Monday, 14 January 2013

Holyrood Abbey Church

Morning Worship, Sunday 13 January 2013, 11.00am
Minister: Rev Philip R Hair

The complicated history of Holyrood Abbey Church is commensurate with the many schisms and mergers in the Scottish protestant churches between the mid-19th century and 1929, when this parish was gathered back into the Church of Scotland, which denomination it now retains, although it seems even now to display a little more evangelical zeal than you’d encounter among its Auld Kirk counterparts that never left the fold.

The theme of the service was the Holy Spirit, with readings from John 14 and 16 (NIV Bible), and with hymns to match, some of which were old chestnuts (Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty) with yous where the thous and thees used to be, and others I’d never heard before.

The minister kept his mic on during all the hymns, so his voice boomed above all others making the two female vocalists up on the dais completely inaudible. The flute was badly out of tune, but the violin, cello and piano made a pretty good fist of the music and most of the congregation joined in. It was also nice to hear Ebenezer, one of my favourite hymn tunes, being played on the piano as we first came into the church.

“How long will the sermon series on the Holy Spirit last?”, Rev Hair had been asked. He didn’t know, but would be led by the Spirit. This was the first instalment: Meet the Holy Spirit. It would not be a theological treatise, he promised – far from it! Instead it would be about personal experience of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

I’m always slightly suspicious of a clergyman who doesn’t want to talk about theology. The theology’s the best bit! But Rev Hair was earnest and talked well, although he needs to brush up on his Star Wars analogies; I’m no film buff, but I’m sure the hero’s name wasn’t Luke Skywater. Perhaps it was merely a slip of the tongue, but his point was that the Holy Spirit is more than just a force. It, or more correctly He, is a person just like Jesus but whose presence serves to illuminate Jesus in such a way that we often overlook the source of that light. Do we look at the floodlights when Edinburgh Castle’s lit up? No, we look at the castle itself, but without the floodlights we wouldn’t see its majesty so clearly.

This was solid Church of Scotland territory and much as I’d expected it to be, although I was slightly disconcerted by the claim, not by Rev Hair but by another prayer leader, that God is desperate to hear from us. Desperation isn’t something we generally associate with omnipotence. It suggests a craven, needy deity who somehow depends on us for validation. Or did I read too much into an ill-judged choice of vocabulary?

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