Wednesday, 28 October 2009

A new offer

There has been no announcement yet and details are hard to come by, but experienced kirkwatchers have picked up rumours of a generous offer to be made soon by the Church of Scotland to disaffected Roman Catholic priests, bishops and cardinals.

This will provide a new workplace and community of clerics, where they will be welcomed into a specially-formed subdivision of Eaglais na h-Alba. It will appeal particularly to those who have tired of the constant stream of encyclicals and other kinds of Papal Bull pouring through their letterboxes, or who find popery in general a bit of a turn-off, or who simply want to get married. Open to them there will be, within the Protestant/Reformist/Calvinist/Presbyterian church which traces its roots back to the beginnings of Christianity in Scotland, a new group, to be called NIH (No Incense Here).

One of the difficulties of finding out what the Kirk is up to is that it doesn't have any leaders who can speak authoritatively or, as the new recruits would say, ex cathedra: the Moderator of the General Assembly serves for one year as the public representative of the Church, but beyond that enjoys no special powers or privileges and is in no sense the leader or official spokesperson. The current Moderator, the Right Rev William Hewitt, is online at The Mod's Blog but confines his posts mainly to pastoral chit-chat and not ecumenical matters.

This means that there is no-one in authority who can raise the matter with the pontiff and find out how he feels about it, not that anyone would care very much. Similarly, it is not possible to find out what the consensus is among the Kirk's 1,200 ministers or its 600,000 members. It asserts that it welcomes all from around the world, but there may be many who will be doubtful about the prospect of being joined—let alone being ministered to—by a bunch of newcomers fluent in Latin but unfamiliar with GĂ idhlig and knowing nothing of single malts, Burns, or neeps and tatties.

So the offer will not be a completely open one. Likely exclusions are Opus Dei members and anyone under investigation or already defrocked. Certainly, the wearing of red hats will be forbidden, as will the veneration of holy relics, though there might be concessions for those who have their own private collections of such things as the kneecaps of St Boniface, and undertake to do their venerating in secret.

But the greatest controversy is likely to arise over any attempt by the NIH group to adapt their places of worship to their own tastes, and here the rule will probably be nothing gold or fancy and, in general, nothing with which John Knox wouldn't have been absolutely comfortable.

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