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Exploring, questioning, experiencing non-literal faith


Seith Ireland

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It is no longer possible for the Church to say: 'If we build it they will come.' To stay true to our journey of faith we must continually reach out to the wide complex community in which we live 

In my work in the courts, I see the results of the breakdown of not just the obedience of rules but also family relationships.

Addictions to alcohol and drugs can lead not just to crime but most significantly to the disruption of families. Indeed, the disruption of the family and local communities brought on by abuse of various substances, legal and illegal, and abusive family relationships feeds into the causes of those addictions and abuse.

Too frequently the cycle depressingly continues, impacting on children who are abused and then they become the new addicts and abusers.

A common theme, going not just to the cause but also the successful rehabilitation of the offender and broken families, is the availability, or not, of community support to nurture those who feel alienated. I acknowledge that publicly-funded social services, and the charitable wings of the churches, do a great deal of very valuable work, often without proper thanks and financial support. Their work, while necessary is not, however, a sufficient condition to ameliorate the deficit I describe.

What is required for the broken individual and those who feel alienated is the rebuilding of a sense of belonging which can nurture and succour not only the individual but the community at large.

The church can, and must, have a vital role in this task. Churches provide, and sometimes are the only, community meeting place. In fulfilling that function, they can become a focus of community spirit. That spirit is often displayed, too, in that the church nurtures opportunities and encouragement to volunteer to care for the elderly, the disabled, working with young people and campaigning on matters of social and personal justice both here and internationally.

Moreover, churches can and ought to be centres where all can find time and space to reflect and be part of a social gathering which welcomes people of all ages and backgrounds uncritically and unconditionally.

That ethos fosters friendships and support networks which is lacking for many of those I see in my work. We are not, of course, only an extension of social services, nor should we be. We are called to our task by the example of Jesus, and the harmony of the practical with the spiritual in our love of God and His love of us.

To members of Cairns what I write here may seem the statement of the obvious, but I suggest we cannot be complacent. If we are to welcome more members to Cairns, and into the church at large, and most importantly to fulfil our life’s mission of service to others, we must seek to broaden our social involvement and loudly proclaim what we do and why.

We therefore may, through those actions, prove a fresh attraction to those who doubt the relevancy and meaning of the church in these modern secular and indeed alienated times. It is no longer a true reflection of our mission in the church to say: 'If we build it they will come.'

To stay true to our journey of faith we must continually reach out to the wide complex community in which we live. I suggest we in Cairns, but also the church in general, may do a lot of good in seeking to be a community church and to proclaim that as our mission.

Perhaps the wider church has in recent times, by concentrating a great deal on issues of personal morality, hidden its true light under a bushel.

Seith Ireland is a Sheriff in Paisley, Renfrewshire.

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