Glorious spring sunshine welcomed us as we arrived at St Mary’s Monastery and Retreat Centre on Kinnoull Hill on the outskirts of Perth for our 48 hour conference. We began with a two-course lunch and received a warm welcome from the Redemptorists Community who live and worship on the site. To find out more visit http://www.kinnoullmonastery.co.uk/about-the-redemptorists.php
The opening session featured the work of Steve Aisthrorpe who is the Mission Development Worker in the North of Scotland for the Church of Scotland. Steve summarised for us the research as found in his book ‘The Invisible Church’ in the first session highlighting the research methodology and interesting findings as to those who are described as ‘churchless Christians’, ie those who live out a living faith in Christ as described in attributes identified by the ‘Hoge religiosity scale’. In closing, Steve remarked, “As a result of this research, there are some things we know, somethings we are fairly certain about and some things we can speculate about. I speculate this will be looked back on primarily not as a time of decline but a period of transition. Every few hundred years there is huge shift in society and this may be true of church too.” This is with reference to the work of Phyllis Tickle who indicated that ‘a church rummage sale takes place every 500 years’.
During the second session, Steve facilitated a discussion on what if anything this piece of work has to say to those of us involved in mission and ministry with children and families. Steve identified that his research indicated that children are often key in the decisions of adults to stay, leave or switch church. It is important to recognise that for many people Sunday is a day when one parent has opportunity to see the kids and that it might be difficult therefore to build in time to attend a church service as part of this pattern.
The following up of those families who leave might be key as research in England showed that 92% had never been asked why? The idea of creating ‘Authentic Spaces’ where ‘I can be real and be myself’ is seen as particularly important to young people. One challenge identified is that this view may be from a consumer perspective rather than from an investor and community approach. To what degree can CMN (cbti) be a resource to families seeking to share and nurture faith but who are not connected to a church?
After supper, we were joined by author and Methodist Superintendent Rev Dr John McNeill. John took time to share some reflections with us on his vast research into the work of both John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards and their view of ‘Children before God’. It was a stimulating discussion and some of the group found it difficult to comprehend how such established theological figures could hold such harsh views of children.
On Tuesday evening, Rev Grant Barclay led us in devotions by offering us, on the evening of World Poetry Day (as it turned out) a selection of poems by Mark Jarman. Having spent some time in Scotland during his childhood as the son of a pastor, Jarman fell away from regular church involvement until the baptism of his first child which, apparently, he regarded as a significant faith decision for him. So our devotions caught something of the use of imagination and the ‘invisible church’ which we had been considering during the day.
Following devotions, we shared a time of informal fellowship with a distinctly Scottish flavour.
The next morning Lorraine Darlow lead us in a short time of devotions before inviting us to share in a more in-depth way with one other person as we seek to get to know one another particularly with the addition of some new members to the group at this conference for the first time.
Our third session was led by Mr Andy Bathgate, Chief Executive Officer of Scripture Union Scotland. Andy shared that the term ‘parachurch’ is one he dislikes as he feels this sounds too detached from the work of the church and he would prefer to consider the work of SU Scotland as being in partnership with churches in Scotland. Andy shared that SUS had played a part in celebrating the 150th anniversary of Scripture Union and how Scotland had played a part in the early days of the movement, including a prayer meeting in Musselburgh Congregational Church just outside Edinburgh that was so full of children the adults could not get in! Andy explained the different ways that SUS is involved in the lives of children through regular work in schools and through its holiday activity centres. Visit https://www.suscotland.org.uk/ to find out more. SUS has 3,000 children a year participating in school residential events at their 3 activity centres. They seek to fulfil the vision of the organisation as these events are run with a Christian ethos, and they aim live out the gospel in serving and hospitality.
Andy is also involved in the work of Christian Values in Education Scotland a relatively new charity seeking to give confidence to Christians in the life of schools in Scotland and to offer practical advice and support in line the Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland. Go to http://www.cve-scotland.org.uk/ for more on this. Andy shared
After a refreshment break we moved to the small chapel for session 4 and welcomed Claire Benton-Evans, Youth and Children’s Officer for the Scottish Episcopal Church Diocese of Edinburgh. Claire told us the story of the planning, building, blessing and use of Play Church. This was a fascinating and complex account of researching possibilities from Scandinavia and Edinburgh, combined with deep thinking in a small planning team to determine the most suitable resource for use across the congregations in the diocese. Claire described a detailed process of consultation and conversation which allayed fears, clarified thinking and engaged many people in providing (often by creating) the superbly high-quality items used in Play Church, including an altar, dossle (fabric hanging behind the altar), wonderful robes, all manner of items to celebrate the sacraments and a beautiful carved cross. Claire explained, too, arranging for the formal blessing of Play Church by the Bishop of Edinburgh and her experiences of taking Play Church around congregations in the diocese. The creative use of the altar, especially in significant seasons such as Advent and Lent and its decoration during Holy Week and Easter were all shown in pictures as Claire told us of the deep engagement particularly younger children had with Play Church.
Most important were these experiences, which enabled children to explore through free play, to worship using items suitable to their size and to do so in their own church’s sacred space; and she explained the effect on adult worshippers of seeing children not simply play but re-enact in considerable detail and with accuracy the celebration of the sacraments, and the deep reflection this encouraged. She mentioned that one little girl, arriving in church the Sunday after Play Church had travelled on to its next location, complained, ‘But they’ve taken my church away!’ Claire not only told us about Play Church and showed us the masterfully-carved woodwork along with the embroidered falls, robes and other artefacts; she also allowed us to play with Play Church!
More information on Play Church is available online at https://edinburgh.anglican.org/2016/11/church-its- childs-play/
This was followed by lunch and then the group enjoyed some free time, with a group visiting the ‘RSS Discovery’ in Dundee while others visited the city of Perth or took a stroll up Kinnoull hill.
We gathered again for session 5 and were joined by Sandra Blair of Youth for Christ in Scotland who introduced the group to the Scottish Government initiative “Year of Young People” 2018. This is the first of its kind in the world ever! It includes young people aged 8 – 26 years of age and its aim and objectives are clear ‘to inspire Scotland through its young people celebrating their achievements, valuing contributions to communities and creating new opportunities for them to shine’
Themes focus on the following aspects Culture, Education, Enterprise and Regeneration, Participation, Equality and Discrimination, Health and Well-being.
Sandra noted that Scotland’s children’s commissioner was inviting children to change Government, and wondered if they change the church too!
After a short break we gathered in the lounge where Richard Knott shared with the group the Godly Play story of Saint Kentigern, also known as St Mungo the patron saint of Glasgow. This story was developed in Scotland and reminded us of the city of Glasgow’s moto, which is ‘Lord let Glasgow flourish through the preaching of thy word and praising of thy name.”
Following supper delegates were invited to a social evening with entertainment and dancing with live music provided by Garbh Uisge (https://www.facebook.com/garbhuisge/)
Our final morning began with a reading of the Parable of the Good Samaritan and a short reflection in preparation for our final session. Penny then led us in the business meeting, please see separate minutes.
Our final session was led by Jamie Lithgow. Jamie is the Education Officer with Nil by Mouth a charity which seeks to challenge sectarianism in Scotland. There were audible gasps in the room as Jamie shared how the charity was inspired by the death of a young football fan who was murdered because of the football team he supported aged just 16 years of age in 1995. Sectarianism is often referred to as ‘Scotland’s Secret shame’ and Jamie works in schools and with youth groups across Scotland to try to break down the perceptions that can lead to discrimination on the basis of sectarian attitudes. To find out more http://nilbymouth.org/