Message from the Interim Moderator – Rev. Peter Donald
Great Britain was first coined as a phrase long before the Union of the Crowns in 1603, but it was the seventeenth century which turned out to be so momentous for the history of these islands. A united government over disparate kingdoms and far-flung regions developed with tensions in its wake. Some very new possibilities, with quite radical steps of change, came into being not least through some Scots in 1637 making a stand against the king of the day, Charles I. Although it took many years for the dust to settle, the operation of the English Parliament was never the same again. Beliefs in the virtues of religious uniformity gave way to recognition of the place for diversity – Quakers, Baptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians for example not to mention, in the fullness of time, open unbelief. And for all that the seventeenth century ended with the union of Parliaments in 1707 which has so recently been under contention in the Referendum, there was no doubt that in many respects England and Scotland would continue to be distinct entities, and this despite many voices in the eighteenth century who tried their best to counter that.
We live in equally interesting times. As in 1637, Scots have as it were thrown the cat amongst the pigeons. On the back of the Referendum and the huge showing for Scottish independence, there is the likelihood not only of parliamentary changes within Scotland but also in the other parts of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. What makes us Scottish or English is in flux; England’s population is not uniformly Anglo-Saxon, and neither is Scotland’s homogeneous. We evolve in our sense of the differences between the nations of these islands, and our understanding, or questioning, of what holds us together. Thankfully, unlike in the seventeenth century, we shall go forward without the searing experience of British civil wars. I for one hold on to being encouraged by those expressions voiced by people on opposite sides of the Referendum argument of being determined to remain friends, and I would want also to hold to account on this the political leaders of all hues.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we understand that the greatest barrier to be broken down is the barrier between ourselves and God. Our human inclination to turn away from God has had its consequences, and only Jesus, by sharing in our broken humanity, has been able to restore that bond of belonging. But then, as Paul so famously put it to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians chapter 5, from verse 14 on), we are to see that the old has been put away and that the new has come. Because by grace we are a “new creation,” our calling is absolutely to move away from judging one another. In other words, while of course we could struggle in our own strength, making life difficult for ourselves and others – through to the extreme of civil wars such as we see in the Middle East at this time – our calling under God is to be shaped by His grace. It means, in ethical terms, to live with forgiveness and self-sacrifice and generosity. It means, as Paul put it so beautifully in his earlier letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 13), that the gifts of faith and hope and love are immeasurably precious.
85% of the Scottish population stood up to be counted for a political settlement. We pray and are challenged to act so that as many and more may “be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).