Don't Force Your Children to Church - says the Moderator?

A few weeks ago an article appeared in various newspapers, including Scotland on Sunday, purporting that I was suggesting that forced church attendance could be detrimental to the spiritual growth of some young people. It was one of those articles that makes you kind of screw up your face and cringe: because it was half right and half wrong.  The journalist was looking for an angle. The implication was that I implied ministers "rabbited on" thus being critical of preachers and the effectiveness of preaching. Anyone who knows me well will know that I have a high regard for preaching. The point I was making was that in the eyes of some young people, (and indeed not so young people) that was how they perceived church and preachers. Of course for another group of  Christian commentators it was another chance to bash the Church of Scotland, the thing is none of them bothered to ask is this correct. Could it be that Scotland on Sunday has misrepresented the Moderator's view? Anyway to top it all the Secular Society congratulated me for my honesty. The most interesting and informative comment on the article was a piece by Ron Ferguson in the "Press and Journal" last week. Thing is he was agreeing and not agreeing with what the I was purported to have said. Now I'm totally agreeing with Mr Ferguson, but g=he got it wrong, in thinking I was down playing preaching. I think we all need special places and spaces to enable us to encounter the presence of the living God. I believe God has gifted many within the church to explain the gospel through the simple turn of phrase that comes through preaching from the Bible. Churches can be and should be places of mystery and encounter as well as action and service. However what I am also saying is that when God turns up he turns the most unexpected of places into a cathedral. In other words it is God that changes the dynamic of a place or a space, be it a café or a cathedral or a burning bush in the desert. God is free to be where he will be. I'm highlighting the fact that God is and always will be active in the world. You cannot put God in a box. You see what I';m saying is too many of us have a limited concept of God. I believe it is the responsibility of the Church to create sacred spaces in all our communities to allow people to re-energise themselves but it is the Holy Spirit of God that comes and inspires us to do so, it is the Spirit that constitutes the people of God into a living dynamic gospel community. It is the Spirit that opens our eyes and ears. In the words of Jesus the Spirit is like the wind he blows where he will. Let's all go looking for the sacred in the most unexpected of places. It's God's world, it's God's mission, it's God's glory. I think more of us need to reflect upon Elijah in the cave. There are many who follow Christ of whom we may never know.  God wasn't in the wind the thunder or the fire. But, "in the still small voice. " and not a bogle in sight! ( the last phase is a reference to Ron ferguson's article. In Orkney the loud mooing of a bull is referred to as "bogling"  Now there you have it I've had a good "Bogle"

Posted By: Hazey McC   On: 24 Oct 2012   At: 6:05pm

I read the article written by Albert and thought it was great.

I think he has the right attitude - the love of God is for all, no matter whoever, whatever, wherever we are - praising God in a coffee shop is just as real as praising Him in a Cathedral or Church.

God’s love is not limited to any one place.

Maybe if more Ministers were down-to-earth and caring like Albert people young and old would enjoy praising God in Starbucks or any Church building.


Posted By: italker   On: 24 Oct 2012   At: 12:36pm


A wee girl who was taken by her mother to a church service ran out of patience fairly soon after this sermon had started.

“Is it still Sunday?” she asked, in exasperation.

Have you ever been bored in a church, as a child or an adult?

Have you ever not been bored in a church?

I ask these questions because last week a distinguished Scottish churchman caused a flutter in ecclesiastical doocotts by recommending that children should not be forced to attend kirk services as it risked putting them off religion altogether.

The Right Reverend Albert Bogle, Moderator of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland,¬ said it may be counter-productive for the iPod generation to have to sit on pews and be made to listen to ministers “rabbiting on”.

He said that young people were more likely to become churchgoers if ¬parents and grandparents first started informal faith discussions in the family home.

“The biggest influence for Christianity are older people reaching out to younger people in their families and sharing a bit of their faith,” he said.

Mr Bogle went further. He suggested that adults should not have to attend services to demonstrate their faith. Instead he argued that spirituality is not confined to churches and individuals can make a valid connection with God while drinking coffee or ¬admiring nature.

“Too many people who are ‘religious’ give the impression that God can only be encountered behind church walls and in church services,” he said. “But, do you know what? I’ve got news for everyone. God is in the world. He is walking about in the street. God might make a connection with you when you are drinking a cappuccino in Starbucks. Something of God’s presence touches you or you see something of beauty and it stirs you.”

It doesn’t surprise me that he is making waves as the Kirk’s Moderator. His views have always been controversial.

Is Albert Bogle right in what he says? 

I want to explain why I both agree and disagree with the Moderator. But first, some background.

I’ve known Albert off and on for several years. I have even named a bull after him.

Intrigued? Read on MacDuff.

Mr Bogle is a different kind of church leader. For a start, he sings in a band. While he is from the conservative evangelical wing of the Kirk, he defies easy categorisation. He is a leading figure in the Church of Scotland’s “Church Without Walls” movement.

What’s all that about? It’s an attempt to get Christian faith out of church ghettos and into the high streets. It seeks to stop the churches talking ecclesiastical jargon to themselves, and instead to find a new language of faith that will communicate with young people of the Facebook generation.

The backstory to all of this is the undeniable fact that over the past half-century, big public institutions – including the churches - have taken a bit of a beating.

Albert Bogle, and those who think like him, see this time of change in positive rather than negative terms. They believe that this ‘post-modern’ era provides an opportunity to rethink the ways in which the Christian gospel is presented in Scotland.

Thus far, I support what the Moderator is saying. What I would question is how he sees the church.

Of course some ministers rabbit on. I have done so myself. A minister, it has been said, is someone who talks in other people’s sleep.

There are ministers and priests, I am sure, who have fallen asleep in the middle of their own sermons.

Yet preaching at its best still inspires people and changes lives. Think about Martin Luther King’s great “I have a dream” sermon. Hearing George MacLeod preach in Iona Abbey was for me a formative experience.

Today, preachers such as Kathy Galloway, John Bell, Mike Mair and Susan Brown of Dornoch Cathedral can communicate the age-old Gospel with both faithfulness and imagination.

The Roman Catholic theologian John Dunne said that the perennial task of the church was to “gather the folks, tell the stories and break the bread”. That still happens week by week - inside walls – in parishes up and down the land.

That is still a major way in which people learn the stories of Jesus, and are schooled in the language and ways of Christian discipleship. Churches can be places of boredom, but also of hope and resourcefulness.

Albert Bogle is right to make people think. It is essential to explore new ways of communicating religious faith; but the inspiration of tradition still matters as well.

What about that bull, I hear you cry. Well, in Orkney, when a bull roars it is said to be “bogling”. We have two bulls in adjoining fields, and they make quite a racket. I nicknamed them Tam Bogle and Albert Bogle, both ministers of the Church of Scotland.

Albert Bogle may be a bull in a china shop. But there are times when the breaking of family heirlooms is necessary - provided they can be pieced together in ever more imaginative ways.

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