Sunday, 11 August 2013

St Stephen's Comely Bank

Worship Service, Sunday 11 August 2013, 11am
Led by: Graeme Williamson, Ministry Associate

The sign outside says “Church of Scotland”, but St Stephen’s Comely Bank’s website, beautifully designed though it may be, makes no mention of its denominational affiliation in any obvious place, so I dug and dug until eventually I found in its most recent online newsletter (Winter 2012, and here we are now in August 2013) the following coded message:

“Going into 2013 we face uncertain times as a congregation, with General Assembly of 2013 poised to consider whether the Church of Scotland ceases to be a church founded on scripture. However we must keep to our calling locally to be a witness to the truth and to proclaim God’s kingdom in word and action.”

Potential schismatics, then? Well, they still seem to be inside the fold, but St Stephen’s was part of the Fellowship of Confessing Churches, set up to oppose the ordination of gay clergy in the Church of Scotland, and presumably also to advocate the expulsion of those gay clergy already ordained—because let’s face it, Scott Rennie isn't the Kirk's only gay minister, is he? But alas, the Fellowship of Confessing Churches’ website is no longer active, so no clues there, and there was nothing mentioned in today’s service to indicate the current state of play in church politics, the prospects for St Stephen’s or anything else even vaguely gossip-worthy.

But it’s safe to say that in a broad kirk St Stephen’s is veering towards the conservative. Indeed, Graeme Williamson (not to be confused with his struggling namesake over at Destiny Church) and youth minister Daniel McKinlay both trained at Cornhill Scotland, whose pastors’ training course is open only to men – well, us gals’ll just get back in the kitchen, shall we? Actually, Cornhill also trains both “men and women to teach the Bible in other contexts, such as youth/children’s work and women’s ministry.” Nice to know we’re not considered completely useless, I suppose.

Daniel and Graeme didn’t do all the work, though. The readings and prayers were led by women (and the world didn’t end in a flash of lightning), although the praying woman described God as “at full stretch” trying to help people in Zimbabwe, which isn’t how I imagine an omnipotent god. But it’s not the first time I’ve heard this kind of thing, and if you’re looking for a limited, needy, craven little god you will find people at Holyrood Abbey and at the Elim Church appealing to such a deity too.

The music was pretty awful, the forlorn unplayed organ upstaged by a badly balanced band whose keyboard was amplified over all other elements so that even the saxophone was inaudible (that’s quite an achievement of sound engineering), and most of the hymns/songs were pitched too low. We started with one recognisable hymn, Crown Him with Many Crowns, but it was all downhill from there.

The readings were Revelation 4 and 5 (NIV), so we met once more the living creatures (ox, lion, man and eagle) of Ezekiel and of Kingdom Church, but the sermon concentrated on chapter 5. It wasn’t so much an exegesis as a walk through – the scroll, the lamb and the new song pondered over and a few not-very-probing questions asked but not really answered. If you were looking for the message of Mr Williamson’s sermon you really had to ignore the lamb, lion, seals and songs and go back to the first thing he said—that the church was then and is now in the midst of doctrinal error, moral compromise and persecution—and the last—that it is a mighty encouragement to know that there is a plan and someone truly worthy to bring it to fruition, so stand firm in the assurance that there is a bigger picture, and a higher throne. 

Not the greatest sermon ever preached but, as I said before, worlds away from the car crash at Destiny and for that we should all be grateful. All in all, it was a bit of a disappointment. Another church trying very hard to be trendy, and leaving me stone cold.


  1. Lamb, lion... and seals? How many living creatures is that?

  2. Ha ha! Seals (phocine pinnipeds) aren't usually on the list of "biblical" animals, are they? Or they haven't been until now.