Why I still go to church

black watch

The questions comes up, of course, because so many of my friends, my family, people I love and care about, folk I admire and respect, don’t.  Some flirted with church in their formative years but got bored of the petty politics, struggled with the institution, were turned off by the back biting and hypocrisy, felt excluded, marginalised, betrayed, and overwhelmed with the sheer absurdity of belief that they left for the sake of their own sanity.  I find I share an awful lot in common with them and have a fair bit of sympathy with their position.  I sometimes wonder why I never joined them.  But I haven’t and I won’t and I can’t. Because….

Because the church is much more. The bonds are stronger than friendship.  The ties are thicker than blood. It is bigger than family.  The local church might seem like a collection of misfits and oddballs, rough diamonds and smoothies, saints and martyrs (“the martyrs being the ones who have to put up with the saints”*), people we get along with and people we don’t.  It is made of people of different age groups, different cultural backgrounds sometimes speaking different languages, people who don’t share the same outlook, standards, interests. All of this must point to the fact that something else is going on here.  That something else is God.  It is God’s church and so he does the choosing. He brings us together. He does the deciding. He does the planning.  He does the perfecting. It is his business and he does it and will do it in his way and in his time.

Because we live in a world that is full of fantasy and illusion, false God’s and paper kings, soaked through with a powerful pervasive philosophy that says that what we see and hear and can touch is the real world. It bombards our thoughts, bends our minds and coerces us into believing this is true. So we need to find ourselves somewhere else where we can be brought into the real world.  Where we can regularly make contact with what is really important. With what is more important than life or death. And that somewhere else is the church. That is why the call to worship “We are here to worship God” is pivotal. It is a call away from the false realities to the true reality and of his purpose of salvation and redemption and glory. In his presence the other world with its great show, its charms, its promise, its money, its power, seems so pathetic, so foolish, so small and so sad.

Because, in church, I am reminded of where my true identity lies.  It is not in being a man, a father, a grandparent, an architect, a dabbler in painting, music and DIY, a Scot, a European a White Anglo Saxon Protestant Christian.   My identity is not in my interests, my family, my roots, my sexual orientation, my ability or disability, or in  my race. My identity is in Christ.  I don’t need to wonder “Who am I?”  But I need that regular reminder of this knowledge which is found in the strange setting of a group of ordinary people meeting together, bowed in worship before the one true God.  I need to know again that I am a sinner, who has been accepted by God because of Jesus, with nothing to bring but empty hands accepting his grace.

That’s why I still go to church.

Crawford Mackenzie

* Quoted by Eugene Peterson in “The Wisdom of Each other”   Zondervan

I love this time of year


I love this time of year. Despite all that has been done to neutralise it , commercialise it, emasculate it and turn it into one long meaningless party, only interrupted by bells, all the effort to make it yet another frolicking hyped up winter festival, played out on the Capital’s streets or on TV, for unashamed commercial gain, it is still special.  It is still significant. It still means something, connecting us, as it does, to an ancient drama that stretches back through history.  It is to do with the ordering of time. It is to do with the fact that time doesn’t just pass in an endless dribble but has been, and is, ordered into minutes and hours and days and seasons and years and decades and millennium.  We get something of the majestic beauty of this from the creation narrative in Geneses, when, out of seeming chaos, God created order: earth and sky, light and darkness, land and sea, rocks and plants, fish birds and animals, times and seasons and us at the centre of it. His verdict on all they had done was that it was good and good, and very good.

And so for me Hogmanay is like taking a rest on a long hill climb, finding a smooth rock to sit on, a sandwich and flask of coffee from the bag, and with the legs hanging free, gazing back down the slope and pondering where and how we have come this far. Taking the space and time to reflect: to identify the difficult terrain that was so hard to negotiate, the seemingly endless bog we had to get through somehow, the unprotected windswept ridge when we felt so isolated and alone, the weary slope when we wondered why we had bothered to come at all. At the same time: looking back on the pleasant path by the burn with the surprising warmth of the sun, and the richness of the colours and scent springing up from the soil and the kindness of travelling companions. And somehow at the same time thinking about the way ahead, looking upwards, considering and wondering what might lie beyond the first outcrop and how long it will take till we reach the summit.

So for me it is a time to pause: to look back with genuine gratitude and to look forward, knowing that whatever it will be, it will be for good and good and very good.

Crawford Mackenzie

Practical Advice

We gathered together in the corner of the lounge, a bare handful of people in a dark and depressed November evening, mildly weary and tired, busy with lots of other things on our minds and with the unspoken question “what on earth are we doing here?”.  It was a congregational mid-week meeting for prayer, a centuries old tradition, the reputed “power house” of the church and we had come with a dogged commitment to something we believed in even although at times our enthusiasm and our sanity was seriously in question. Our pastor led us and read from Paul’s second letter to the Christians in Thessalonica. Specifically, the final catalogue of practical advice in the last chapter  Always be joyful and never stop praying. Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ. This is what God wants you to do.” (CEV). It was something so beautiful and simple and intensely practical. It was one of these moments when a shaft of light suddenly breaks through into the gloom and disturbs the moribund weariness.

I went home and wrote these lines.


“Never stop praying!”

But we leave it to the last

When there’s nothing left ..but to pray

When the crisis is already on us

When the water’s pouring in

When the cancer’s taken root

When the relationship is floundering

When the famine is already raging

When the war has begun

It’s then we stop and start to pray

When we’ve tried everything else


Lets pray

And be thankful

At the start of the day

Before we’ve seen it’s trouble

In health

Before we know of sickness

In ease

Before we come into discomfort

In happiness

Before we’ve tasted sorrow

In life

Before death comes knocking


Crawford Mackenzie