Sunday, 23 June 2013

St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church

Morning worship, Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, 23 June 2013, 11am
Minister: Rev Ian Y Gilmour

Another Sunday, another piece in the jigsaw of church reshuffles. The burgeoning Baptist congregation at Charlotte Chapel are moving to St George’s West Church, which prompts the question of what became of the St George’s West congregation. Answer: they merged with St Andrew’s and St George’s in 2010, necessitating only the addition of a compass point to the name.

So now there are three former congregations under one roof, and a splendid Georgian roof at that. The oval room isn’t what you expect in a Church of Scotland building, and that’s not the only surprising feature, because there is also a peel of eight bells—church bells are quite rare in this country, for anyone who’s reading this furth of Scotland.

St Andrew’s and St George’s big claim to fame is that it was the scene of the Disruption of 1843, though present-day Edinburghers probably think of it mainly in connection with its annual charity book sale for Christian Aid. As it happened, today was the day they handed over the cheque from their most recent sale, last month, with the following thought from visiting minister Rev David Beckett: just as we marvel at how the Victorians could be so complacent about the wages and living conditions of the poor of their own country, so future generations will wonder how we can be complacent about hunger and poverty elsewhere in the world; every generation has its blind spots. The amount raised, incidentally, was “more than £90,000” according to Beckett, or £105,000 according to the church website; both statements can be true simultaneously.

And Christian Aid wasn’t the only aid organisation getting a mention, because the children’s address was about the work of Mary’s Meals

So what about the service itself? Well, there’s an organ and a choir, who were slightly overstretching themselves with Bob Chilcott’s Jazz Mass but got through it. The congregational singing was just about passable, but I felt as if I was unwillingly playing a round of “one song to the tune of another” – something I should be used to from years of psalm singing, but to me Aberystwyth just is Jesu, lover of my soul, and not Source and Sovereign, Rock and Cloud, as CH4 would have it.

The readings were 1 Kings 19:1-4, 8-15a and Luke 8: 26-39, so we were back in the same territory the Methodists were exploring a fortnight ago, with Elijah fleeing the wrath of Jezebel and Jesus visiting healings on the afflicted, in this case the man whose demons are transferred into the bodies of the Gerasene swine (not “Gadarene” in the NRSV pew bibles). Ian Gilmour asked in his sermon, “What happened next?” Well, Elijah endures the wind, the earthquake and the fire, hears the still, small voice and eventually bestows the mantle of prophecy on Elisha and is taken up to heaven. As for the gospel story, the Gadarenes drive Jesus away (obvious question from Soul Searcher: was it because he cost them a herd of valuable pigs?) but the man whose name was Legion is cured and goes about telling everyone about the miracle.

And then there was a baptism, of a very well-behaved baby called Oscar, which I suppose also made this quite an unusual church visit for me. Six months of assorted churchgoing and only one christening; now I wonder what the statistical odds are.

So that was St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church. Nothing to rant and rave about, really, but that’s the Church of Scotland for you. Even when the institution seems poised to tear itself apart, most individual parishes continue to provide a pleasantly bland worship experience. 

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