David McCarthy on the Church of Scotland

Monday, 31 March, 2014

David McCarthy, newly-appointed Church of Scotland Fresh Expressions Development Worker, shares the challenges facing the Church of Scotland as it seeks to follow God's Spirit in planting fresh expressions of church.

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David McCarthy: I think there are a number of aspects to the challenge that the Church of Scotland faces at the moment. One is, and I think this is quite important, a recognition of how good God has been to us in the past and a recognition of God's grace throughout our history. I think sometimes when we're faced with challenges, we can forget - or just set aside for the moment - those things for which we should be so thankful.

I think a second area that certainly comes to mind is the area, the issue, of confidence. Sometimes, when we feel under pressure or if we hear different facts and figures about declining numbers, our confidence can be shaken and I think we need to reaffirm consciously - as individuals and together - that confidence we do have in the risen Christ. And not only in the risen Christ, that confidence in his call and that when He calls, the grace is there. I don't mean that in a general, vague, pious way, I mean it in very practical ways as we live our life, that expectancy, that sense of adventure, that sense of enthusiasm, that sense that God is calling us to where He is and He will provide for each step of the way.

I think we need to be relaxed enough to imagine, we need to be open to stories, open of course to God's Spirit – not dictating to God, 'Here is how you have done it in the past, therefore this is how you must actually continue to do it.' That creativity is actually very important. But then I think as well what's going to help us is, 'What are we as church? What's the core of church?' And I found some words of Rowan Williams very helpful, something he wrote about six or seven years ago and I obviously won't put it as eloquently as he did but what I took from it was this, that the church – and I think this goes across all the various theological and ecclesiological strands within the church - the church is that place where we encounter the risen Christ and, as we respond to that encounter, we are drawn together. And as we're drawn together in response to that encounter, we grow in holiness and in turn we also grow in mission, so we create space for others to encounter the risen Christ.

Then I think the other side of the coin is just something I've been reflecting upon in John's Gospel accounts when Jesus met various people and he said what sometimes maybe appears to be 'random' things to them - but what He said turned their lives around. So when we are creating these spaces for people to encounter the risen Christ, do we actually trust Jesus with that encounter? Now I think if we want to open our hearts and minds as communities to provide these spaces, if we trust Jesus with that encounter, then the adventure is boundless, it's unimaginable. It's a bit like what Paul says, you know, 'What is beyond our dreams, our thoughts, our imagination, is what God wants for us.' So let's take a step forward in that light.

I think there are two aspects to taking stock of where we are as a church; I'm thinking of those communities or cultures or sub-cultures with which we have had no contact. The first is an identification and a genuine listening so that whatever expression of church may develop, it genuinely not only reflects that community but, as is appropriate, it is shaped by that community. Something related to that I think is important; if we think of the term 'bilingual', we often use that quite loosely - but we mean sometimes we're competent in a second language.

Now it strikes me that in the context of fresh expressions, we want to be bilingual, which is actually something different from being competent in a language because if somebody is bilingual, they are not only comfortable in expressing themselves verbally, they have that sensitivity and awareness of the culture which the language expresses. So, can we be not just communicating in another language or communicating in another culture, can we actually feel at home and belong to it? So that we are not just using the language as strategy but we are actually part of that culture so that it is genuinely cultures coming together; we're a genuine, bilingual people and from that there's a wonderful fresh expression of God's kingdom.

So, part of my role with the Church of Scotland isn't just to work within the Church of Scotland but to be supporting and trying to be a catalyst for fresh expressions of church to develop across the nation. And obviously I am very willing and able to be contacted and to meet with people and to talk things through – not to do the job but to try and be a genuine accompanier and encourager and to explore where this venture may take us as church, as church across the nation of Scotland.


Every blessing in your new ministry David. Andrew Roberts

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