Saturday, 28 May 2016

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland 2016

As usual I was both saddened and heartened by the deliberations of the Assembly. I'm saddened when I listen to people talking about the Bible as if there were only one God honouring and Bible affirming way of understanding and interpreting it, and that's their way. The divisions which have split the church in recent times which present as the different ways we respond to the question of gay people in civil partnerships or marriage (itself a same sex disputed area) are actually based on differences in Biblical interpretation. The Theological Forum wants to come back to 2017's Assembly with some thoughts on marriage, but unless we can begin to accept different ways of understanding and interpreting the Bible, different theological perpsectives will not solve our problems.

The Ministries Council gave us in a rather understated and minimalistic style, a glimpse of what must be the way forward in the light of the crisis which is the shortage of ministers now, and will be well into the future. They talked of having hubs of ministry, which would consist of several groups of congregations working iin partnership. The convenor was careful not to be pinned down on what hubs might look like in practice, but one sure feature will be that one minister will have ministerial responsibility for a number of congregations. This is easily possible if congregations can embrace the challenge to sustain their worship and service to the community from their own people resources, with help from lay readers, Ordained Local Ministers, the eldership, and the gifts and talents within the congregation. Many charges which have been vacant for years are learning to do this, and are seeing growth. The response to this idea from the Assembly by way of comment and additional motions was satisfyingly and disproportionately large to the emphasis they themselves had given it, showing an undercurrent of readiness for the idea and appreciation of it, "out there". This vision is a good fit with some of the schemes which the Panel on Review and Reform brought to us by way of the training and support of elders and members.

However, as usual there was a possible spanner in the works. It concerned the use of elders to celebrate the sacraments, and communion in particular. The theological and ecclesiological question is, "Who should be allowed to celebrate the sacraments?" Now, we all know that up and down the land small groups within the Church of Scotland had met together known or unkown to their minister, and shared bread and wine, and often understood that as having communion together. But to offically recognise this as legitimate would require a sea change in our thinking. I'll talk about this in another blog.

There was a good deal of debate around the issue of Global Warming, brought to us by the Church and Society Council. I get terribly annoyed when people a) challenge the concept as not scientifically proven and on the other hand, b) when they talk about the melting of glaciers or the dying of the great barrrier reef as a "warning".
To deny global warming is just daft. Whether as a phenomenon it has been scientifically proven or not is to miss the point. Climate change is affecting us all, people are suffering drought, poorer harvests, and changes in their way of life which are contributing to their poverty and vulnerability. Glaciers are diminishing, the ice cap is reducing. But on the other hand, to talk of the Great Barrier Reef's slow demise as a warning is also to miss the point. We are past warnings. The catastrophe is happening now. We are being hit by the avalanche. Our wee efforts: recycling, reduction in carbon emissions, alternative energy solutions are all in their way, good. But they ain't going to save us or stop the avalanche. We need to change the way we interact with the planet, and we need to start preparing for the consequences. When we build the flood barriers after the floods, it's already been too late for some. We also need to accept that we will need to embarace ways of making energy which can do so wholesale and massively and quickly. More technology not less as one pundit has said. 

 James Lovelock: (The Guradian March 1st) The current canon of eco ideas, next to ethical consumption, carbon offsetting, recycling and so on - all of which are premised on the calculation that individual lifestyle adjustments can still save the planet. This is, Lovelock says, a deluded fantasy. Most of the things we have been told to do might make us feel better, but they won't make any difference. Global warming has passed the tipping point, and catastrophe is unstoppable. He saves his thunder for what he considers the emptiest false promise of all - renewable energy
"You're never going to get enough energy from wind to run a society such as ours," he says. "Windmills! Oh no. No way of doing it. You can cover the whole country with the blasted things, millions of them. Waste of time."
Lovelock believes global warming is now irreversible, and that nothing can prevent large parts of the planet becoming too hot to inhabit, or sinking underwater, resulting in mass migration, famine and epidemics. Britain is going to become a lifeboat for refugees from mainland Europe, so instead of wasting our time on wind turbines we need to start planning how to survive. To Lovelock, the logic is clear. The sustainability brigade are insane to think we can save ourselves by going back to nature; our only chance of survival will come not from less technology, but more.
Nuclear power, he argues, can solve our energy problem - the bigger challenge will be food. "Maybe they'll synthesise food. I don't know. Synthesising food is not some mad visionary idea; you can buy it in Tesco's, in the form of Quorn. It's not that good, but people buy it. You can live on it." But he fears we won't invent the necessary technologies in time, and expects "about 80%" of the world's population to be wiped out by 2100. Prophets have been foretelling Armageddon since time began, he says. "But this is the real thing."
I suspect there is much in what he says. I just don't know enough to know if it will all be as bad as he suggests. But I think the General Assembly needs to start trying to be a mover in the directions of preparedness. This may give some urgency to some of our thinking. Journeys which at one time could be spoken of as long, are going to start happening in smaller and smaller time frames.

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