, he loves the churches, the Cathedrals and the music and common worship we are used to. In his words “These are the core of my faith.” He makes the point, however, that a real transformation has to take place, and recognise that people now use smart phones and communicate in different ways. He notes “The real truth today is that at the intersection of the church and real people, living on real streets, the rubber is not hitting the road and the traditional patterns of church life…are not going to change that.” He notes that congregations are beginning to change but more needs to be done and says, “Many congregations are already ploughing this furrow, their premises open every day, making a difference to the lives of a whole range of people within their communities”.
But what then is the purpose of worship in church? It must be more than just enjoying the service. We need to take from it the inspiration to use the love we have to help others and to share with others new ways to go forward. There is a need to find inspiration in worship to go out into the world to help others. It is not just about saving souls.
In Graeme Macrae Burnet’s book “His Bloody Project” (Contraband, Glasgow, 2015) there is an interesting dialogue as part of the murder trial (p227). Set in the north of Scotland, the prisoner has been charged with three terrible murders and one of the witnesses is the local minister.
The dialogue concerns the prisoner’s well-being and when asked “Surely the well-being of your parishioner’s is your concern?” The minister replies “My concern is with my parishioner’s spiritual well-being. It is not for me to meddle in the management of the estate.” A response which might merit some discussion.
Much of the effort generated in this way, has gone into helping those in poverty or deprivation and there have been some recent, remarkable stories to tell, from each of which I have learned a lot. For example, the work of George McLeod in setting up the Iona Community to give a purpose to the lives of many people, beginning in Govan in Glasgow (George MacLeod, Ronald Fergusson, Collins 1990). Geoffrey Shaw began his work in the Gorbals in Glasgow, another deprived area (Geoff, Ron Ferguson, Famedram, Publishers, Gartocharn, 1979). Richard Holloway himself, worked in the Gorbals and elsewhere, together with his exciting work with the Big Noise and Sistema Scotland, are great examples of what can be done and his autobiography, “Leaving Alexandria” (Canongate Books Ltd 2012) is certainly worth a read. In it he makes the following comment.
“It was obvious that, with or without belief in God, what Jesus demanded, was needed as much in our time as in his. This was still a cruel unequal world, as cruel as when Jesus had startled its leaders by telling them that God was not on their side, but on the side of those they trampled on….you no longer needed to play conceptual games with God. What you had to do was to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and give cold water to the thirsty. God was no longer on his supernatural throne. The place to find him was amongst the dispossessed, among the wretched of the earth.” (Page 120)
More recently, the work by Norman Drummond with Columba 1400 has given help to young people from tough realities and allowed them to develop confidence and faith in themselves and through that to be of service to others. Other Youth Organisations, such as the Boys’ Brigade, can have the same impact. The Men’s Shed community project which provides opportunities for men to meet others and do things together is another good example of this, and churches with premises could be part of this type of project. Changing lives through love, from the depth of our beings. There are many more such examples across the world which provide inspiration for others.
I first met Andrew Mawson (now Lord Mawson) in the early 1990’s when I was Chief Medical Officer in England. He had been appointed Minister of the church in Bromley-by-Bow in the east end of London in 1987, and it was anticipated that it would shortly close because of dwindling membership. However, he and his wife Susan, completely changed this. They started a healthy living centre, dance, and art studio and workshop a nursery and lots of other activities, whilst retaining the worship. A remarkable achievement.
This kind of work has been expanded and entitles “Social Prescriptions” where people can be encouraged to take up new activities and meet new friends and people. In my own work with cancer patients, “Tak Tent” (Take Care) was one way of bringing patients families and friends closer to share experiences, do things together, and support each other
Another example would be the Salvation Army. Founded in 1865 by William Booth from a Methodist background, the Army work in the community with children and families, tackling many social problems. They retain the Christian faith.
To return to the beginning and this chapel as an example. It has daily short services based on Govan Old Parish Church, during term. It provides a space to give thanks for things happening in the university-anatomy donors, support for survivors of gender-based violence, thanksgiving for pets, thanksgiving before each graduation ceremony, funeral and memorial services, annual visits of the Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland. Over 120-130 marriage services each year.
As an exhibition space, hosting films, musical concerts Self-defence classes for women, ball room dancing.
Christmas service attracts 1500 people and includes nine lessons and carols
St Martin’s Umzug for the German people around Glasgow
Each week 80-100 people gather for creative conversation with well-known authors.
These examples noted above are just the tip of the iceberg and relate to ones which have interested me. There are thousands of others, in both religious and community organisations. Bringing them together would show examples of what can be done and how the church, while retaining its worship and faith, can learn from others and contribute to improving the lives of millions of people.
There is, of course, a negative side to all of this. Over the centuries the religious dimension has resulted in hatred, violence and destruction, wars and crusades, the very opposite of love. We should remember this in our thinking about faith and love.
There is an assumption in this discussion, that it is the poor and needy who need attention and that is top of the agenda. However, I have met the occasional doctor who might have benefitted from love. Likewise, the lawyer, the teacher, the banker, and many others. Those with power and money may not be as happy as they seem, and they also need care and love.
So what is the way forward, and what is the role of the church? These might be
Sacred places for worship and for inspiration
They reflect History and culture
They act as Community resource, a hub welcoming and open
Community involvement-bringing the community in
Working with others-organisation and faiths
Churches Do have a role and these are what churches are for.
My conclusion is that we do need churches!
My stall in the Chapel has above it my coat of arms. Sir Kerr’s is at the far end of the stalls. It is difficult to create one, and, in particular, the motto. My motto is Cum Scientia Succurro, “Through knowledge I help others”.
What lessons have I learned in my life?. What is all this learning for? What is the purpose of a School of Medicine or a Faculty of Divinity?
Mark Twain said that there are two important days in your life. The day you are born and the day you discover why.
I had not seriously considered my purpose until recently I began writing my memoirs, and perhaps that is the way it should be. But now that I am old I can look back at what I have done, and, more importantly, what I have not done, or failed to do. In the same way we can all look back at the churches we were part of, and look at what they have contributed, to members and the wider community.
Looking forward, what more can churches do, through love, to make the world a better place. Churches are about you and me, those who stand with us, and the wider community. It is about sharing the love with others.
If God is the ground of our being, the source of love, joy and happiness, this is the Way. Jesus is the person who gave us the Truth to understand how best to live. The Holy Spirit, in our souls, is the Life which we pass to each other using the power of love within each of us.
Viva, Veritas, Vita. “May the force be with you”