Monday, 30 September 2013

New Life in Govan

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking at the Pearce Institute in Govan, Glasgow.  Rev Norman Mackay asked me to speak a little on Thomas Guthrie and his pioneering work in the 1840's in Edinburgh.  It was a real privilege to relate some of what Guthrie did and hear about Norman's exciting vision for Govan.  We were speaking to a group who had come over from America and it was great to see their enthusiasm for Thomas Guthrie and his great legacy in Scotland.  Other speakers included Shirley Berry from the Findlay Family Network and Hugh McKenna from Chanan (Glasgow).  Both of these individuals are pioneering work amongst the most broken and vulnerable people in Glasgow.

The Pearce Institute, Govan, Glasgow

Driving around Govan and other inner city areas of Scotland it's hard not to feel sad and overwhelmed at the lack of hope that seems to permeate every aspect of life.  I was reminded of Guthrie when he came to Edinburgh in September 1837.  As Guthrie stood on George IV Bridge and stared down on the Cowgate these were his reflections;

The streets were a puddle; the heavy air, loaded with smoke, was thick and murky; right below lay the narrow street of dingy tenements, whose toppling chimneys and patched and battered roofs were apt emblems of the fortunes of most of its tenants.  Of these, some were lying over the sills of windows innocent of glass, or stuffed with old hats and old rags; others, course looking women with squalled children in their arms or at their feet stood in groups at the close-mouths - here with empty laughter chaffing any passing acquaintance - there screaming each other down in a drunken brawl, or standing sullen and silent, with hunger and ill-usage in their saddened looks.  A brewers cart, threatening to crush beneath its ponderous wheels the ragged urchins who had no other playground, rumbled over the causeway - drowning the quavering voice of one whose drooping head and scanty dress were ill in harmony with song, but not drowning the shrill pipe of an Irish girl who thumped the back of an unlucky donkey and cried her herrings at 'three-a-penny' (Out of Harness, Thomas Guthrie, p 126).

Guthrie talks about Thomas Chalmers coming up behind him;

Hopeful of success, he surveyed the scene beneath us, and his eye, which often wore a dreamy stare, kindled at the prospect of seeing that wilderness become an Eden, these foul haunts of darkness, drunkenness and disease, changed into "dwellings of the righteous where is heard the voice of melody."  Contemplating the scene for a little in silence, all at once, with his broad Luther-like face glowing with enthusiasm, he waved his arm to exclaim, "A beautiful field, sir; a very fine field of operation" (Out of Harness, Thomas Guthrie, p 130).

Like many Victorian writers Guthrie could be a little 'flowery' in his writing but it is still an incredible story.  Chalmers and Guthrie contended against huge social problems but saw incredible success by the saving power of the gospel.  The same God who transformed Glasgow and Edinburgh in the 1840's can transform Scotland again.

Below is a short article by Norman.  Please pray for him and Alison as they take up this great work.  We need more church planters like Norman if we are to see Scotland won for Christ. 

Living for Eternity
Our family consists of myself (Norman) Alison my wife and two teenage boys Nathan (16) and Peter (14).

As a family we are heading up to what is known as the Govan G51 Church Plant. This is the name given to the latest church planting initiative taken by the Free Church of Scotland in response to the spiritual needs of Scotland’s housing estates. 

I was born in Govan and my family roots in Govan go back 3 generations. Two years ago God began to speak to me and gave me a burden to return to my old housing scheme with the gospel and so began the long process of testing this call by taking it through the courts of the Church all the way to the General Assembly of 2013.

As a result of the General Assembly’s embracing of this vision I stepped down from Falkirk Free Church in June 2013 to relocate in the Govan area of Glasgow and commence this new venture. 

When growing up in Govan I had no church connection at all and contributed nothing to the community I was raised in except the corroding influence of anti-social values. 

Returning with the Gospel will hopefully reverse so much of that.

Inspired By the Past
In the light of these plans I am quite thrilled to discover and read Andy’s Blog Ragged Theology for the simple reason I wholeheartedly agree with his passion for inspiring the church in the present by reigniting her awareness of the glories of her past.

The Senate Room located in the Free Church College building in Edinburgh is a fascinating place, because in that room there is a goldmine of information concerning the history and heritage of the Scottish church. 

Two years ago I was sitting in this room reading through old magazines produced during the formative years of the Free Church of Scotland and all the godly founders such as Thomas Chalmers, Thomas Guthrie and Alexander Duff. 

What was astonishing to me was the extent to which reaching out to the world beyond the church was the heartbeat of the church.  During the 1840's, 50's and 60's the Free Church planted thousands of churches around Scotland.  They were also involved in mission work around the globe and the establishment of schools across Scotland.

Indeed as early as 1850 the statement could be made concerning the Free Church of Scotland:

“Our church as a church is carrying out more fully than perhaps any other church on earth, all the schemes which are fitted to promote the edification of the body of Christ and the evangelisation of the world at home and abroad.”

 In his book “The Puritan Hope” Iain Murray writes:

“The next year [1843] came the historic Disruption of the Church of Scotland……451 ministers seceded to form the Free Church of Scotland with Thomas Chalmers as the first Moderator.  For the next few decades there can be little question that this body became the most missionary minded denomination in Britain”.

As I read through the lives and influences of Guthrie and Chalmers there was born within me a passionate desire to see God work in our day as he did during the era of these great men.

Looking to the past but living for the future 
It seems to me that the way forward for the Free Church of Scotland is to rediscover the glories of our past. This is suggested not with a view to living in the past, but rather with a view to emulating such passionate and missional vision in the present.

This should not seem particularly novel or radical, but rather faithful to our godly heritage.  

In the words of Thomas Chalmers:

“Those who love the honour of the Saviour will long that his kingdom will be extended till all the nations of the earth are brought under his one grand and universal monarchy.”

The procedures adopted by the Free Church of Scotland are codified in a document known as “The Blue Book”. Included therein is a list of questions put to ministers at their ordination. Among these is the following:

“Are not zeal for the honour of God, love to Jesus Christ and the desire of saving souls your great motives and chief inducements to enter into the function of the holy ministry?”
My prayer is to see many souls won in Govan.

New life in Govan
Our plans are to relocate in or around the Govan area, commence Christianity Explored Courses, utilise the Internet, launch a local mini-tabloid newspaper and engage in other forms of evangelism.

Networking with other groups such as Bethany Christian Trust is also an important part of our thinking.

Do pray that God will bless our endeavours to be part of a renewed witness of the Free Church in the Govan area and that our Lord Jesus will be glorified through all our endeavours as a family.

Each of us has only one life to live and it is often shorter that we imagine it will be. In a day of social climbing, material affluence, comfort zones it is healthy to allow spiritual giants of the past such as Guthrie and Chalmers to challenge the spiritual mediocrity of today.

You can keep up with our developments via the Free Church of Scotland Website where news is regularly posted and updated.

In Christ,

Norman, Alison, Nathan and Peter