11_08_18_prev courtesy of freefoto.com

Living in Scotland at the moment it is hard to avoid the ‘debate’ (if you can call a shouting match a debate) over the constitutional future of our country. On the 18th of September 2014 anyone living in Scotland will have an opportunity to answer the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” Now I want to state upfront I will be putting a ‘X’ in the No box. But I also want to tell you about a project the Church of Scotland has undertaken in relation to the constitutional debate and to make a wee observation or two.

Scotland is a small country currently part of a Union otherwise known as the United Kingdom or Great Britain. We have a population of 5.2 milliion. The Church of Scotland is the largest Christian Church with an estimated 400,000 members.

The Church of Scotland is a Presbyterian church and as such has a number of national councils and committees. One of these, on which I serve, is the Church & Society Council. This council has a remit that includes the interface between church and government. Within the council there is a small office known as the Scottish Churches Parliamentary Office. This is ecumenical but is run on behalf of the churches in Scotland by the Church of Scotland. The SCPO came up with the idea of asking the people of Scotland what kind of Scotland they wanted to live in regardless of the outcome of the referendum. And so a number of Imagining Scotland’s Future events have been held with over 900 people taking part. I was delighted to help facilitate a number of these.

The debate over independence is a complex one and there is not a big enough word count allowance in this blog to go into them.  If you want to look into this yourself then these links will help: Yes, No

But much more interesting has been the results of the Imagining Scotland’s Future events. These events encouraged people to think about the kind of Scotland they want to live in. They looked at people’s values, their priorities and their dreams. As the people taking part were for the most part Church people the results of these events will hold no real surprises. I cannot give full details as a full report of the outcomes is currently being collated and will be published and launched on the 26th of February in Edinburgh at an event to which all the great and good will be invited. I have been asked to speak at this event – eek!

Having giving you a lengthy introduction I want to make just one comment/observation. I was struck by one comment made at one of the events I helped to facilitate. One of the attendees said this (and I may well be paraphrasing) ‘whether or not we vote for independence I just want us to be good small country’. It was a short comment but a mighty one – a good small country – that’s it. (The comment was made in the context of the debate surrounding an independent Scotland’s place within the European Union and NATO as well as all the other tables around which the big countries gather.) Why is it we a small country of just over 5 million people would assume we could pull a chair in alongside the likes of Germany, France, the USA etc.? Surely it is more important to concentrate on being as good a wee nation as we can – and we can do that without the distractions of puffing our chests out and demanding the seat at the top table of the world. The values and aspirations of our people do not include world domination, rather the caring for and building up of communities of justice, equality, fairness etc. etc.

Jesus concentrated on the people around him – he worked with a small team. He spoke up for justice, fairness, equality (so yeah ok not everyone gets that one– but he did!), community, honesty, caring… He didn’t go on a world tour; he didn’t march in and demand an audience with the rulers. Instead he concentrated on the people around him. It is what the local church does too. Yes we can challenge the governments of our day and we can take an interest in world issues. But if we get the local right – if we build good communities of faith and work hard to keep them strong then we live out his command to love one another.  This is not to say we ignore the plight of the poorest of the world – quite the contrary. We can’t reach out if we have no base to reach out from. Our influence is weakened if we have no strong foundations. Without a strong local church there can be no strong universal church.

My parish of Aberlour is a small one – it is rural, set in the heart of Speyside – famous for its malt whisky and shortbread. I want us to be the best small parish we can be. But I want us to be part of a bigger church. My country is a small one. I want us to be the best small country we can be. But I want us to be part of a bigger nation.

So yes, whilst I do not want the Scottish people to vote for independence, if they do then all I ask is that we be as good a wee nation as we can be.

4 thoughts on “The Pastoral is Political: Imagining the future

  1. Thank you for this. Scotland is a place very dear to my heart, so I care about what happens there. I have not kept up on the various debates pro and con re: independence, so I appreciate the links you provide to help me get informed. Mostly, though, thank you for the direction you went with this post. I think we can all benefit from stepping back and asking the questions that Scotland’s citizens are not only bold enough to voice, but worthy enough to engage in significant ways. Good on y’all! as we say where I live. Whether it’s being a good wee church, community, family, or broader embrace of people, the efforts to “be good” generally bear fruit. Good luck and Godspeed, Scotland.


  2. I’ll be putting an ‘x’ in the ‘YES’ box, but this doesn’t mean we can’t still be pals Shuna 😀
    My question, regardless of the outcome [but I suspect the ‘noes’ will win it] is how we manage the tangible disappointment of a large percentage of the population. Triumphalism whether ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will be devastating, and create a festering bitterness I suspect. How do we as a wee Kirk in a wee country encourage graciousness rather than a ‘sucks to be you’ attitude, I wonder?


  3. That is a really valid question Nikki. Not sure how we will move. But we did post devolution, so in my glass half full outlook I am hope ful we can cope.


  4. I had a really interesting debate on this with my KS last week. Not about how we vote, but about how we encourage folks to engage, and at the same time provide a neutral place for afterwards when there will be disappointed people.
    We considered hosting a Hustings, but the KS felt that could be divisive or create ill feeling amongst those who feel the church is not a political arena.
    I am still in the undecided camp. Swithering from one side to the next; not yet seen anything to convince me that separation is right, nor am I happy with the current way Scotland is being managed via both Westminster and Holyrood.
    Time will tell. The debate is taking up so much time now that any other processes of government seem to be wholly abandoned. That is unfortunate, life cannot go on hold until September, but somehow it feels that it is.
    I do however wholeheartedly agree with you Shuna about begin the best that we can be, in our small communities and in the wider church.


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