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.

trinity church 2

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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bartlett and the Bible

Glynn Harrison has written an extraordinary article in the new edition of “Solas”  “The long shadow” http://www.solas-cpc.org/wp/solas-resources/solas-magazine-launch/ with a very telling insight into the impact of the sexual revolution on our society, from a Christian world view. It is a challenging critique of how the church has failed to respond to this revolution, been caught napping and generally been unable to speak the good news into it. “Our culture has a good sense of what we are against, but what are we for?”  With some noble and notable exceptions, the church has, in the heat of the debate, been found wanting. There has been a deficit in intellectual integrity, a deficit in creativity, a deficit in articulation and a deficit in humour. In contrast the sexual revolution, which was a revolution of ideas, held all the cards and knew how to present the case: the use of the media, being one of the principal planks of that presentation.

For me, nothing exemplifies this more than “Bartlett and the Bible” a scene from the television series “The West Wing”. Jed Bartlett is the president of the USA and throughout the series he exudes a quality of humanity that somehow you do not expect in a politician, far less in the leader of the “free world”. You cannot but warm to him and take to the way he acts, how he responds to his aids and his family, how he seems to genuinely care for the people and takes the responsibility of his office so seriously and even how he shows his failings. It is very endearing. He comes over as such a genuinely good man that people often say they would vote for him if his name was on the ticket. Many have even tried to persuade Martin Sheen, who is a real person, to do just that to stand for president.

The scene in question can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CPjWd4MUXs but there is hardly any need to supply the link as you would have to be a stranger to YouTube or social media not to have come across it.  It is a very clever, funny and accomplished display by the president of the United States of America where he wipes the floor with the priggish upstart of a radio presenter, in what has become an iconic put down. At a stroke he exposes the inconsistency, hypocrisy, sheer stupidity, and the censorious and unloving attitude of the conservative biblical right. It’s a great laugh and so often as I have engaged with a facebook discussion on the subject it has been brought in to the thread to prove a point and it does just that. It is the killer punch which finally finishes off the argument. There is no more that can be said. The argument is won and lost.

But take a moment to look at the clip, for it is a perfect example of how the media can be used, not simply to make a point but, to close an argument. Ged Bartlett is a fictional character and the scene has been invented in someone’s mind. The dialogue has been written. It is not a real discussion. In fact it is not a discussion at all more of a monologue in which the president berates the limp presenter with a series of quick fire questions.  He does not allow her space or even the opportunity to answer the questions. The implication is clear. There are no answers. Any fool would see that.  He roundly castigates, viscously mocks and abuses her verbally, in way that would make any misogynist proud. It is a blatant display of merciless bullying by a powerful man, while his staff and advisors stand pathetically bye, sheepishly silent, unwilling or unable to take him to task. It ends when he completes the ritual humiliation by forcing her to stand, as everyone must do, in his presence. It is from every angle an appalling display yet I have heard nothing but applause for it and the way people continue to share the clip shows that they see nothing wrong with that aspect of it.

Leaving the bullying and the abuse to the side, the fact that there is no space for a response, a challenge or even offering answers to the questions, shows how propagandist the piece really is. Given the space and the opportunity, which any fair minded person would, there are very obvious responses that could be made. There are answers to the questions too. Timothy Keller at http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/making-sense-of-scriptures-inconsistency gives a perfectly reasoned and convincing response to the charge of inconsistency and others have done so too. But in the media world, these voices are hardly ever heard and it is left to a few to speak out, to challenge the omnidirectional flood of thought, to stick a head above the parapet and face the torrents of abuse and even death threats that come with the territory.

Glynn Harrison’s challenge to the church is simply to tell the good news into this long shadow. “The good news that God has not left us alone. In scripture he not only reveals who he is, but he shows us who we are: he speaks our identity to us.”. That will need resourcefulness, intellectual integrity commitment, creativity and courage, but more than anything, belief in it.

Crawford Mackenzie

A Purposeful Habit 2

cellThe Four Disciplines

I met Dan (not his real name) some years ago when I was visiting a local prison not far from where I live.  I was with a small group of volunteers who went into the prison once a week to meet, chat, share coffee and biscuits and have a bible study  with the men who were interested enough to come. Dan shared in the sessions and we talked a lot. He seemed genuinely interested in discovering Jesus and, I believe, came to faith in him over that time. As volunteers we would often ask after home, and family and work and how long they had before release, but we had one self-imposed rule, which we rigidly kept to – never to ask why they were there. It was simply not our business or our concern. Occasionally, however, some would tell us and Dan let me see his papers: the documents that had been put together to process his appeal for parole.  As well as making an assessment on his character and his suitability for release, they described the actual crime in forensic detail. It involved arson and murder and made for chilling reading. It was hard to reconcile these awful facts with the man sitting beside me drinking coffee and the kind of person that your heart seems to go out to. But sharing in our study of the bible I knew and we knew that before God we were all in the same boat and neither of us had a leg to stand on.

When it came close to his release date or “liberation” as they called it,  Dan became more anxious about how he would be able to continue in his Christian life outside, when he was back in his old environment and under the influence of his old friends. He feared that he would simply return to his old ways.  “I don’t think my faith is strong enough” he would say, “I don’t think I have a good enough hold on God”. I did my best to reassure him by pointing out that it was God who had a hold of him and I tried to offer some practical advice. I suggested four things that were essential in the Christian life: things that you had to work at and make your habit, because they didn’t come naturally. At times it would be a struggle, often a battle as malign and subtle forces pitted against you, intent on damaging your new life and your new desire to follow Jesus Christ.  You had to practice them and continue practising, so that they would become part of you. It had to be a discipline and a regular one – weekly, daily, hourly, and at all times.

If you know anything about the Christian Faith you will know that they are:

  • Praying to God by his Spirit in Jesus’ name
  • Reading the Bible, recognising it as God’s Holy Word, inspired by His Spirit proclaiming Jesus
  • Meeting with other followers of Jesus, to worship God
  • Doing Good, as an expression of your love for God, by serving others, with the help of his Spirit, in Jesus’ name

They are not, were not and never were rule things. Things you had to do to please God. Things if you do better and longer with more zeal and effort would somehow achieve for you a higher place in the scheme of things. It is not the legalism that Paul, in his letters, exposes with such ruthlessness, but aids, means, helps and the essential life blood, food, and fresh air to live a life in gratitude to God.

I lost contact with Dan soon after his release and often wonder where he is and how he is doing. I see him in my dreams sometimes. I keep praying for him, I have never forgotten him and I am slowly learning to listen to my own advice to him – to practice these disciplines.

Crawford Mackenzie

The Purposeful Habit 1

how to

“How to be a Christian without going to church”  Kelly Bean       A Book Review

I am not in the habit of writing book reviews. I am such a slow reader and others do that so much better, but after creating a little stir with a rather flippant post using a play on the title of a book I had just read, I felt I had to explain myself. It was a light hearted jibe but one with a serious point.

It is “How to be a Christian without going to church”  by Kelly Bean, published by Baker Books.  The title catches the eye as it is clearly intended to do and the book addresses the issue of what the writer calls “No-Goers”, of which she is one. These are people who no longer go to church. They are not people who have been believers, have become disillusioned with the church , “lost their faith” and say that they no longer believe,  they are people who leave, yet maintain and continue to practice their orthodox Christian faith.  From the research, which the writer quotes, this has become, in recent years, an unstoppable flood.

There are a series of stories and testimonies from people who have left, to give put some flesh on the background and explain the reasons for leaving: “for their own sanity”, “the structure was killing my faith”,I felt undervalued”,  “I faced rejection and judgement”,  “The system was broken”, “It didn’t match my style” and many other painful stories. It seemed an endless list of damaged and frustrated people who appear to be stifled but flourish when they finally take the step to leave “After 17 years of not going to church my faith is stronger than ever”.  It is a sad and depressing catalogue of failure, but one than anyone who is involved in the church in the west today will easily recognise.

Kelly Bean makes it clear at the outset that she is not against the church. She wants it to be there, to continue and to grow. She would never discourage anyone from joining or sticking with it, she just feels, with a growing number of likeminded people, that it is not for her or for them. She is not, however, advocating being a solitary Christian in fact quite the opposite and here is where her argument seems a little confused and contradictory. She talks about the big shift from “Going to Church to “Being Church”. The first suggesting simply the activity of regularly going to a place, a building , to do whatever. It is understandable why this should be derided because we are called “to be” a holy nation, a people of God, a light to the world.  But if we are to share with any believing community, it involves some movement –we have to go there unless we are always living together. So “Going to Church” is just as relevant and expression. Towards the end of the book she describes intentional communities “ Something is taking shape and spreading as Christians far and wide come together (my emphasis) in a variety of small communities committed to a life lived in simplicity, humility and for others”  so clearly she sees the new movement of non-goers actually going somewhere and it looks like to another church.

I think she is also a little muddled. On the one hand she makes it clear that the church is, as we have always been taught, not a building, a structure, a denomination, an organisation, but the people of God, wherever they come together in twos or threes or in hundreds.  As a “Non-goer” she doesn’t want to be part of this church but, I believe, despite her protestations to the contrary, she is actually trying to set up another church. In her guide to “alternative forms of Christian community” there is alternative worship, alternative bible study, alternative money, alternative baptism and dedication of children, alternative missionary work and even alternative Sunday school and youth groups. In her turning away from all the structures of the church she has defined another church which looks remarkably like the one she has rejected. And what she fails to see is that this simply repeats so much of what has happened throughout the Church’s history.

All the problems she described in “Why are people leaving” are failings in the structures, the organisations, the leadership, and the people but not with its essential reason for being, or with its King and head. The church, I believe, needs reformation not rejection.

I was also struck by two things, which I have to say coloured my whole feeling about the book:

The first is that there is little or no mention of whose church it is. The church is seen as of the people, by the people, for the people, for the community and for the world, when all the time it is God’s. It belongs to him.  It is the church of Jesus Christ.  It is not ours. So we can’t decide what it should be, what it should be like or who should be in it. That is entirely God’s business not ours. Maybe this was taken as read but the fact that it was never stated makes me wonder if the thought was ever in the writers mind.

The second is that, while the Bible is mentioned in a few occasion and quoted very occasionally, there is no hint that these new alternative ways of being community are based or grounded at all on Scripture. Maybe that is also taken as read, but, again, I don’t think so. This omission is serious. At a stroke it knocks away the foundation, disconnects from the basis of the true faith and opens the way for any kind of whimsical and transient philosophy or personality cult to take over and lead to anywhere. The “Non Goers” movement doesn’t seem to be rooted in the Bible but centred on “shared values” and focused on “core beliefs” like those outlined in one quote:

  • God is good. I will practise trusting God with my life
  • God is love. I will practice taking care of myself and loving others
  • God is with me. I will practice peace and not being afraid
  • God wants to talk with me. I will practice listening to Him and talking with Him
  • God always forgives. I will practice forgiving myself and others
  • I feel blessed with this Good News. I will practice being thankful and celebrating moments
  • God has a story of love. He tells it through us. I will practice partnering with Him to bring it to others

At first sight it is maybe hard to find fault with this. But where does it come from? What is it based on? Where is the underlying authority for such statements? How are they defined? When you actually look at the list, there is nothing specifically Christian about it. There is nothing of Christ in it.  I am curious why his name is not mentioned. Is it because, in this creed, Jesus is unnecessary and redundant?  The “Good news” seems to be that “God always forgives”. He will forgive anyway. “It’s his job” as someone has said. If this is an example of where the “Non-goers” movement leads then it is not just alarming it is potentially very dangerous.

If you have read this far you, may not agree, but you will understand why I am concerned.

This is only my take. Go and read it yourself and see what you think and if you disagree let me know.

Crawford Mackenzie

IN THE PRESENCE

Paul's conversion 2

On Thursday our little group of internationals from China, Nigeria, Cyprus, Malaysia , Ireland, Latvia, Romania, Iran and Scotland shared a meal and sat round the fire to read and think about what Jesus said. We were studying the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. We had come to the part where Jesus speaks about prayer and where he teaches the “how to” in the model for all prayer, which begins with these astonishing words “Our father in heaven…”  Before that he gives two negatives – two “how not to”s: hypocritical praise seeking prayers and mechanical repeating prayers. There was so much to think about but the first one stung. It clearly pointed out that you can’t be praising God and seeking praise for yourself at the same time. It was one or the other.

This was particularly on my mind as I prepared to lead the pastoral prayer at our church on Sunday morning.  I wanted it to be good, which was a worthy thought and I wanted people to think it was good, which wasn’t. I struggled with these two conflicting attitudes for some time and I thought I had it licked. But standing at the back of the church while the congregation were gathering, filling up with so many people, I began to panic and was almost overwhelmed with the dreadful thought of failure. The anxiety continued to grip me through the early part of the service and then something happened. We were singing our confession, a version of psalm 51 to the tune Ottawa, unaccompanied, with the tangible sense that we were in the presence of the almighty God- all powerful and all loving. It was as if the whole place was filled with a dazzling all-consuming light that penetrated every corner and crevice. Then it came to me with astonishing clarity “You are coming into the presence of the Holy God and you are worried about what these people think?!”  “You are coming before the creator of the whole universe, the judge of all the earth, the King of kings, the Lord of lords and your are bothered about this lot ?!

When I reached the podium, the Holy Spirt took over and gave me the words so that I could give voice to the prayers of the people, to our Father in heaven, in Jesus name. It is something I hope I will never forget.

Crawford Mackenzie

How can it be?

 

We sang a new version of an old hymn last night. It was “How can it be” by Greg de Bliek of new Scottish hymns based on Charles Wesley’s “And can it be”.  In recent times there has been a growing appreciation of the real value of so many old hymns:  the clear theology and mind engaging words which often contrast with the often shallower themes of some contemporary praise songs. Many have reworked these for congregational singing with varying degrees of success. Inevitably personal taste comes in here and people are often unhappy about changes that do violence to what was for them a well-loved hymn but, in my opinion, this one really works.  I have to admit that I disliked the old hymn. The solid theology was lost on me because it was married to a light and almost frivolous tune (Sagina – Thomas Campbell), reminiscent of a Victorian foxtrot and belonging to the dance floor, It seemed completely incongruous and turned me off.  Greg de Bliek, on the other hand, has taken Charles Wesley’s words, almost as they are, with a few small changes, and with the simplest of tunes, an almost stark melody, allowed us to sing and think about what we are singing. He makes the last verse, the climax of the piece, into a chorus rising beautifully in the middle section and the whole is a very moving hymn. People will of course say “but I liked the old tune”  that may be true but it should not stop us thinking about the music, what it does,  what emotions it arouses, and whether it is appropriate or not. I think that what Greg de Bliek has done is not simply to dust down an old relic and make it a curiously but to open it up, bring it into the light and give us a hymn that is as relevant today as it was when it was written in the 18th century.

You can hear it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtmjMgsPImc but the YouTube video hardly does it justice. You need to hear a congregation singing it and you need to be in that congregation.

Crawford Mackenzie

The Bible Study

It is half past eight on Saturday morning. The room is dull dusty and sparsely furnished: a red painted concrete floor, two sofas covered with sheets, a table with some chairs, an empty bookcase, a make shift curtain separates an area for two double beds where a family sleeps, children pad in an out and a cat wanders through to the kitchen. We are four, three young men and myself. All three are married and two have lovely daughters. One is the new pastor of the local church; one has completed his studies and looking for work. One is blind. Those who can, read verses from the bible in turn. The study is focused on Ephesians 4: 17-32. The pastor leads while others chip in with thoughts reflections and questions. The aim is to understand. We speak about anger and abusive treatment of others, about how our thinking affects what we do and say, about practising honesty and forgiveness. The privilege (an overused word) of being able to share in this time is awesome (an even more overused word). Here in the dusty crumbling slopes of this great city, tucked away in an anonymous street, are a group of men who are grappling with what it means to live a life of faith. We are not talking about football, or cars or politics, we are talking about what really matters. When we finish, they ask me to pray, mercifully, in English. While my Spanish sometimes surprises me, I knew this is one occasion when it would not be up to the task.

It would be very hard to describe the breath-taking wonder and the sense of honour I felt, leading these men in prayer in that moment. I was humbled, challenged and, yes, truly blessed and it is something that I will never forget.

Crawford Mackenzie

The Bookend

First of all you have to understand that the church has always been part of my life. Not just a part but one of the most significant parts of it. It is family. Blood is thicker than water but this bond is thicker. So going to church has always been my habit. Not that the church is a place, it is people, but people come together in a place and unless you are a king or celebrity, people don’t generally congregate around you. You have to go to them.  So the term “Going to church” is a valid one and a vital part of life for anyone who is a follower of Jesus. Like family, however, it is not always sweetness and light, its history has not always been something to be proud of, its people sometimes drive you crazy and at times you stretch their patience too. We blow up, fall out, walk out and separate but one thing remains a constant, we are part of God’s family and he won’t change that. It is not a right but a gift and if I was a preacher I could probably explain that much better.

Now the church, which I belong to, has two services on a Sunday: a morning and evening service. This is not for convenience but deliberately as part of tradition going back many years. Nowadays, however, the question keeps coming up: “Why two?”  “Why would you need to want to go twice?” “Surely once is enough”. But it is not a rule thing. It is not a commandment. You would be hard pressed to find something in the Bible that lays down that law. But it comes, I believe, from how we view the day itself.  For followers of Jesus, Sunday is the “Lord’s Day”. It belongs to him. It is not our day. In one sense every day is His day but Sunday is especially for him and that is where the evening service comes into its own. It is a bookend. The morning and evening services are bookends to the Lord’s Day.

This Sunday, after a full on weekend wholly exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally with the stress of logistics, the heat of the kitchen, the intercourse with so many people from so many parts of the world (a weekend away with Friends International), we arrived back in the evening just in time for our evening service. While the voice of common sense said, “relax, unwind, sit down, have a bath, go to bed, chill out”, instead we went to church and joined our church family in worship, praying, reading, sharing and listening to God’s voice. Entering the building late we were met with the sound of singing, of many voices old and young, high and deep, together and in harmony, coming from the heart, rising to the roof and beyond.  It would be very hard to begin to describe the all-embracing sense of wholeness, healing, invigoration, revitalisation and excitement that overwhelmed us as we joined the people in this special time, this bookend to the Lord’s Day.  And …I thought… there is nowhere else I would rather be.

Crawford Mackenzie

Managementarianism

managementarianismI don’t know when it started or where it came from but the relentless onward march of Managementarianism is slowly and subtly strangling the life from almost all of our creative endeavours.  We have been aware, for some time now, of the deadening effect of this culture on health and education, where educators and clinicians are replaced with managers and where the end result is not health or education but efficiency and exam results. But we have been almost taken by surprise in the way that it has wormed its way into almost every aspect of our lives.  The pursuit of targets, quotas, waiting times, performance, results, outcomes, good and best practice, all with the laudable aim of improving and reforming so that they become better organised and more efficient, is increasing. The imposition of targets themselves often back fire.  Whenever I make an application for Planning Approval I know that the authority are duty bound to  give a decision within a fixed period of time and their performance, in this regard, is monitored. What happens is that the administrators appear to make it their priority to delay the registration process (before the clock starts ticking) as long as possible by scratching around for anything that might need clarification, no matter how miniscule or irrelevant, so that the process, in the end, takes longer. It has all been said before, of course, many times and better.

What has taken me quite by surprise is the way that this culture has wormed its way into surprising places.  My own profession, which at its best is concerned with one of the highest forms of art, is governed by a body that is only interested in a measured standard of practice. It takes annual fees from architects which are then used to pursue the same architects on the basis of complaints from “consumers” however spurious. Inevitably results and convictions are what is important, so the body focuses on the small and sole practioners rather than the big boys who are better able to defend themselves. The results of successful prosecutions are then gleefully posted in press releases in order to put the wind up the lone architect. All of this has a deadening and negative effect on the real work of designing buildings. When you are called up to face a tribunal only one is an architect. The chief executive is not an architect and we wonder how this has all happened.  So from the top down we are not concerned or motivated to produce architecture that inspires thrills and delights but to devote ourselves to ticking boxes and covering our backs and if there is time or energy left over, then and only then can we think about design.  It is all very very depressing.

The obsession with quantifiable results is fearsome and not only does it stifle creativity but it ditches ideals and principles. So we no longer speak of good but better, fairer rather than fair, more just rather than simply just. Crime and justice are managed so it is question of keeping the lid on things, reducing figures is what matters and seldom is there time to consider what actually might be the cause of it all.  Drugs policy is about reducing harm not about what the problem really is. A health and safety policy is successful if it can bring down accident figures. I heard a health and safety officer declare that his aim was to reduce fatalities on building sites by a significant degree. “There are still too many needless deaths” he said.  The aim to avoid any death wasn’t itself seen as an aim. Economic policy is about management, so that David Cameron advice, to us all, some time back,  “to pay off your credit card loans” – the good common sense advice that my granny would have taught me, was stifled before it was actually said. It was important that people pursued debt to keep the high streets turning over and the so the economy is managed.  The same influence is found in politics where party managers and spin doctors ditch idealism and visions in the drive towards a safe harmonious superficial unity, so that, in the end, the parties resemble each other.   It was something that saddened Tony Benn.

What is really astonishing is the way that this culture has wormed its way into the one institution, the one body which should not be following the rest but be a shining light in the darkness and confusion, which should be a haven for the oppressed, the lonely the hurt, which should be speaking courageously with a prophetic voice to the nations, the one body which should not be managed – the Church of Jesus Christ.  And yet that seems to be what is happening.  Congregations become consumers of religion and pastors service providers with job descriptions.  Stipends that historic term that beautifully defines the way a minister is to be supported becomes salaries and the church simply becomes just another modernist machine with stated aims and objectives, standards and values with just as much box ticking and watching the back as in any other field. How did this happen?

A medic friend suggested to me that it was like this: The benefits that were brought to society by Christianity who pioneered them, such as in health, education and welfare, in institutions which were subsequently handed over to the civil authority, lost their Christian base, their grounding reason for being and the only thing to fill that vacuum was a pursuit of a humanist atheistic mechanistic agenda with measureable goals. It is a scary analysis. It is scarier still if the church itself is in danger of being consumed by the same Managementarianism.

Crawford Mackenzie

The Fishing Net

guitarist

When I arrived in Aberdeen in the autumn of 1967, to begin my studies at the School of Architecture, the first thing I did with my student grant, after paying my dig money, was to buy a guitar. It was nylon string bottom of the range Tatra classic from Bruce Millers in George Street.  At the same time I became involved in a Friday night coffee bar run from the basement of the Salvation Army Citadel at the west end of Castle street. You entered through a small door on a side street, where the North Sea wind hurled its way up into town, and down a flight of stairs to a brightly painted room with a small stage and mic and a counter at the other end serving hot milky coffee, Coke and Fanta. The café was called “The fishing net” a reference to Jesus’s commission to Peter “I will make you a fisher of men”. It was decorated with paintings of fish, seaweed, brightly colourer nets and fishing tackle. During the evening a small folk trio or solo artist would play and sing and someone would speak with a message. It was run by a number of churches in the city with the aim of making connections with young folk on the streets on a Friday evening. , They were invited in, befriended and engaged in conversation.  I had only been going for a few weeks when one of the leaders asked me to play and sing on the following Friday. With foolish naivety, I accepted, completely oblivious to the fact that I had no material and had never sung, far less played guitar, in public before.  Hastily I scratched a couple of songs together, one which had a remarkable and not unconscious resemblance to the Kinks “Sunny afternoon” and the other to the Beatles “a day in a life” The third was a spiritual. I practised hard but as the day grew nearer became more and more aware of my foolishness. I remember the night very clearly, walking across to the stage with guitar over shoulder shaking like a leaf, thinking “I can’t do this” and praying “lord if you really want me to do this, let it be you who does it”. It is a prayer I have found myself praying each time I have been asked to sing, since. The noisy room was suddenly stilled and as I ham fistedly clunked my way through the songs I had this strange experience as if standing outside myself looking on as someone else took over, carrying the message to the hearers.

Once finished and with the waves of relief pouring over me I relaxed at a table and fell into a discussion with a slightly inebriated leather clad rocker. He wasn’t interested in the songs but wanted to argue about the existence of God.  I was helpless and could offer no good explanation or original thought.  We were soon joined by two others, one clutching a battered bible. Suddenly there was clarity and rational in the discussion and I sat back with dropped jaw listening to the discussion amazed at the command of our new friend. (the one doing the talking) He had understanding and ability to communicate the cosmic realities of creation and redemption and the wonder of the gospel in spell bounding clarity. It was only after he left that I learned that he was already well known in student and church groups, the president of the Christian Union in the University and later a significant figure in Reformed Christian circles both in Scotland and the USA, highly regarded for his teaching, writing and editorial work.  So it was a surprise,  that our lives should cross again some 45+years later, when we both joined with our families, in our new church setting. It was an added and unexpected delight to hear him preach. While some preachers become old and tired and tread well-worn predicable paths and others have spoken for a specific time and place, his preaching carried refreshing  timeless authority, vitality and relevance.   Now endowed with the richness of truth distilled slowly through the years it was presented with crystal clarity, much as it was, around the table, in the basement café, all these years ago.

Crawford mackenzie