What a wonderfully warm and gracious welcome you have once again given Nola and me. We are so grateful for that warm embrace we experience each time we come to Scots.
It is really quite inspirational to experience the faithfulness of God’s people as together we face increasing challenges in a rapidly changing world. I have very much felt for Scots as you have courageously and tenaciously maintained the things you hold dear in the face of the loss of revered Christian friends over the years. This decline is by no means limited to Scots.
There has rarely been a more difficult and confusing time in the 2,000 year history of the church. Across the western world there has been a massive movement of people away from the church. The immediate post-war boom in church attendance saw almost 80% of Australians attend church in 1950. By 2015 this had fallen to 15%. That represents a massive loss of people to the traditional Uniting Churches. It represents a huge sociological movement in Australian society.
The story is the same across the western world. In the late 1980s a Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops was so alarmed that they decided to launch a world-wide decade of evangelism. In Britain studies tracked the impact of their quite massive ten year evangelical effort. They found the decade of evangelism made very little difference to the continuing rate of decline. About that time Nola and I re-visited the Church in Winnipeg we had served back in the 1980s. We discovered a congregation which had been about 400, had since merged with another local church, but the combined congregation had declined further to about 100.
Why is this happening? Last year Hugh Mackay published an important book, Beyond Belief which opens up many critical issues. He found much of the decline has to do with forms of worship which no longer communicate; there is an increasing secular challenge to the whole concept of faith, and so on. We could all add a long list of probable reasons, but in the end we are faced with the reality of a sociological avalanche. Profound change is affecting the whole western church. It is a change that impacts a city church like Scots more than most. It is a change the church needs to come to terms with. Meanwhile, thank God, the churches in Africa and China, to name just two, are booming. But that is another story.
Could it be that we are seeing the beginnings of a change in the nature of the church? Great thinkers from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Harvey Cox to Marcus Borg have been wrestling with questions like, ‘where is God taking his church?’ and, ‘how do we prepare for the future of the church?’
These days there is a lot of speculation about the “emerging church”. One rather imaginative book is entitled “Leadership on the Other Side”. That is, on the other side of a wormhole! We are in the midst of events that we do not understand, but we do have some clues. I do think there are things we must do about the church’s worship. We do need to face honestly the myriad of questions that are being asked of the diminishing church. We need to ask questions about the content of our faith. We may be confused about the future, but maybe this is the time to believe God knows where the future is taking his church.
What a time to be alive! We have the chance to help shape the future of the church. I want to be in that. I hope you do too! Meanwhile, you have the prayers and support of many friends in Christ (including Nola and me) as you work your way into the next stage of Scots’ proud heritage.
Thank you so much for having us with you these last five weeks. I wonder when Peter is going to take some more long service leave? Rev John Watt
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