Sunday, 27 April 2008

Dopugal's sermons vol 3

The final episode! (You know, the one after "Luke, I am your father"!)


What on earth does it mean to be an embedded Church? What does that peculiar phrase mean? The phrase itself is actually to not my own. Bishop Brian used it in one of his sessions at the Haddington conferences in the run up to the Lambeth Conference. By it, I think he meant that the Church is embedded in a particular location, society, culture and context. I think if that is true of the diocese as a whole, then it is interesting and valuable to apply that analysis to this particular charge and try to see what light it throws on our understanding of our “essence”.

Location, location, location – we are set in a very particular part of Scotland and physically right on the edge of the Town Centre. We are part of what was the cradle of the Industrial Revolution in Britain and we face all the challenges that face the society of which we are part in the 21st century. Economics and employment in a Britain which is no longer the major industrial producer it was. The physical challenges of our location and accessibility to an aging congregation, but one with lots of cars. Our location as part of an ecumenical town centre grouping of Churches. All shape our nature and our essence as a congregation. It is a factor which we have to take into account.

We are embedded in another powerful way too. We are historically embedded in the SEC. Falkirk is a town with a great history. I often walk Max along the Antonine Wall dating back to the 2nd century CE. Falkirk was the scene of two major battles in Scottish history. One where the Wallace didn’t overcome proud Edward’s army (mainly because it wasn’t his, but his Dad’s – the far more formidable Longshanks, Hammer of the Scots), the other being the last Jacobite victory prior to the disaster at Drummosie Moor – Culloden. As I said earlier, Carron was one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution. Its best selling product, the Carronade (a gun, not an 18th century prototype of Irn Bru) shaped European history by playing a major role in the naval defeat of Napoleon. And Irn Bru itself has been a major cultural icon in modern Scottish popular culture.

Our own history, founded during the great Victorian period of mission and expansion of the SEC and strongly influenced by the liturgical and spiritual ethos of the Oxford Movement, is a major factor in our essence. It’s why the building is the shape and layout it is and why the Eucharist is both our principal act of worship and why it is celebrated the way it is here, with vestments, bells and occasional incense. We are also, in no small degree, the product of my predecessors and their outlook. Certainly, their catholic persuasion as Anglican clergy has been a huge influence on our worship. And it potentially could have had a seriously detrimental effect on both our ecumenical relationships and our internal development with regard to women’s ministry. But the ecumenical openness of Canon Ballard and his ministers concert party in the 1920’s and Ivor Ramsey’s leadership of Church Unity groups in the 30’s and 40’s has been of major importance. More recently, Duncan McCosh’s advocacy of Cursillo, with its focus on developing both personal holiness and lay leadership and the focus on relationships with the Church in Uganda which David Bruno introduced and Duncan developed, have played a major role in shaping the nature and outlook of this congregation and its role, both locally in the town and in the life of the diocese, the province and the world wide Church.

Embeddedness may be a clumsy way of describing it, but it is actually of profound importance in explaining why we are what we are today and what we can be and will be in the future. To give it a rather more conventional theological title, it reflects something profound in our ethos which you could call “Incarnational theology”. Basically, we see our task as being the body of Christ in this place and at this time. We are called to reveal the presence of Christ to the world through our common life and collective witness as a congregation and, springing from that, our individual and personal discipleship. We do not see our mission as primarily one of proclamation (preaching and sermons are not our raison d’être); nor do we see it as essentially one of social service. Both are part of our outlook, but are held within an overall attitude of a focus on worship as a powerful expression both of our outreach and our witness. As I tried to say in these sermons, the liturgy in a very deep way is the defining feature of this Church, making us what we are for good and ill. It both creates and reflects our particular style of being the Church. It is itself the product of our local and denominational history. It also strongly and subtly influences our appeal and our influence. The way we are both attracts and repels people. Those who seek a Church which allows you to participate, reflect and engage in the way we do, will be drawn to us. But in a culture where the expectation of Church is defined so strongly (as it is in Scotland) by a preaching based model of worship and involvement, that very style which appeals to those who do not feel at home in that ethos, will be a major turn off for and barrier to the majority of the population, simply because it is quite alien to their expectation of what Church is like.

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