Am I allowed to say that cathedrals "litter" the countryside of Scotland (and Ireland)? Whether I'm allowed to say it or not, it's pretty much true. As we've walked the streets of Edinburgh these last few days I've lost count of the number of magnificent structure built to the Glory of God. I remember traveling several years ago in Ireland and there were always two things you could count on seeing in even the smallest town...a church (cathedral) and a pub. We're just now getting ready to move on from Edinburgh, but I imagine it is much the same.
As I've been reading about St. Patrick and his evangelism work with the "barbarians" I've learned that it spread even more so after his death. It is said that through these works of St. Patrick that there were over 6000 churches planted in Ireland alone. From there Christianity in the same way spread to Scotland. One of the reasons for the great number of churches beginning was their distinctive approach to doing church. It was quite different from the Roman church of the time that built great structures and employed ordained clergy. Instead this work of St. Patrick was done in simple, small, structures made of wood and mud and they relied on laity more than clergy to be active leaders in ministry. Which is the establishment and which is the movement? Patrick had started a new kind of church that was both "barbarian and catholic"...some, including Chuck Hunter, called these new church monastic communities.
Not only did he turn the way of doing church upside down, he turned the monastary concept inside out. Instead of being an established force against the world placed out in some remote location with people living in protest to the material things of the world, the monestary was in an open place in the middle of towns or tribes where people could come in and out and experience a new way of life...specifically, one with out violence or aggression and one devoted to God purpose. These communities became models for the world and the penetrated the people of the towns and tribes. The monastic communities provided support and life for one another. They were able to work out their salvation together. People became the focus rather then buildings and church heirarchy. The gifts of each person were embraced for both employment and ministry and they were always preparing to send people out to start and join other new ministries.
So how did all these big church buildings come to be? The movemental dynamics were squelched by leaders in Rome who disagreed with Patrick style and approach. They decided to shift back into establishment mode with a "parish" church in each town. Now don't get me wrong, I think the "established church" has great attributes and resources and a lot of potential for discipling people. The typical monastary was a place for monks to withdrawl and focus on their own souls, but these new monastic communities were places concerned with saving the souls of others. I'm going to go a little JW (John Wesley) here and say I see the need for both, and they should be in a healthy balance. One without the other seems to be a little off track.
I'm no expert on the current state of Christianity in Ireland or Scotland, but my initial observations lead me to believe things are in a pretty steep decline. The buildings are great, but where are the people and are lives being changed? Could these awesome structures be used to reachout into the community and become a refuge, penetrating the world in which they exist? I think they absolutely could and I've seen two old churches here in Edinburgh doing just that. These two are taking the resources they have as an established church and seem to putting things in motion again. The two are St. George's West and St. John's. Both have transformed their space in some way to reach out to the common person. The inside of St. George's is actually now a cafe and St. John's houses are center for justice and peace. I would love to hang around and get to know these a little more. Seek and you shall find...I think that is the case for us as individuals, but also for us as bodies, as churches working together. The establishment doesn't have to be stagnant or stale.
Ok, that's enough for now, I'm amazed if you are still reading at this point. I want to give a quick shout out and hello to our friends Ken and Judy Pyles. They lived here in Edinburgh for a year while Ken was at the Edinburgh University School of Divinity called New College. Ken was preparing to one day be my pastor at the First United Methodist Church of South Charleston (it's been a few years ago). Anyway, we got to stop by and see the School of Divinity and take in the beautiful sites.
Much love to all, and thanks if you made it this far!