I am one of those people who enjoy the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland! I am “old” enough to remember the days when the Assembly was covered throughout the whole day on the television. Nowadays there is very little coverage on television, although I thought the two half-hour programmes on BBC with Sheena McDonald were well presented. Sheena was one of the few journalists who were actually to be seen in and around the Assembly Hall for most of the week.
This year held an additional attraction for me since the Moderator, Rt Rev David Arnott was my “Bishop” when I was his Probationer Assistant in Netherlee before I came to Carnoustie Panbride in 1989. Some may remember David speaking at my Ordination and “preaching me in” the following Sunday. He has also been the guest speaker at the Kirk Session meal one year. Fortunately he did not speak about “Probationers I have known (and loved?)”!
The Sunday afternoon of the Assembly saw the “Roll away the stone” event in Princes Street Gardens where there were a large number of displays showcasing the work of the Church, as well as worship throughout the afternoon in the Ross Bandstand. It is estimated that over 6000 people were present at some part of the afternoon. There was also the invitation to bring a stone to add to the Cairn which had been set up, and one of our Elders took a stone with the name of Carnoustie Panbride on it, and another with the name of the FOG Squad. When I returned from the Assembly, there was a letter awaiting me which said “Dear Matthew, I thought I would let you know that I took from yesterday’s cairn, the stone which was brought by your Panbride congregation yesterday. We shall be glad to keep you congregation in our prayers in the next year” George Lind, the minister of St Columba’s Parish Church, Stewarton.
I brought back an unnamed stone which was placed on the communion table and throughout the year the words the Moderator used each day will be used “We recall a stone plucked from a cairn in a garden” when we will remember a different congregation from a different Presbytery each week.
On the last day of the Assembly, the Moderator posed this question during the worship. “When you return from this General Assembly, what stories are you going to tell your congregations?”
He told us to tell the story of the Church doing what the church has always done – a church wrestling with the word of God. A church doing that in the face of a hostile press. A church earning a new found respect in the process of wrestling with difficult issues. A church seeking strength to live in today’s world just as the early church did.
He told us to tell the story of the General Assembly, complemented by so many people from overseas. A church with a network of friends and allies, who stand shoulder to shoulder. We do not stand alone, and many of our partner churches look to us for leadership.
He told us to tell the story of all that the Church of Scotland is doing in our communities;
Helping to support a daughter coping with a father suffering from dementia; supporting a wife struggling with a husband addicted to drugs or alcohol; a church which, through her members day in day out is doing more than we can ever see, in this land and across the world.
You know, this is the story of unseen work which is reflected in our congregation and parish, as people help and support their friends and neighbours in good times and bad – work often unrecognised by many. However, this is work which is deeply appreciated by those for whom others have gone the extra mile, who have shown mercy. Using the theme of one of my favourite new hymns (532), we are the people who desire nothing more than to serve the Lord who long ago came to a seashore in Galilee, and who still today comes to the seashores of our lives, gently smiling, and speaking our names.