I was able to continue on my ‘Grand Church Tour’ this morning with a visit to the United Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)…don’t forget the continuing. The service was attended by around 50 people, mainly ederly with only one or two younger faces. The minister was cheery and his sermon was biblical, Jesus centred, although I couldn’t help wondering if it were over the heads of the faithful gathered. I was slightly concerned about his apparent satisfaction with the downfall of Todd Bently, regardless of what one’s thoughts are on it, and wondered where concern and grace were in that, but nevertheless, another part of the jigsaw of the church in Torry.
The whole purpose of these wee visits has, yes, been to make contacts with leaders and churches in the area. But, to be honest, the question on my mind is ‘what is it about the church that means it is not reaching the community effectively.’ The over-riding question that has plagued me over this last month or so of exploration are ‘where do the lost find faith here?’ I’ve tried to put myself in the position of one without faith and asked..what would it feel like to turn up here with no clue of Christianity other than what your average Brit would. I’ve asked the ‘how would my mother cope’ question and I’ve played the conversation over in my mind as I can recall what her comments would be!
I confess that I’ve struggled to make sense of Christianity as presented by the myriad of expressions of it that I’ve experienced over the last weeks. I’ve struggled to relate what I’ve heard expounded from the pulpit to my daily life. I don’t say these things as specific attacks or negative comment on the specific churches because I recognise that up and down the country much of the church, including the Army, is in the same place.
I have one more congregation to visit. I can guess already what I’ll find, yet always hoping to be pleasantly surprised.
So, in Torry, there are (including the Army) 6 congregations. They can muster around 300 believers on any typical Sunday morning in a community of 12,000 and it has to be said that that maybe as many as a half of them drive from wealthier areas outside Torry to come back to church in what would have been there home community before they got wealthy and moved out. That looks like about 2.5% of the population fronting up at church on any particular Sunday, and half of that living in Torry. Thats a big change from Pill, where we estimated that 1% of the population were Salvationist, let alone Christian! Even if 100% of the 2.5% of Christians attending church in Torry are saved, which is what I’d hope, its appears to be bleak.
What does this mean for us? It certainly means that the harvest is plentiful. If you follow the logic of the statistic that suggests there should be a church for every 1000 of the population, we’re certainly well below that in the area. It certainly gives us much to think about in terms of accessibility, about how and where we present the gospel, about what we do and don’t give our energies to and about how we put flesh and bones on the incarnation of Jesus to Torry.
On a personal level, it presents me with further questions about how the structures, ministry and function of your average Salvation Army corps cope. I ask myself, yet again, are we flexible enough to meet the challenge of our community? To be honest, more questions that there are answers. But then, Torry isn’t your average Salvation Army corps and there are so many promising signs about our wee community that are surely embryonic of more hopeful things to come.
Yet even we struggle with the cumbersome load of programme beyond our limited means which ultimatle leads to a sacrifice on the great task of winning Torry to Jesus. The age old problem of programme vs relationship and programme vs mission is as real here as in a corps many a times its size.
I did not anticipate at all that the personal things that challenge me about officership would be absent or would cease to exist simply because of a change of location. The continual challenge for me, and for any officer in The Salvation Army today is to what level are we committed to the lost and to reaching them. To what extent are we willing to throw of church shackles and identify ourselves as a permanant mission to the lost. In modern parlance, to what extent are we a missional body of people.
The jury is out.