The (almost) Jenny Geddes Moment – Reflections on the Kirking of the Scottish Parliament – 11th May 2016

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On Sunday 23rd of July 1637 in St Giles Cathedral, one act of one working class woman created a disturbance which eventually led to the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, the English Civil War and eventually the beheading of Charles the 1st.   When the Dean of Edinburgh began to read the Anglican book of Common Prayer, Jenny Geddes, a street seller, picked up her stool and threw it at him shouting ““De’il gie you colic, the wame o’ ye, fause thief; daur ye say Mass in my lug?” meaning

“Devil cause you colic in your stomach, false thief: dare you say the Mass in my ear?”.

 

On Wednesday May the 11th 2016 in St Giles Cathedral I was invited to attend (but not take part in) the ‘Kirking of the Parliament’. As I sat yesterday at the back of St Giles in Edinburgh, facing Prince Charles, I could not but reflect on that incident and its connection with today. For all you plebes who were not invited I thought I would give you a description of this service, and the reception afterwards.

What happened? It was an incredible service; the cathedral was packed with ordinary folk, as well as the great and the good. The praise was heartfelt; there was a sense of worship, awe and genuine thankfulness to God. Those who were not Christians were warmly welcomed but it was made clear that this was a Christian worship service in praise of the Triune God. The sermon was fearless, biblical, passionate and challenging. Some cried ‘amen’, some just cried, and a few got up and walked out. The call to repentance for the whole nation echoed throughout the vast building and the people bowed in awe and wonder. I was profoundly moved and deeply thankful. In my dreams. And then I woke up.

In reality what happened was the following:

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I entered the cathedral from the East side, sat at the very back and observed the great and the good coming in. I had an interesting conversation with a guest who was surprised that the Free Church was growing and wanted to know why.   I had a great view down the aisle and could see Prince Charles on one side, and the colourful trio of Trish Marwick (orange), Nicola Sturgeon (blue) and Ruth Davidson (pink), on the other. Kezia Dugdale (flowery pink dress) and Willie Rennie (traditional suit with pink tie) were also present.

We began with the National Anthem and a call to worship from the new minister of St Giles – who I noted was the Rev Calum I Macleod from Lewis. For a fleeting moment I dared to hope that one of our own Free Kirk boys had been suddenly ‘promoted’, but that too was a dream!  As we sang ‘God save the Queen’ my eyes caught Nicola and I thought of the National election day photo and wondered who we were singing about!

Then the strains of Ps 100 rang out throughout the cathedral – St Giles is an excellent setting for its magnificent Reiger organ, although as a matter of personal preference I think the psalm would have sounded so much better sung unaccompanied.

There was a prayer which I could not really hear (the acoustics and sound system in St Giles are dreadful!) and then the reading of Ps 67 by Sir Paul Grice (the Chief Executive of the Scottish Parliament).   The choir then beautifully sang a rendition of Ps 100 by Benjamin Britten. This was followed by the retiring presiding office of the Parliament, Trish Marwick reading Mark 12:13-17.

Then came the ‘Interfaith blessings on the Parliament’, from the Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, Humanist, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh communities. This was interspersed by a somewhat lengthy clarsach and fiddle duo – nice but pointless and did not really fit with the service.

We went on to sing ‘Behold the Mountain of the Lord’ to the tune Glasgow.

Dr Angus Morrison, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland gave his sermon. He began and ended in Gaelic and spoke on Mark 2 – Giving to Caesar what is Caesars and to God’s what is Gods. It was appropriate, well delivered and did not hesitate to mention Christ. The real bonus for me was the bold and biblical statement

“some authority belongs to government, all authority belongs to God”.

Angus comes across very well – humane and humorous – his best one liner? “God always trumps Caesar…. you’ll forgive the unfortunate adverb”!

The choir of St Giles (who were excellent throughout) then sang a beautiful version of ‘Let all the World in Every Corner Sing’.   Then Angus Morrison, David Chillingworth (the Most Reverend David Chillingworth of the Anglicans), Philip Tartaglia (RC Archbishop of Glasgow) gave three ‘acts of commendation’.   (I wonder if I get to be called the ‘Most Reverend’ and what it actually means…more holy that thou peasants or lesser clergy?!)

We finished by singing “Immortal, Invisible” and then the benediction from the Minister of St Giles which appeared to be some kind of native Indian blessing.

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We all left to Parliament hall where there was a reception.

So there we have it. A grand occasion, dignified, beautiful, with something for everyone. Some Christians I spoke to thought it was great.   Doubtless most people would say that in public, whatever they thought in private. Here are my honest reflections in no particular order.  The positives I have mentioned above, I won’t repeat, but there were some other things that caused me to question.

Interfaith – I thought the interfaith stuff was largely meaningless, hypocritical and self-contradictory.   Of course everyone is into ‘love, peace and justice’, but what does that actually mean?   The representatives of the various religions sang ‘they hang the trumpet in the hall, and study war no more’ – knowing that religion (including theirs) is at least partially responsible for many wars and much violence throughout the world. Christianity is not exempt from this charge and we need to face up to it.

The humanist involvement was meaningless and hypocritical. Are the humanists a faith? We were there to worship a God they mock. They regard the whole thing as a charade, and yet they took part in it.  They of course argued that they were representing a significant section of Scotland’s population – although their membership is 4,000. It was a service of worship, not a humanist ceremony. In this regard I have to admire Patrick Harvie, who as a republican and an atheist, was not there.   I may not agree with many of his views but I admire and respect his consistency.

The Muslim and Hindu involvement did not make sense. We had an invocation of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which the Muslims regard as blasphemous. The thought struck me, is there a mosque anywhere in the world where a Christian would be allowed to invoke the Trinity? The Muslim teaching about Christ is blasphemous to Christians so why were they taking part in a service of Christian worship? And if it was not a service of Christian worship, then what were Christians doing taking part in it? Our faith specifically forbids us from acknowledging any other Lord but Christ. Our forefathers died (note died, not killed) for that belief. The Church is pathetically weak, we just simply go along with whatever our secular liberal elites state. For me personally I was there as an observer not a worshipper because I regarded the Hindu incantation and Muslim reading from the Koran as something that no Christian could share in.   There is an hypocrisy in having a memorial to Jenny Geddes in the Cathedral when, if she had been present yesterday, she would have been arrested and imprisoned for her actions that would undoubtedly have followed!
Speaking of which, why were the Baha’is, (400 people in Scotland), Sikhs (9,000) etc. bringing ‘interfaith blessings’? Why were the Jehovah’s Witnesses (20,000) and Mormons (27,000) not included?   In terms of Christian groups why are the Anglicans represented and not the Baptists or even the Free Church, both of who have more Scots attending their churches than the Anglicans?   In other words the interfaith aspect is somewhat interesting and arbitrary.

The Poor and Marginalised – Several times it was mentioned that we were there for the poor and marginalized.   But I found that as contradictory as the interfaith aspect. Where were the poor and marginalized?  This was a gathering of the Establishment;  the rich and the powerful. I have noticed how easy it is for the Establishment, in both church and state, to speak on behalf of the people, (the Moderator stated that he wanted to be a ‘voice for the voiceless, poor, lonely and homeless), even to speak to the people, but not to let the people speak – at least not without them being previously vetted, trained and tamed.  There is an Establishment view and you only get to speak to the Establishment if you already accept their values and views.   I don’t want tokenism, but it would be really nice if the ‘peoples parliament’ had a people’s service and ordinary people were welcomed and given their own voice, not having someone else speak for them.

The Sermon – I’ve already mentioned the things that I appreciated about the sermon above. But there were difficulties that for me made it a lost opportunity. Firstly I was concerned that Angus said he was there to speak on behalf of the Church of Scotland, other Christians, people of other faiths and people of no faith. No he wasn’t. It was not meant to be a political rally. It was a service of worship and he is a Christian preacher there to preach on behalf of God to all of us, not on behalf of the people to the politicians. I elect politicians to speak on my behalf about politics. I want a preacher to tell me what God says.

Secondly there were a lot of clichés and truisms which people could interpret as they like.   A good line was ‘the image of power is on the face of money, the image of God is on us all’. But what does that mean? Or ‘Bad religion is the problem, but good religion is the solution”. But what is good religion?   From my point of view religion overall is the problem. The Bible is far more concerned about idolatry (false religion) than it is about atheism (no religion). Without definition and application such phrases are trite soundbites at best.

Angus spoke of the “vigorous pursuit of a politics of love” – again what does that mean? Likewise

“the love of power should be replaced by the power of love”.

Is this the radical love of Christ or the warm fuzzy ‘all you need is love’? Does it include the cross? Does it recognize that the love of Jesus brings division? That if we follow Christ we will be hated?

Then there was: “the churches must speak to issues of poverty, homelessness and loneliness” – that’s the kind of motherhood and apple pie statement that no-one is going to disagree with. But what about other issues? Like the causes of these things such as family breakdown, greed, human sinfulness?   Where is the prophetic voice? When John the Baptist appeared before King Herod he lost his head (literally) because he challenged the Kings immoral behaviour. There were politicians who had voted to deny and despise the Bibles teaching on marriage, something that has done a great deal of harm in our society. Where was the challenge?   We need to speak truth into power, not truisms.

Overall this was the kind of service that, if I were not a Christian, would turn me into an atheist. It lacked depth, reality, power and meaning. It was a performance, designed to offend no one. Well performed, but nonetheless a performance. I really wander what the point is of having such a service. Personally I think that in the Brave New Scotland desired by many of our liberals this service is nearing the end of its useful life. I really don’t see the point of having a Christian service if the nation has rejected Christianity, and as a Christian I won’t take part in a service which involves bowing before other Gods. In Christ alone my hope is found.   And I won’t pretend.

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But let me not leave on such a sad note. It was so encouraging to be at the reception afterwards and meet newly elected MSPs who are Christians. They were so encouraging in every way – and it was also good to speak to some other political leaders that I know, who are not unsympathetic to the Church (from all parts of the political spectrum).   I was especially glad as the Moderator of the Free Church to meet Katie Forbes, a Free Church member, the new MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch.   She is exactly what the SNP and the Scottish government need; young, intelligent, talented, gracious, female and Christian. May the Lord richly bless her and all our MSPs. May my dream of a Scotland of justice, peace and love be fulfilled. And to avoid being accused of being a hypocrite and using the kind of soundbite that all the religious leaders used, let me add that I mean the justice, peace and love that is spoken of and defined in the Word of God.   If our politicians are not aware of what that is, I would be more than happy to preach at the next ‘Kirking of the Parliament’!

 

 

 

 


11 thoughts on “The (almost) Jenny Geddes Moment – Reflections on the Kirking of the Scottish Parliament – 11th May 2016

  1. Membership of the HSS is a tad more than 4,000 (add 10k and you’ll be closer). Where did the 4k figure come from for humanists?

    But you are correct about wondering at the humanist presence there. Certainly these things should be interbelief rather than interfaith and the sermon was very much supposed to be a Christian one as its supposed to be a Christian event. If I were still with the humanists I would have had a lot of internal discussions about going. It certainly raised the profile of the organisation in front of political decision makers so it would have been beneficial that way.

    It does seem to me to be a relatively pointless exercise though as it cannot be a religious event and is more like a general rally of a part of civic society indicating a general hope and support to the politicians of the day.

  2. “knowing that religion (including theirs) is at least partially responsible for many wars and much violence throughout the world. Christianity is not exempt from this charge and we need to face up to it.”
    I don’t know which wars you are thinking about as you didn’t mention any specific examples but do you accept or reject the concept of a just war? Is it ever possible to be both responsible for a war and to be justified in being so? Also, is there a difference between the responsibility of Christians and the responsibility of Christianity? I can think of plenty of wars started by people who were Christians but that does not necessarily mean that Christianity itself was responsible for those wars. As an example, who was responsible for the Korean War? Was it the Americans or the Chinese or even the North Koreans? If the Americans were responsible were they justified or not in going to the assistance of the South Koreans? And as the American Government was led by a Christian does that mean that Christianity was responsible? Or take Oliver Cromwell’s brutal attack on the Irish. Cromwell was a Christian but does that mean that Christianity was responsible for the atrocities committed by Cromwell’s troops?

  3. David, I was really saddened to read of your attendance at this interfaith service. You state, “For me personally I was there as an observer not a worshipper.” Is there anywhere in Scripture where we are told that Christians can participate in a syncretistic service as long as they do so in the role of an observer?

    You go on to say, “as a Christian I won’t take part in a service which involves bowing before other Gods.”..and yet isn’t that exactly what you did do? You were invited, presumably as the Free Church moderator, to what you knew would be an interfaith service, and though you may not have led the worship, surely your acceptance of that invitation to be one of the congregation amounted to taking part in the service. (I presume you view your congregation at St Peter’s as taking part in the services despite them being in the pews and not the pulpit). And what were you doing if not worshipping God when you sang His praises during this interfaith service?

    Interfaith services are an affront to God; may I ask if the Christian MSPs that you met at the reception (and were so encouraged and impressed by) particularly Katie Forbes, gave a reason for their attendance?

    I realise that you are writing here against these services but I hope you will understand why I can’t accept that it’s God honouring to participation in them, whether as an observer or not.

    1. Thanks Angela – yes – I can – Naaman was given a despensation when he went into the temple of an idol with his master and was forced to bow.

      And no – I did not take part in the service. I was there as an observer not a worshipper.

      I find your post (and others I have received) so depressing and discouraging. We are trying our best to be a witness in this world and don’t get everything right – it costs a lot – not least when those who are your brothers and sisters snipe from the sidelines – where it costs them nothing!

      1. If Naaman was given leave to continue to enter the temple of Rimmon (and that’s a big IF), that is in no way comparable to you, a mature Christian attending an interfaith service, unless you are claiming that you were forced to attend and that to decline would have put your life in danger, as was probably the case with Naaman. I’m sure you must be aware that Scripture makes clear that Naaman recognised his action as a sin that required God’s forgiveness. Time and again Scripture is uncompromising in its pronouncement that we “cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too”, nor are we to be associated in any way with those who think they can do so.

        Observer or worshipper?
        You clearly stated in your post that you sang two hymns, including Immortal, Invisible. This hymn is not just about God but is sung directly to God Himself: “Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.” How, as a Christian, could you sing praise to God and yet claim that you weren’t worshipping Him, a stance that you seem proud of? Your post contains no relevant information relating to the service that could not have been obtained from other sources, both before and after the Kirking.

        I would hope that as Christians we are all trying our best to be a witness in this world, whether we are in the public eye or not. You do not know me yet you feel you have the right to make the ignorant assumption that I stand on the sidelines and that my witness costs me nothing. Do you also view those who write in support of your actions as doing so from the sidelines, at no cost to themselves?

        The kirking of the parliament was a wonderful opportunity for the Church as a whole to take a public stand against syncretistic worship and to send a powerful message that as Christians we are not willing to compromise the Word of God. I realise that if that had happened there would probably have been no Kirking service at all, but better that surely, than for Christians to instead send the message that they think there can indeed be harmony between Christ and Belial.

      2. Angela – yes you are sniping from the sidelines. And yes it costs you nothing to do so. What you do in your own personal and public life I don’t know (you are right I am ignorant of that), but you are wrong – I don’t judge you for what I don’t know. However it is depressing to have you attack Christians like Katie and others who are seeking to do their best and be a witness in public life. You seem very comfortable in publicly condemning those who you do not know about a service that you were not at – (there was no worship of Allah or Buddha or any of the other religions – just greetings brought from them in the context of a Christian service- personally I did not agree with that – but it is not as you exaggerated). In your drive for purity I wonder if you think that we should protest at Anglican and C of S services at the Coronation where umbelievers clearly took part? It is deeply offensive for you to suggest that I was in any way endorsing or sending the message that there can be harmony between Christ and Belial….I do however know that it is far too easy for the devil to get into the church and cause disharmony. There is also more than one way to compromise the Word of God – perhaps you should take the beam out of your own eye before you take the splinter out of your sisters?

  4. 1 It is to be applauded that Angela’s comments have been posted.

    2 At first blush I, too, was wondering what the difference was in this context between being an observer and a participant, but there is a distinction which can and will be lost in subtleties. Some attending St Peter’s may indeed not be participating in the service of worship.

    3 If the distinction is subtle, what remains is the impression given by mere attendance (because motives for attendance are not known). Angela sums it up, as does Douglas McClellan, who can at least see some benefit to the humanist cause from their attendance and acknowledges that it was supposed to be a Christian service. Presumably Patrick Harvie followed his convictions by staying away.

    4 I don’t think Angela’s comments are “sniping”, but thought through convictions. (Though there seems to have been a personal dig at Katie Forbes.) And I’m not sure where “cost” comes into it. David clearly pays a quite heavy cost in his ministry, so I’m not sure where the cost to him would have been to staying away. If Katie Forbes was hitherto unknown in the SNP as a Christian, she certainly will be now! And that may be at some significant personal cost to her, more so than if she had stayed away and not endorsed so publically by David.

    5 David’s attendance may have been in large part to support christian MSP’ s, who may have paid a personal cost to the become elected and need Christian support from their brothers and sisters in their chosen sphere public service . Should they have stayed away? That is for them to decide, and perhaps learn from.

    6 A friend became a Rev. As part of the training they had to attend a Mosque, take their shoes off. My wife and I have been invited to a Mosque, by Muslim’s whose child we looked after. We declined. So on a personal level I wouln’t have gone if I were David, nor if I were a Christian MSP, nor could I have become a Rev. But how much has it cost me to live my life as a Christian? I don’t know.

    1. Thanks Geoff, I found your comments encouraging and I’m grateful that you understood where I was coming from, especially as I had tried hard to express my concerns in a respectful way. I’m sorry, though, if my question re. Katie Forbes came across as a personal dig; it certainly wasn’t intended as one. I’m not concerned with her politics or the politics of the other Christians there, or which parties they all represent; my only concern is that they attended an interfaith service. I know nothing about Katie Forbes and only mentioned her by name as David specifically cited her as being just what the Scottish government needs. In light of his view that his presence was acceptable because he attended as an observer, I was interested to know whether the Christian MSPs he was praising were also claiming to have attended only as observers or if they had been happy with the interfaith format and participated in the worship. I noted that he chose to ignore the question.

      1. Angela – I ignored the question because you cannot seriously expect me to answer on behalf of others. I don’t know their motivation and you don’t either. Nor do I know which parts if any they took part in the service. If you were really interested then perhaps you could have asked them first and even found out if it was actually an interfaith service….personally I feel sorry for any Christian who is an MSP or involved in public life – not only do they have to put up with the attacks of non-Christian enemies, they have to face the sniping form the sidelines of their Christian friends. I know how depressing that can be….

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