Back from hols

All rested, refreshed and all the other ‘re’ words after a wee holiday, we’re now back at the helm. So good to be back (not that the holiday was bad, its just good to be back!)

Spent the week in a place I used to go as a child. In lots of ways, lots of bad memories about the place. But actually, part of the reason for going (for me) was to redeem them. I wandered round that place and thanked God that he’s changed me. I’m in a different place, in Jesus. Best place to be. I thoroughly recommed this. Going back to places you’ve once been and testifying to yourself about the change God has made is such an encouraging experience. Go do it (if you need to).

In other news, we had a great Easter celebration at Torry…our first monthly celebration, a gathering of our cells/groups/people. Was a great little crowd and just thank God for it. Not long until the next one! Yup…good steps forward, praise God.

Now Recruiting Intercessors

We’re recruiting intercessors for the Salvation War on the Torry front. If you’d like to partner with us in prayer, helping us storm the forts and battle the enemy, please let us know.

We will endeavour to send out a weekly intercessors email to help inform your prayer for us. I know many of you pray for us anyway, but receiving the update will give you something other than ‘God bless em’ to pray! Thanks in advance for your partnership in the gospel!

To sign up, please email me at andrew.clark@salvationarmy.org.uk.

Thanks!

The Grand Church Tour continues..

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.

Buildings of stone…

We’re working out one of those odd tensions at the moment.

We have a corps building, a faily new one (only 17 years old) and its a good facility, in a decent state of repair, and is reasonably accessible for many in the community, geography wise. It also has our quarters on the second floor.

What we are trying to juggle is being a good steward and actually using the building, yet at the same time trying not to be defined by it…something that easily happens. But actually, our strong feeling is that in a corps like Torry, sometimes mission has to happen in other places. And certainly, we’re feeling no need for vast hall-based projects (although it seems like the easiest thing to do sometimes…”if you build it, they will come!”) We’re desperately trying not to be about programmes, but about people. Even if we were to come up with spectacularly successful programme ideas, we don’t have an abundance of people available to staff them.

More than that, when you’re in a community with few soldiers, in a mode of mission which is akin to starting fresh, and in an area where people have restricted financial means, paying for the upkeep of a building can become an all consuming task. When we read in Acts 17:25 that God can’t be confined to temples build by human hands, you can’t get away with the fact that God views himself as sort of having ‘left the building.’

Even when the key leaders and followers in early church began to become slightly confined and entrenched in Jerusalem, the Lord allowed a spate of persecution which scattered them through-out the known world.

We also have the (somewhat less authoratative) voice of the Army Mother commenting that if people won’t come to our consecrated buildings, we should go out under the canopy of heaven. Timely prophetic in today’s era where people are much less inclined to ‘come’ to church, but who are still intrinsically spiritual and searching.

There we have it, the conundrum of buildings. There must be a place where effective mission and good stewardship come right into play. Still thinking about that one!

Roman for a morning….

Last Sunday morning I visited our local Roman Catholic Church. Its at the end of my road. I’m trying to build in my mind a picture of the Christian community in Torry.

I’d no idea of what to expect, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Not being able to find my keys meant that I was entering through the church door half way through the opening hymn…the two priests had just reached the ‘stage’ beside the altar and began this service.

This first service, 9.30, was the ‘English Service’ – conducted by the parish priest in English. The next, at 11.00 was lead by the other priest and was the Polish Service. Around 35 people gathered for the English Service and close to 200 gathered for the Polish service. My heart was strangely warmed to see so many young adults flock to church. You’ll have picked up from my blog before that I am not conviced about much of the Roman Church. I am still not, but my experience of the Sacred Heart, Torry, Roman Catholic Church is that there are some good kingdom signs here.

The service was Christ centred, the homily was biblical, the fellowship was warm and, to my joy, we prayed to the Father and not to any saints or to Mary. This was good. Also, there were many normal people here. I know for sure, from experience, that there are a good deal of nominal catholics, but here, I believe I spoke to several authentic Christians.

My suspicion, though, is that the church, certainly in its English work, is struggling to reach local Scots and less religious Poles. I guess its down to the fact of focussing on the catholic community rather than seeking to draw in others. Reports online have confirmed that the Polish immigrant community have in fact saved the church from closure in recent years.

Sadly, my experience at the local brethren church, for their 11.30am service, wasn’t quite as interesting, but it takes all sorts!

In the words of our local RC priest, ‘God has his hand on Torry.’

Fit like?

Well hello! Things are still pretty hectic on this front. We’re not quite moved into our quarters yet, which still means a daily commute! Still…come Tuesday (maybe even Monday) we’ll be residents of our flat above the hall in Torry.

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Had another great wee meeting tonight. Our folks really get themselves involved in the sermon…did I say sermon? I mean’t to say biblical discussion with community application. So good to have everyone chipping in. Is the way to go.

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We introduced a new feature to the meeting tonight, entitled ‘Fit Like?!’ Now, to understand what that is, you have to be au fait with the Aberdeen dialict. ‘Fit like?!’ basically means ‘how’s it going?’ or ‘how are you?’ The regular and typical answer to the question is ‘Nae bad’ (not bad), but we’re hoping that with an opportunity for us to put community into action and to share our burdens and concerns with each other, we’ll soon be able to report better response than ‘nae bad.’!

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We’re looking forward to the visit of the General to Aberdeen in September to open the new citadel about a mile away from our place. Its a great new facility and we’re delighted to be working alongside the folks at the citadel on a few projects. Corps just can’t afford to be islands. Sure, they are a different ‘flavour’ to us (the songters were fab this morning and the band was nearly note perfect) but we’re an Army together. Some youth from the Citadel head up a youth drop-in in Torry with us. Great.

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Stay tuned for more developments on the Torry front…blogging should get more regular from this week where we’ll be back to broadband and a permanant place to live!