Banff Churches Together Go Forward - What About Others?

Banff is a well built town of 4,000 people on the rural north-east coast of Scotland. The representatives of its five churches on its 'Churches Together' studied my book 'Church of the Isles: the emerging church in Britain and Ireland - a prophetic strategy for renewal', drew up an audit of each of their churches, and invited me to spend a week-end with them when they could offer their vision to the town and begin to draw up achievable priorities.

The five churches, in order of their number of worshippers, are: The Parish Church of the Church of Scotland, Our Lady of Carmel Roman Catholic Church, Riverside Christian Church (independent charismatic), the Methodist Church and the Scottish Episcopal Church. This initiative was the inspiration of Rev John Woodside, the deacon in charge of Our Lady of Carmel. On the Friday evening three delegates from each church shared a meal together. On Saturday morning each church presented an outline of its activities, history and aims. A spirit of encouraging one another was evident. In the light of the book's check lists on how to turn a church into a spiritual home, and of the ingredients that might make up a 'Village of God', I asked questions and made suggestions. On Saturday afternoon I did a prayer visualisation walk the length and breadth of Banff, encompassing the harbour, football ground, gardens, shops, pubs, tourist centre, Duff House and the five churches.

Riverside Church hosted a 7.0 pm public meeting at their modern Harvest Centre, advertised as 'A Vision for Banff'. This was open to non-church-goers and the audience included a county councillor and a couple from Banff Community Council. I suggested that the election of President Obama was evidence that a dream can come true. A dream for a town should embrace excellence both in its material provisions and in the spirit that inspires its citizens. A town's resources for renewing this spirit were as important as its consumer provisions. Addressing the churches, I outlined changes in society which were marginalising churches - these resources of the spirit. This called for churches to re-connect imaginatively and compassionately to all parts of their society. I spoke of Villages of God and gave examples of what was possible.

After this meeting the Churches Together delegates met again. Three achievable areas to explore were identified: 1) Instead of Churches Together activities being 'one more thing' on top of already overcrowded agendas, certain existing church activities could be done more effectively together. For example, A Churches Together web site, twice yearly newsletter to every home, information sheet for tourist and residents centres, men's breakfasts, use of the redundant high street church which the council was to turn into a modern centre, making Banff a Fair Trade Town, as are Aberdeen and Oban. 2) The spiritual renewal of church members. A common experience was that church workers were spending more time on organisation than on renewal of the inner life, yet unchurched people often wanted spirituality more than organisation. Churches needed to develop soul friends, listeners and disciplers who could mentor a new generation in Christian spirituality, meditation and prayer. First steps towards this could be quiet days, retreats, courses or circulation of devotional material delegates from each church found helpful. 3) Contributing to fun or adventure pastimes among the public such as the town's annual festival (Busking? Children's crche? Free home-made cakes?) and the Grampian Coastal Trail. This trail could begin and end with St Columba, who visited Aberdeen (the start) and Inverness (the end) of the trail. It goes through St. Catherine's Head, St. Cyrus, Kirkton, St. Fergus, St. Combs and near Deer Abbey. Ancient Christian sites and today's churches could be linked with it. At the least a leaflet with some suggestions for sites and prayer could be available in the tourist centres. If you'd like a CD of the evening talk and responses, send 3 to 'Riverside CC' , Castle Street, Banff, Scotland AB45 1DH

Posted at 07:53am on 12th November 2008
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