Bare Existence

Some folk who have seen and read my posts over recent times have complained, probably justifiably, that I am stuck on the one issue, becoming angry, repeating myself and maybe becoming a bit boring. After reading the open letter to our leaders in the UK yesterday, I realise I need say no more. The letter says it more clearly that I could. This is the text. The highlights are mine

To: The Prime Minister Boris Johnson, First Minister Mark Drakeford, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill

Dear Prime, First and Deputy First Ministers,

As church leaders from across the four nations of the UK, we have been deeply concerned about the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic across society. We have carefully followed government guidance to restrict its spread. But increasingly our concern relates to the damaging effects of anti-Covid restrictions on many of the most important aspects of life.

Our God-given task as Christian ministers and leaders is to point people to Jesus Christ, who said he came to bring ‘life in all its fullness’. Therefore we are troubled by policies which prioritise bare existence at the expense of those things that give quality, meaning and purpose to life. Increasingly severe restrictions are having a powerful dehumanising effect on people’s lives, resulting in a growing wave of loneliness, anxiety and damaged mental health. This particularly affects the disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society, even as it erodes precious freedoms for all. In our churches, many have been working tirelessly to provide help to those most affected.

We entirely support proportionate measures to protect those most vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2. But we question whether the UK Government and the devolved administrations have it in their power either to eliminate this virus or to suppress it for an indefinite period while we await a vaccine. And we cannot support attempts to achieve these which, in our view, cause more damage to people, families and society – physically and spiritually – than the virus itself.

The public worship of the Christian church is particularly essential for our nation’s wellbeing. As we live in the shadow of a virus we are unable to control, people urgently need the opportunity to hear and experience the good news and hope of Jesus Christ, who holds our lives in his hands. The supportive relationships that churches nurture between people are vital, and simply cannot be dispensed with again without significant harm. And most of all, we know that regular gathering to worship God is essential for human life to be lived to the full.

We have been and will remain, very careful to apply rigorous hygiene, social distancing and appropriate risk assessment in our churches. As a result, church worship presents a hugely lesser risk of transmission than pubs, restaurants, gyms, offices and schools; and it is more important than them all. We therefore wish to state categorically that we must not be asked to suspend Christian worship again. For us to do so would cause serious damage to our congregations, our service of the nation, and our duty as Christian ministers.

We therefore call upon the Westminster and devolved governments to find ways of protecting those who truly are vulnerable to Covid-19 without unnecessary and authoritarian restrictions on loving families, essential personal relationships, and the worship of the Christian Church.

Yours faithfully,

Rev A Paul Levy, Minister, Ealing International Presbyterian Church, London
Rev David M Gobbett, Lead Minister, Highfields Church Cardiff, Wales
Rev Dr William JU Philip, Minister, The Tron Church, Glasgow, Scotland
Rev David Johnston, Minister Emeritus – Presbyterian Church in Ireland 
Rev Dr Matthew PW Roberts, Minister, Trinity Church York, England

Reluctant Anger

I often write angry letters and emails and never send them. A while back I remember getting my secretary to type a letter (immediately you know that really was a long time ago). I had scribbled it out in fury after been treated very badly. The indignation spilled out of me and I squeezed every bit of venom out of my pen. When she gave me the draft, she just looked at me and uncharacteristically offered some advice “That’s a really good letter” she said “It’s well written and totally justified .. and … you should bin it.”  It was a snatch of wisdom I haven’t forgotten. It is always a good practice to leave something you have written in a kind of quarantine for a while before you send it. Because, as we all know, it is too late afterwards. It can’t be unsent. 

I have been holding fire on a letter (one of many) to our first minister for over a week now and it was about to be dropped in the bin, but on hearing the daily briefing yesterday and hearing of the distress to a very good friend, I caught it just before it fell.

She is a dear friend and is quite distraught because she is prohibited from being at the funeral of a family member because of the ridiculous and wholly arbitrary cap of 20 persons. Because of these cruel regulations she is unable to be physically there to support her own daughter at this critical moment. The moment when a physical presence is so important.  It is so cruel and it is so unnecessary. It points up how serious this whole thing is and there is no end to the folly of it.

Anyway, this was my letter and I suppose, in journalist parlance, it is now an “open letter”

————————————————————————————————————————- 

Rt Hon Nicola Sturgeon

Dear First Minister

LIFTING LOCK-DOWN

I am sorry to add to your inbox with yet another letter. I guess you may not have the time to reply or perhaps even read it, but I am writing out of sheer desperation and not a little anger when I see the continuing and needless destruction of so much of our national life in the fixation and obsession with this virus and the folly (for that is clearly what it is) of the continuing and re-introduction of lockdowns and all the associated restrictions on the business of living.

This is not about me or my family or my grandchildren but the health of our people, physical, psychological, mental, social and spiritual, which has been severely damaged by this obsession and the ugly business of the state interfering in our own personal lives, treating us like children and scolding us on our behaviour. I can tell you it is a painful and embarrassing business listening to the daily reprimands and the patronising and condescending encouragements to be subservient.

Is this what an independent Scotland is going to look like?  Will this be the new normal?

My particular responsibility, as an elder in our local church, is for the care of our people and the community around us. From the start we have obediently followed all the rules and the guidance and have shut up our building depriving the people from coming together to worship God, to pray together, to sing and to hear the Gospel  and all the unseen pastoral work that goes along with that, for almost half a year now. The damage that has been done and continues to be done to the lives of so many, some who are very vulnerable people, and to our society as a whole, is uncalculatable. It is difficult to put into words what a terrible thing this is. The trouble is that it is not seen. It does not register in hospital admissions or Covid positive cases. It does not directly impact on the economy. So, it is extremely galling that we are still under the burden of these quite ridiculous regulations.

Really, First Minister, if anyone actually thought about it for a moment, they would realise that it is wholly unjust and discriminatory and does not make sense at all. To allow pubs and cafes and restaurants to open almost as normal yet impose insane restrictions on churches is quite bizarre.  You can have a glass of wine and a pack of crisps in a pub but you cannot share in a communion service. Children can return to school but cannot go to Sunday School.

I wonder if anyone in your advisory team actually knows what happens in churches or how it works? The church is not a club of people with a niche interest, people who like and are helped by that kind of thing or a fringe group weirdly concerned with airy fairy spiritual things. People don’t go to church, like they would to dancing classes, yoga or meditation or because it works for them. It is something quite different. The church is the people gathered from all walks of life and backgrounds, languages and cultures to worship God. And It is a family. It is understandable that people who are not involved in church perhaps do not realise this. We are a family made up of old and young, singles, married, young families, internationals, professionals, tradespeople, unemployed, students, confident and vulnerable. It is anathema to expect our church family to que at the door, wear a mask, be shown to a seat, arbitrarily distance from others, not to talk, mingle, speak before during or after the service, not share a cup of tea not sing, to have their details recorded and to leave without the chance to share fellowship, problems, worries, struggles, happiness, joys and every human experience. We would be exchanging an atmosphere of welcome to one of suspicion, instead of inclusion, exclusion, instead of help and support, distance and cold detachment, instead of comfort, a cold glass of water.  It would be like treating people as lepers. People who might have a terrible disease and might infect us, or we them. We can’t do that. We can’t live in fear. We have to follow Jesus who touched lepers when no one else would.

Meeting like this, whatever you might call it, is not a Worship service. A family would not exist or function under these restrictions. It is like saying the pubs can reopen but no one is allowed to drink, or the shops, but you must not purchase anything.

Today, a dear friend of ours explained how she would not be allowed to be at a family funeral and not able to be present and support her grieving daughter at this most critical time, and all because of an arbitrary cap on numbers at funeral services. She is distraught. We can hardly believe it and are saddened and quite appalled.

Please, please, this has gone for far far too long. The risks are so negligible. What people lose over this time cannot be recovered. The lives of our people are so much more important than not losing face or doing another Uturn. Continuing with these restrictions is completely disproportionate to the risk . Please, please, lift all these restrictions now.

Yours most sincerely

Crawford Mackenzie

Up close and personal

The utter stupidity of the idiotic continuation of the “social distancing” mantra is laid bare each day and it is hard to believe that this can continue for very much longer. After a five hours masked train journey in almost deserted carriages, the sleepy Yorkshire town, I visited with my client, was like normal, with lively closed packed pubs and restaurants, open inside and out and not a mask in sight. Something has to give, before the whole thing ends in total farce.

One of the most revealing things is the importance given to certain activities over others. This was clear from the beginning of the lock-down fiasco,when the retail outlets considered essential, not only included food and medication, but bike shops, pet shops and off licences. It had, as others have said before, all the marks of a prison regime, so food, medicine, a time in the exercise yard and a blind eye turned to alcohol and drugs to keep the lid on the thing, was the way to go. But it has also been clear in the areas where the best efforts are made to bring things back to a level of normality. The economy of course was first, getting people back to work, which may not be easy as we think. But then there was sport and the continuation of the English premier league which could not be allowed to fail. Then the pubs and restaurants, hair dressers and tattoo artists and most recently the tourism industry, with special financial help. Today I read that, under new guidelines, actors, apparently, can now be filmed kissing in intimate scenes where touching will be allowed. The relaxation was introduced after it became clear that social distancing filming would ruin such scenes. So, there we have it. The two-dimensional fantasy world, it turns out, is more important that the real world of relationships between real people, real families, real friends, real communities.

In our local church we have been agonising, for some time now, over when and how we can return to meeting together, to worship God and sing and pray and share fellowship, uncluttered by all the rules and regulations. The loss of this life-giving activity is sorely felt and we may not know for some time what the cost of this deprivation on the lives of so many will be. The technological innovations have, of course, helped but nothing replaces incarnation.  How can you welcome, share, empathise, listen, get near, encourage, challenge, show sympathy,concern and all the things that go in a living fellowship of people, at two metres distance? How can you feel one when you are divided? How can you feel together when you are physically separated   It is very divisive subject, as there are some who, with every good reason, are extremely anxious and others who are quite sceptical about the whole thing.  The issue is not over cleanliness, hand sanitising, deep cleaning of premises, surfaces, books etc but over this horrible anti-social prohibition.

Now I know that it is unlikely that a secular government would see or know this. Why should they? “People of faith” as they call them are seen as a wee bit odd anyway and it is unlikely that they would have any idea of what goes on a church. But the church’s passivity over it is disappointing as it is troubling.

Crawford Mackenzie


[1] Which should properly be called the English premier league as there was a premier league in Scotland before the English one.

Just three links

Posting links to other people’s thoughts seems a lazy way of doing things but now and again someone says something which expresses exactly how you feel, which seems so spot on and puts into words what you were thinking but were somehow unable to say. Sometimes they even appear in the main stream media.

Here are three such pieces, published in the past few days, one which I came upon myself, but the others which I have to thank David and Rachel for pointing them out to me.

The first is Jonathan Sumption on what we are doing to our children https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2020/06/12/damaging-generation-children/ ,

The second is Helen Coffey on what we are doing to our church family https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/coronavirus-life-after-lockdown-things-we-miss-church-christian-faith-a9550606.html

The third is Neil Mackay on what we are doing to our humanity https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/18510141.opinion-neil-mackay-inventing-post-covid-scotland-stripped-humanity/

Crawford Mackenzie

Beyond Bizarre

We are going to need some new words. Bizarre is no longer strong enough and insanity and madness barely get to the mark. Once we have heard the craziest pronouncement from a government official another one comes along to top even that, when we hardly thought it possible. The theatrical antics on display daily in these strange scenes at the tri-podium draped with a surreal strapline, the minister flanked by their advisors, the chiefs of staff from the twin pillars of science and medicine, with the meek media dutifully waiting their turn to pose an innocuous question, have a strange comic element to them. It is really hard to take seriously. These people must be having a laugh. But it doesn’t seem they are.  Yet you wonder why they would put them themselves through this trial each day. In the age of twitter, it seems hardly necessary. I particularly feel for Scotland’s First minister who seldom seems to be able to trust a depute for the task. Perhaps it gives extra kudos and gravitas to the words being said. Perhaps it carries a level of sobriety to the situation in the hope that the public get the message. But the trouble is with all these things the effect quickly wears off and people can get pretty bored with the figures, the predictable pattern and the school teachery scolding.

One of the weirdest things is the way that Ministers are so suddenly involved in the detail and minutia of our lives. If someone told you this would happen a year ago, you would not believe them. So many activities are now being micro managed, whether its to do with care homes or protective gear of what we can do and where and when and how. So much is now about our personal lives and behaviour. We have, for example, the repeated mantra about handwashing. Goodness me, we have been reminded so often, since we were little, that we should always wash our hands. It was on every sign in a public toilet “Now wash your hands”. We have been told that our hands are the dirtiest part for our bodies and that it is the most important thing in food hygiene. We’ve known that for years, still, it now needs the government, of all people, to tell us, dirty beggars that we are.

And then we have the quite bizarre advice at a recent briefing that our trips should factor in when we might need to stop for the toilet and the even more bizarre advice for couples living separately, when they could meet up for intimate relations. It makes you realise ‘Gosh, they think we are children’ and they say that they want to treat us like adults! Well I suppose that figures. It’s what we say to children – “Now I want to treat like adults”.

The quite unnecessary and over the top intrusion into personal behaviour follows the intrusion into other aspects of public life and work. Two specific areas where I have involvement, the building industry and the church, demonstrate this so well.

THE BUILDING INDUSTRY

The closure of all building sites by the Scottish Government will, I am sure, turn out to be a monumental disaster for an industry that has never really been all that well organised. Yet I wonder if those who advised on the decision have any clue about what goes on in a building site. Most work is out of doors where the possibility of contacting a virus is almost non-existent. Even when the work is indoors the area is seldom sealed. It is most often open to the elements, with air constantly moving and not the environment favoured by viruses. The real dangers are dust and fumes, falling from heights, electrocution and machinery, the later three which account for the majority of accidents on site. In addition, building contractors have strict controls on health and safety and this is one of the reasons why accidents and deaths have been drastically reduced in the past decades. And, there are trade unions who keep a keen watch on the health conditions of workers. Managers of building sites are then perfectly able to act responsibly and deal sensibly with a crisis of this kind. But no, it needs big government to step in and tell them to close and what they have to do when they re-open.

THE CHURCH

It’s the same with churches. Many congregations had already put in place sensible precautions and some had cancelled services well before the lock-down was announced.  But instead of allowing responsible church administrators to make their own judgements about what action to take, the government had to come in, close the churches and will only allow them to re-opened if certain conditions are met and when “it is safe to do so”.  In this crazy new world, it is the government, apparently, who are the arbiters of what is and what isn’t safe. The guidelines themselves, make a mockery of what a church is and what it means to come together to worship God. As with building sites, I suspect that those who have made these decisions have no idea what goes on in a church building. 

Thinking through and trying to picture what a phase three “Covid compliant” opening would look like, makes us realise that it will be almost farcical. Some measures are, of course, quite sensible and actions that any responsible organisations would take: such as a high level of regular cleaning of surfaces and hand sanitisers at entrances, but others would be quite disproportionate.  Take “Social distancing”, as an example, that creepy Orwellian phrase designed to make quarantine sound palatable.  If we hold strictly to this policy, it will cut into just about everything we do and almost every aspect of how we function as a local congregation. It does violence to the whole idea of coming together. There has been suggestion that singing, which increase aerosol range, should be banned and musical instruments too, especially brass and woodwind.  Hymnbooks, bibles, psalteries and all books and leaflets would be removed and tea, coffee and mingling quite out of the question. Have we really grasped what this would mean? How can you welcome a visitor across a strict two metre divide? How can you carry out any meaningful pastoral conversation with that invisible chasm between you and the person? How can you really relate, show sympathy, concern, support or effectively listen from behind a mask? How can you build trust when the overriding message is one of fear and mistrust?  It just doesn’t work. All the important things we intuitively learn from body language, all the small movements that tell us so much, the posture, the movement of the hands and  eye as well as our own attempts to comfort and encourage with the holding of a hand or touching of a shoulder, all of this will be lost.

If it is still our intention to maintain a liberal democracy and cherish freedom then it really is time that  government be told, politely but firmly, to stay out of our lives. How we manage our own affairs, how we conduct our lives is none of their business. It is surely also time for business and organisations, churches, schools, clubs and societies to to step up to the plate and remind the government that they have been doing this for some time now, that they do care and that they do know what they are doing. It is time to say “Gives us a break – stick to your job and we will stick to ours.”

Crawford Mackenzie

Let us go

Walking through the park in the beautiful yet eerie stillness of the morning, the words to Psalm 122 come to mind. I know them off by heart and recite them to myself. I also know them in the 1620  metrical form. We sang it as children to the 18c tune St Paul  with the almost clumsy double note at the end of the line in the second verse, to cope with the extra syllable. I remember singing it on one summer Sunday morning  on the Isle of Muck. We had travelled earlier in a launch from our home in the nearby island of Eigg and scrambled over the slippy rocks to be treated to tea and fresh scones before making our way up to the school building. Through the tall windows behind the make shift pulpit, some sheep had left off their grazing to stare at the strange creatures standing inside singing. Somehow the relevance of the psalm, with the tribes gathering in Jerusalem and the houses packed together, so far away in space and time was quite lost on me. But today they have a special resonance.

The Psalm moves beautifully and quickly from the first person to the second to the third and then to the destination the home of the King. “I was glad when they said to me let us go to the house of the Lord”. It is full of movement in a single direction, a going up, a coming together, a closeness, a sense of belonging, and a sense of security, prosperity and of peace. You know that the Psalm writer is not describing something ephemeral, virtual or abstract. He is not talking about an idea, but an actual physical event and the joy that the invitation gives him.

Deprived of that special blessing, meeting each week together in church, I feel the loss so keenly today. This absence makes the heart go much more than a little bit fonder and the virtual replacements only make the longing for the reality that bit more intense.  We have a weekly digital service and a sermon from one of the finest young preachers I know and afterwards we have digital coffee in cyberspace with our online home group. It is astonishing what technology has achieved and the blessings that can come from it, but it just doesn’t compare.   

And I wonder why the church has, without, it seems any protest or question, followed the government instructions, cancelled services and closed buildings and so easily surrendered this most precious thing.   It is not, of course, surprising that a secular government would view these gatherings as an unnecessary luxury in a crisis, while bicycle shops, pet shops, DIY  centres, and off-licences on the other hand, are seen as essential to life. It is surprising, that the churches themselves think so too.

Still, in the vacuum, with social distancing, in the new normal, I will pray for the peace and security of Jerusalem. “For the sake of the house of the Lord our God I will seek your good”

The Scream: 2 Without a whimper

It is Sunday and I wake up like a child on Christmas morning. “This is the day that the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad in it.” It is the Lord’s day. It’s not mine; It’s not ours; it is his day. But it is a day he has given us for our good and for our pleasure and we find our true satisfaction and true joy when we worship him. Because that is what we were made for.

Just to take the time to sit and read the Bible, the psalms, proverbs and the gospels and let the words sink in, so that they soak our whole being and we begin to voice some of our deepest thoughts and desires in prayer. The embers of a dying fire are once again revived and we see things so much more clearly. We remember who we are and we know who we belong to. There is nothing quite like it.  

But…. Today has to be different. The special joy of meeting with God’s people: the motley crew of polished stones and rough diamonds, the children and pensioners, the individuals and the small families, the artists and poets, the teachers and electricians, the carers and surgeons, the geeks and luddites, the visitors from all continents, the confident and the not so sure…..in the public reading of scripture, the drawing together of pastoral prayer, the rapt attention on the preaching of God’s Word and the singing… the singing together with voices in glorious harmony rising up, it seems, to heaven… all of that will be missing today and I am bereft.

Totalitarian regimes have been trying for centuries to close churches. Strange that in one swoop our government, and others, have achieved that with barely a whimper of protest.

Postcards from Haiti 7

IMG_9780The Church

The church meets in a rented building outside the courthouse. Like everything else it is built of concrete and tin and has a bombed-out look with vent holes, which, for all the world, could have been made by shells. It is filled with wooden benches, a dais at the front with fabric drapes, a lectern and a band section with drums and massive speakers. At the rear is a small room with a toilet and here a homeless family live. From the outside it looks grim, all misshapen concrete with holes as windows and two ill fitting metal doors opening out wards onto sand. At the top is an attempt at a church like pediment unfinished. These are all things you notice at first, but strangely with every visit it becomes familiar even homely and invested with a sense of peace and blessing. It is open every day and people come to pray or sit or lay out on the benches while prayer and praise services happen in the middle of the day.

The service begins at 8am but we get there at half past and mingle with the crowd outside. The pastor leads us in, through the narrow aisle between swaying sweaty bodies up to the front . The band is in full swing and the congregation with raised arms are dancing in praise. The noise is incredible, as the silence is remarkable when the bible is being read and the sermon preached punctuated only by a chorus of “Amen” and “Hallelujah” . Various elders take turns to lead in praise and we are welcomed. Richard brings greetings from the church in Scotland.

Later he preaches with the Pastor translating, but before that, the proposal for the new school and church building is presented and discussed. This was particularly useful as we now have a much clearer picture of what the people want and need and not so much what we or the architect, think they should have. Despite my initial misgivings (my design was effectively binned) I am heartened, as it represented an act of genuine consultation. The service continues, with the sermon, more praise and prayer and closes with the blessing. A Sunday school starts followed by a second service and, six hours later, we make our way back to the hotel in the ferocious heat. It was hard to take in. There were 400-500 at each service and 300plus at the Sunday school. The congregation is exploding. There were 6 new communicants admitted that day. The irrepressible joy expressed in worship seems contagious and we need time to think.

A Purposeful Habit 4

Reading the Bible.

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It is hard to speak about private daily devotions, because they are, just that, private. In some ways it is an intimate thing. It is better to be doing it than talking about it. Sometimes sharing on the subject can be singularly unhelpful. When hearing about the person who gets up at 5am and reads through the whole of Jeremiah, one of the Gospels and Psalm 119, before spending two hours in prayer, for lists of people in their prayer book, you are tempted to say “Oh come on, get a life”. They are not usually people who have been up half the night dealing with a vomiting child, struggling to get a teenager out of bed, living with a flatmate who left the kitchen in a tip, coping with a husband on the drink, caring for a demanding elderly relative or someone who has to work night shifts.  These testimonies are given with an encouraging intention but the effect is demoralisation. You might just want to give up. So we are treading on thin ice, walking over glass here. It’s just a shame that we find it so hard to talk or enquire about. In all my Christian life no one has asked me “How are you finding your daily reading of the Bible, Crawford?”  I wish they had. There again, I guess I might have told them just to mind their own business.

I have been a Christian a follower of Jesus for as long as I remember. So it’s maybe quite strange and even shocking, (it’s shocking to me) that it is only in the past year or so, that I have finally learned something about the practice of daily bible readings. Something I should have known years ago. It was not that I was never taught, more that I was never listening.

With the strong influence of Scripture Union, Churches and other organisations, I have tried to follow schemes compiled to help us find a way through the bible. Often these would be supplied with helpful notes and encouragements to think through the passage as well as to see how this impacts our life with pointers for prayer. But I always found the imposition of this kind of discipline from outside hard to deal with, which probably says more about my stubbornness than anything else. The critical point came when I would embark on a scheme with very good intentions and then fail and fail again and it led to a spiral of discouragement and resignation.  That way of doing things clearly works for so many people, maybe be most Christians. I don’t know. But they didn’t work for me.

It was when a wise pastor told me, while in my teens, that the Christian life was an integrated life and not a disconnected deconstructed series of activities with boxes to tick, that the light dawned. A “quiet time” could be useful, but not if it became just another thing to do. Something to gain points and help make you feel better about yourself. That, like much of what this pastor said was liberating and I felt a tremendous freedom and a new delight in reading God’s word. Yet in this freedom there still needed to be some discipline, some order, some plan, some direction. It was easy to find yourself in the books of the bible that you liked, parts that suited your temperament. For me it was the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Mark’s Gospel and Paul’s “happier” letters to the Thessalonians and Philippi. I didn’t go naturally to Romans or Ephesians, avoided Hebrews and pretty well ignored large swathes of the Old Testament. It was also easy to pick out nice helpful bits here and there, often quite out of context.

So over the years my bible reading has at best been sporadic, reading to prepare for something: preaching, leading a group, giving a talk, a children’s’ holiday club, working on material for a song, or anything that took my fancy.   Please don’t get me wrong. You do learn so much when you are trying to teach others. Sometime you only fully grasp a truth when you are trying to communicate with others. But the practice of daily bible reading, unconnected with any preparation or activity, for me, was a very hit and miss affair and there was no pattern to it.

So what has changed and what made the difference?

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Well a number of things. Coming to the church we now belong to, was one of them.  It was not the reason for coming, (that is another story) and in a way there was nothing especially different about it, but it was under the ministry of David Robertson that I found a new focus on the Bible as God’s word. It was not that the Bible was not central in the churches where we had previously belonged.  It was.  But here, for me, it took on a new dimension. It was moving up a gear. It was being pulled nearer to where I should have been. It was having my ears syringed. It seemed that the whole of the church’s life was soaked in the whole of God’s word. It was never an add-on.

Another was reading a book by Sinclair Ferguson “From the mouth of God”, which I can’t commend highly enough to anyone who wants to read the bible. It is straightforward, easy to understand, follow and demonstrates with great clarity why we can trust the Bible, how we read it and how we can apply it to every aspect of life.

Another was a comment by Dominic Smart in a monthly letter to his congregation in Aberdeen. It was that reading the bible should be first before anything else. Hearing what God has to say should be before listening to anyone else.

Another was something Billy Graham said in a video, following a campaign some years ago, when he described his daily practice of reading a psalm each day to re-orientate himself with God, and reading the Proverbs to relate to the world we live in.

Another was something from a book, I didn’t read, but which was quoted to me, on meditation and the serious contemplation of Scripture.

So this is what I try and do:

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I try, each day, to make God’s word the first thing that enters my mind: before reading what other people say about it, before listening to, or reading the news, before hearing the musings of clever people or the prattling of a radio commentator, before social media, before listening to music, because music itself speaks to you. Before all these I want to hear God’s voice.

So I read through books of the Bible, generally a chapter a day, with the intent of covering and continuing to cover the whole: a gospel, one of Paul’s letters, one of the prophets, a book of history or wisdom or from the Pentateuch. Then I read a Psalm, working consequently through the ancient songbook and finally I read a chapter from the book of Proverbs which is helpfully divided into 31 so you know where you are in the month. The practical wisdom alone in the later speaks right into the day whether it is work or any other activity.

Then I get outside for a walk: for the the fresh air, to meditate, to let the words, the thoughts, the pictures, the poetry, the wisdom soak into my being and to wonder at the reality of God’s presence and  bask in his love.

That is what I try to do but even as I write this, it sounds almost formulaic, prescriptive and the very thing I was railing against earlier in this piece. But I know that the experience, the reality and the blessings that pour from this purposeful habit, however that habit is integrated in a life, cannot be measured.

Crawford Mackenzie

 

Let us haste to Kelvingrove

They don’t ask me now, but people used to pose the question “As an architect and a Christian, wouldn’t you like to design a Church Building”   They were generally disappointed when I said “No, not really”  You see, I had no desire, inspiration or passion to design a church.  I had always believed (and still do) that the church is not a building.  It is the people of God wherever they are and wherever the met. The building was and is incidental.  That is not to say that I was not deeply affected and sometimes awe struck when visiting great church buildings: with the sheer majesty of the cathedral church of Notre-Dame de Reims, with the intimacy and simplicity of the parish church on Papa Stour, with monasteries in Romania and reformed churches in Hungary, with the work of Alvar Aalto and Corbusier especially with Notre Dame du Haut and many many more. Yet my appreciation of these building was perhaps esoteric and detached and I would have no conviction that they related at all to a real and living church, a gathering of God’s people for worship and service. There was a disconnect in my mind.

trinity church 1

I had qualified in 1973 and worked for 7 years with the late Jack Notman in Glasgow.  His output as far as building was not prolific but I learned much during my time with him. I still follow the principles that I learned then: designing buildings, that were of quality and would last, that would provide comfort and convenience and would be life affirming for those who use them, that were designed using the simple elements of space, light, materials, colour and textures, examining how spaces connect with each other, how people move though a building and what it says about who we are and what we are about. The aim was always to achieve something of real value with a timeless quality.

trinity church 3

Towards the end of my time with Jack Notman, I was involved in a number of significant projects, among them, the conversation of  Trinity Congregational Church, in the west end of Glasgow, as a rehearsal and concert hall for the then Scottish National Orchestra (now the RSNO). It was a very interesting project as it involved changing the role of the building from an ecclesiastical one to an arts and entertainment one. It was challenge to de- ecclesiasticise the structure, while retaining its character. It was opened by Princess Margaret in 1978, became a very successful project, won several awards and remained the home for the orchestra up until very recently.   Not long after it was opened, I was at a concert with a friend, who was a minister and, during the interval, he turned to me and said “This would make a good church”.  The throw-a-way comment stuck with me and I came to see that Church Buildings are, in fact, important. They do matter and like the clothes we wear, affect how we feel about ourselves and how others view us.  So began, for me, a new direction in the adapting and refurbishing of church buildings, altering, extending, re-ordering, refreshing , preparing feasibility studies and designs for new buildings which has extended to over 50 individual projects for a wide variety of Christian denominations.

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So it is not difficult to understand my surprise and my delight when I heard, just this week, that Trinity Congregational Church designed by John Honeyman in 1863, converted into the Henry Wood Hall by Jack Notman in 1978 was to begin a third life as a Church Building in 2016 as The Tron Kelvingrove.

Crawford Mackenzie

(I was not the Job Architect on this project but helped with drawings and details. The person who was, and who did all the real work on it, was Nigel Duncan)