It is not often that the church makes many headlines in the national newspapers or television bulletins, but it did so recently. The cause was not, as you might expect, some scandal – nor was it about potential splits threatened over controversial issues. No. The headlines we about something else entirely – something that is, in a sense, a gradual and imperceptible trend; it was the results offered by the Scottish Church Census.
There’s nothing better for news agencies than a nice bit of bad news – and here it was: Church attendance down again over the past few years across the board; predictions of the end of the Church in Scotland if this trend continues.
What are we to make of it all? Those who put the census together did so in the hope that we might act on its findings and use the information to our own good. Still this can leave us as individuals, and as congregations, feeling demoralised and negative for we seem to be up against social forces beyond any power we might have to overcome them. In the face of all this, some might be tempted take cold comfort in the fact that it might at least ‘see them out’!
It is, of course, important to be aware of what is going on and not simply stick our head in the sand and deny it; but it is also important not to be completely defined by it. The truth is, no one knows what the future holds but we do have a faith that proclaims whose future it is.
This month we celebrate with joy the 40th day of Easter with the feast of the Ascension. It could be taken as a day when the focus is on loss – the end of how it used to be when Jesus walked and talked to his disciples each day; but of course, the focus is meant to be something else entirely – the glorious truth that our human nature has gone up into the very heart of God himself.
We are called, not to worry, but to be faithful to the one who, even as he ascended proclaimed ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
yours in the faith,