Sunday, 22 September 2013

Old Schoolhouse Christian Fellowship

Sunday Morning Service, Sunday 22 September 2013, 11am
Led by: didn’t learn his name
Speaker: Charles Tulloch

Shades of Bellevue Chapel at this morning’s church, which offered not so much a service as a fundraising speech and some holiday snaps, but with better music than at Bellevue … and birthday cake.

The Old Schoolhouse seats sixty and was almost full, but many people were visitors.
After being asked three times if I was from St Columba’s, I had to ask, “Which St Columba’s?”. It seems that the Old Schoolhouse congregation is dwindling, the young folk having upped sticks and decamped to Central: Jesus at the Heart (for those who like that sort of thing, as a famous Morningside lady once said), and that St Columba’s Free Church is coming in to plant a new church and revive the OSH’s fortunes. This makes sense for the Free Church vis-à-vis its geographical coverage of Edinburgh, and I’m sure it can’t be easy for an independent Brethren group to keep going without wider denominational support. At least, I hope I’m right to categorise the OSH as Brethren in my list of churches, based on the history page of its website.

The minister/pastor, whose name I didn’t learn, had been on holiday to Austria. He likes mountains – “all the best scenery is where glaciers have been carving things out” – and can’t understand why anyone would ever go to Holland, because it’s totally flat and there’s nothing to do there. He showed slides of the peaks he’d climbed, on the descent from which he had sung the hymns chosen for this morning: To God be the glory, great things he hath done; Praise the Saviour, ye who know him; Jesus is Lord, creation’s voice proclaims it; and Lord, thy word abideth. And despite the computer having thrown “a hissy fit” before the service began, the technical stuff all went smoothly.

The reading was Luke 8:4-15 (NIV), the parable of the sower, which was the set-up for guest speaker Charles Tulloch’s talk about the work of the Gideons International, described as an organisation of “Christian professional businessmen and their wives”. No businesswomen or their husbands, then? No single women? No blue-collar workers? Or maybe the Soul Searcher’s asking a few daft lassie questions there.

The Gideons give out 80 million “scriptures” (by which I assume he means both whole bibles and New Testaments) a year in 195 countries, only 10 of which raise enough money to pay for the books they distribute, so in the UK 49% of money raised goes towards purchasing books for overseas distribution. That’s a lot of books by anyone’s standards.

Not every school will allow the Gideons to distribute bibles to their pupils, but in a month when the Scottish press has carried stories about the religious indoctrination of children and the dissemination of creationist literature in state schools, the minister/pastor rejoiced in the fact that a bible distribution session in a local school (unnamed) had allowed him to turn a lesson on euthanasia into a discussion of Christ’s return and the promise of eternal life. Because for those who believe in Jesus, everything is going to be all right.

Well, I’ve no objection to such discussions in the context of a comparative religion class, and at least he’s not a young-earth creationist, or he wouldn’t have credited the glaciers for the Austrian landscape. But does it mean that the kids never got their euthanasia debate?

There was coffee, and cake, and chat. Everyone was very nice and friendly, but it left me asking myself, “Yes … but?” It’s unlikely to tempt me back in its current form, although maybe the St Columba’s deal will give the Old Schoolhouse a new lease of life. 

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