In a recent sermon, I mentioned something that I had read on the Church of Scotland Website in the week of the General Assembly. It related to appropriately remembering the past, and it contained these words:- “Remembering the past – accurately – is a great source of strength. For one thing, it puts the present into perspective. And that can be the present situation of the Church, or the present situation of each of us as individuals.
There are folk who look at the state of the Church of Scotland, bemoaning the falling numbers in everything – from trainee ministers, to communicant members, to numbers in the Sunday School – and the call goes up, “let’s go back to the good old days”, when churches were full, numbers were growing. But their memory is selective.
Part of the good old days was the requirement to pay a pew rent and sit in the right seat – or you were not welcome; in the good old days there would have been no such thing as a fifteen minute sermon – 45 maybe, if you were lucky; in the good old days the minister was the be all and end all, and there was no place for the members; in the good old days children were not welcome because they made a noise.
Remembering the past accurately puts the present into proper perspective and so we can see how far we have come. Falling numbers within the Church is not the only change that there has been in the last 30-40 years – there have been many positive changes – in attitudes to members, to women, to children, to the social outcasts of our society.”
It is a common shout – “let’s go back to the good old days”. The following week, I read this in a Church newsletter. “The total number of Communicants is 654. Of these only 356 sat down at the Lord’s Table. The
Kirk Session desire to call the earnest attention of all the members of the Church, and especially of the 45% who were absent from both celebrations, to these somewhat disheartening figures.”
The year was 1918, the congregation was Panbride, and the Minister was the Reverend John Caesar. That quote is only given as an example, but reading through other newsletters from this time, it becomes clear that “the good old days” were perhaps not so good after all, certainly from the point of view of those who were involved in the church in those days.
Perhaps a more important thing to reflect upon is what we are doing NOW, in our day as members of the church. We all know the difficulties which the Church of Scotland is facing – but there are few organisations who can boast 600,000 members – and what a potential there is amongst them. So let’s not look back to good old days which probably never existed – but look to the present and the future – asking ourselves what part we can play in ensuring there is a vibrant, outward looking congregation – a focal point for all that is done in Christ’s name in this congregation and parish.