Meditation from Sunday 15 April
So what am I going to talk about today? At the start of the service I said my theme was the changing scenes and times, so the first part of the meditation looks at my childhood friend Larry and me. The second part looks at the church and its people of today and yesteryear.
I am sure that as I go through this you will recognise yourselves in it.
Larry and I started school on the same day, and went through all our schooling, junior and senior schools together. We sat and failed the same exams, several times, and we even finished up being apprentices together in the same workshop.
It was only when we became interested in girls that our paths parted, only to be reunited later on when we had both been married for a few years.
According to today’s regulators and bureaucrats, Larry and I and those of us who were kids in the 40s, 50s and 60s should not have survived till now.
Why is that I hear you say?
Well, our baby cots were covered with brightly-coloured lead-based paint, which was promptly chewed and licked; we had no child-proof lids on medicine bottles, or latches on doors or cabinets and it was fine to play with pans. Why, I can remember using one of my mother’s saucepans as a tin helmet, and no, it did not get stuck!
When we rode our bikes, we wore no helmets, just plimsoles or sandals, and we had fluorescent clackers on our wheels.
As children, we rode in cars (if you were lucky) with no seat belts or air bags, and indeed riding in the front passenger seat was a treat. We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle, and it tasted just as good, sometimes better. We ate dripping sandwiches and toast, bread-and-butter pudding and drank fizzy pop with sugar in it, but we were never fat or unfit because we were always outside playing. We shared one drink with several friends, from one bottle or can, and no one actually died. We would spend hours building go-carts out of scrap and then went at top speed down the hill. Halfway down, we realised that we had forgotten all about the brakes! After running into stinging nettles a few times we learned to solve the problem. We would leave home early in the morning and play all day, as long as were back before it got dark. No one was able to find us all day and no one minded. You see, it was a way of life, our way of life. We did not have PlayStations or Xboxes, no video games at all, no 199 channels on TV, in fact you were very fortunate if you had a TV. I remember watching the Queen’s Coronation on a nine-inch screen at my auntie and uncle’s house along with the rest of the street.
That’s correct. They were the only ones to have a TV!
But I soon got bored with that and went out to play with my cousins. No video tape movies, no surround sound, no mobile phones (thank goodness), no personal computers, no Internet chat rooms. But what we did have was we had friends, and we went outside to find them. We played street football, cricket and rounders, and sometimes a game called stinger. And believe you me, if you got hit by the ball, it certainly hurt! We climbed trees. We fell out of trees. We got cut. We broke bones and teeth, but there were no lawsuits; they were accidents of our own making. We soon learned not to do the same thing again. We had fights; we punched each other hard and got black and blue, but we learned to get over it. We walked to friends’ homes. We also, believe it or not, walked to school. Yes, we walked to school! We did not rely on our parents to drive us to school. Mind you, it was only just round the corner anyway. We made up games with sticks and tennis balls. We ate live stuff, and although we were told it would happen, we did not have very many eyes out, nor did the live stuff live in us forever. I hope! We rode bikes in packs of six or seven, and wore our coats by only the hood. We stood on the corner of the main road and collected car numbers; we went to the station and collected train numbers (yes the original trainspotters). Our actions were our own. Consequences were expected.
The idea of a parent’s bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law! Imagine that in today’s society, where it is always someone else’s fault, never their own.
As choirboys, Larry and I went to church twice on a Sunday i.e. matins and evensong.
And guess what? At both of these services the church was full every week!
So where did it all go wrong? Or has it gone wrong? Is it just the way life is lived today? Has the church stagnated or is it because we are different now? When Larry and I were choirboys, the vicar or curate would preach on hellfire, brimstone, hell and damnation. And, as I said earlier, the churches were full; and we were taught and led to believe that our God was a punishing God. Now we are taught that God is a loving God, and the churches are empty and some are even closing. Even the large Church of England church were I was a choirboy is now closed and has become a café/bistro.
It’s taken a couple of hundred years to come round to this way of thinking, so at least there has been some progress. Sundays now are no longer special to a good many people;
it is treated like a normal work day, or a day when people go shopping.
I wonder how do the children and their parents of today regard God and the church.
I sometimes think that God and the church are looked on like an airman looks on his parachute: It’s there for emergency but hopes that he will never have to use it. However, perhaps as we have done, should it not be said that I believe in God like I believe in the sunrise, not because I can see it, but because I can see all that it touches.
Not so long ago I was talking to some members of the local community who were not members of the church and I asked them how they would feel if Lamlash Church were to close because of the lack of members and money. The response was: “That must not happen. What if I want my children baptised, or married or even if grannie dies, it must be there for me.” But then it’s just a sign of the times that we now live in, and of course we cannot live forever in the past.
One of the problems I feel in trying to progress and bring the church up to date and fit for the 21st century is the word ‘tradition’. I fully agree that tradition has its place in any one’s walk or way of life. However, I think sometimes that it needs to be put on the back burner and we should look to the future.
Statistics have shown that if everything stays the same as it is now the Church of Scotland would cease to exist by about 2036. It is not tradition that will save our churches. It is moving forward and bringing things up to date.
When I was involved in doing the health checks on all the churches in the Ardrossan presbytery in Lamlash alone there were some 750 people who said that they belong to the Church of Scotland. And this was the same story throughout the presbytery area. If you multiply this up across the presbytery there are some 29,000 plus people who state that they belong to the church of Scotland. So where are they, and why are they not here, and should we not be doing something about outreach, rather, than looking inwardly all the time?
We are very good at sending missionaries abroad and supporting things like Christian Aid and Mary’s Meals. But when was the last time we carried mission out into our own community and invited people to come to church? In the 14 years that I have been here it has never happened. Okay, I am as guilty as the rest of us in this.
Today is Low Sunday and from the lectionary for today it states that the disciples were gathered together in a locked room, their fear and misery locking them in far more effectively than the door that they think is doing the job for them. I think that sometimes we are a bit like this: afraid to step out of our comfort zone and only believing what we can see or what we want to believe or do.
In a survey carried out recently on behalf of the Church of Scotland the question was asked: ‘why do you not go to church?’
The biggest single answer was that the church building was so old, dark and dingy, and not very welcoming, and too much was based on tradition. There we are again, that good old word tradition, tradition, and tradition.
Although we all change, as we get older and hopefully wiser, the church in many cases is staying the same.
However having said all this, there is one thing that we should always remember: That God’s love for us is constant and is there whether we want it or not, whether we move forward or stagnate.
It’s the same today as it was yesterday and as it will be tomorrow. God’s love for us is never ending and we in turn should never forget that, and in return should see that his church here on earth does not falter or fall by the wayside and perish.