When we were on holiday recently we went to the morning service in Stirling Free Church. It’s a new church plant and Ian Macaskill has recently been called there as their first minister (not like Nicola Sturgeon I hasten to add) which is very exciting for them and very exciting for Ian and his wife Anne too.
At the service there was around 50 folk of mixed ages and backgrounds gathered in a small lecture hall type room. The atmosphere was warm, the praise was uplifting and encouraging, the preaching clear, contemporary and Christ focused. All in all it was a great experience and it was good to catch up afterwards with many old friends and make new ones too.
But what really did strike me was this. I am in no way a shy or shrinking character, and yet, when I walked into that room for the first time, I felt an instant sense of anxiety and uncertainty about the situation, even though many of the faces I saw were known to me. I wasn’t sure where to sit, I didn’t know if there was a Bible to be handed out or if they used a song/psalm book. Compounding the situation was that we were facing the people as we walked in, and I suppose because we were slightly late (Jessie will blame me for that but you all know I am never to blame for anything!), we walked in as the intimations were being read out which added to the feeling of anxiety and uncertainty of the situation. Not another soul would have known what I felt like, but I did! I felt a bit like a duck (feet paddling frantically underwater whilst head and body gliding along above water!)
And it just reinforced to me the importance we must keep placing on the welcome we give everyone every week in the Free North, especially to those who are new to the church. We can forget how daunting an experience it can be for many folk and assume everyone knows what to do, where to go, how to behave. The same applies to the interactions that take place between us too.
People may look cool, calm and even confident on the outside, but it may belie a very different, duck-like, experience in the heart, in the head or in the home. Recently someone commended the congregation to me on the feeling of warmth and love and acceptance that he felt since coming along several months before, and I was very pleased to hear that.
Paul said to greet one another with a holy kiss (1 Thess 5:26); the NLT puts it like this: ‘greet all the brothers and sisters with Christian love’, and I think that communicates the sense of what Paul is saying. Express love and warmth and accommodation to one another every week and it contributes to the blessing that we pray for as we worship together every Lord’s Day.
Your friend and Pastor
Rev Colin MacLeod