Scots to honour legacy of missionary Mary Slessor – The Scotsman

Mary_SlessorEVENTS will take place across two continents this month to celebrate the legacy of Scots missionary Mary Slessor at the 100th anniversary of her death.

The Aberdeen-born missionary followed in the footsteps of fellow Scot David Livingstone to take the teachings of Christianity to Africa in the last quarter of the 19th century.

She died on January 13 1915 at 67 after spending 38 years working in Calabar, Nigeria.

She is credited with saving the lives of hundreds of people during her time in west Africa, by stopping sacrifices, brutal punishments and the killing of twins.

Now, 100 years on from her death, plans are in place for a series of centenary events in Nigeria and Scotland, most notably in Dundee where she lived and worked from the age of 11.

Among the events is a plaque-unveiling ceremony in Dundee on the anniversary of her death, and in April the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will give a service at the same spot.

The Rt Rev John Chalmers praised the way Ms Slessor got close to the people she wanted to help and said she was remembered as one of the most significant of all the Scottish missionaries.

“What is remarkable is that at the end of the 19th century she was in so many ways ahead of her time,” he said.

“She was a woman in a man’s world and was quite prepared to make the rules for herself.”

Ms Slessor worked hard to educate herself despite poverty, a violent, drunken father and a lack of formal education.

She went to Nigeria in the mid-1870s with United Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

In Calabar, she was horrified to find there was a local superstition against twins – which meant hundreds of babies were being murdered or left to die each year. She saved the children by adopting a number of them in the village where she settled.

Mr Chalmers said the saving of the twins was “one of her great achievements”.

He said: “She reached some of the local people no-one had ever reached before, those whose suspicions and habits were deeply ingrained.

“The only way she was ever going to make a difference there was if she learned the language and became completely familiar with the tribal traditions and with the way in which the hierarchy of the tribe worked.

“She didn’t just dismiss the local culture, she tried to understand it and then she tried to find ways to overcome some of the injustices.”

The Scot went on to serve in various places in the region over the years and had several visits home during that time.

She gained the respect of the tribal chiefs to such an extent that they appointed her as a quasi-justice of the peace, a judge-like figure who would settle disputes.

She was also passionate about education, particularly of girls, and was keen to develop trade opportunities with a view to stemming the slave trade.

Mr Chalmers is preparing to head out to Nigeria later this month to take part in commemorations there.

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We must act to help Middle East Christians who are tortured and killed for their faith, says Douglas Alexander – Daily Record

nazarene isisWHILE we prepare to celebrate Christmas, thousands of Christians in the Middle East are being persecuted for simple acts of worship. Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander says it’s time to stand up against all intolerance.

 

ACROSS Scotland this week, thousands of us will be singing of that “silent night, holy night” in the town of Bethlehem.

But as Christmas approaches with its promise of “peace on Earth and mercy mild,” in places around the world such a simple act of worship is a life-risking act.

We all know the first Christmas took place in the Middle East but how many of us are aware that today that faith is under threat in the region of its birth?

About half a million Christians have fled Syria since the conflict began there in March 2011.

And in Islamic State -controlled territory, Christians have been forced to convert, often before a violent death.

We are rightly part of an international coalition taking on IS, yet military power alone will never defeat the forces at work globally.

Pope Francis has cast light on this dark story of persecution by tweeting to warn that we “cannot resign ourselves to think of a Middle East without Christians”.

And Prince Charles warned: “Christians in the Middle East are, increasingly, being deliberately attacked by fundamentalist Islamist militants.

“Christianity was, literally, born in the Middle East and we must not forget our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Religious leaders from all faiths have united in speaking out. Former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks described the suffering of Middle East Christians as “one of the crimes against humanity of our time”.

He said he was “appalled at the lack of protest it has evoked”.

But when popes, princes and rabbis are speaking up, why have so many politicians here in the UK forsaken speaking out?

In an age when secularism is more common, too many politicians – through a misplaced sense of political correctness or embarrassment at “doing God” – seem to shy away from discussing any matters related to faith.

Christians, who are the victims of 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination, face persecution in more than 60 countries.

My own denomination, the Church of Scotland, have done vital work documenting these attacks – estimating that in 2009 alone, 176,000 Christian were killed because of their faith.

The Rt Rev John Chalmers, Moderator of the General Assembly, highlighted the use of blasphemy laws – particularly in Pakistan – as an excuse for violence and persecution of Christian minorities.

Thankfully some politicians have begun to speak up. Last year, then Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi gave a speech in the US that warned a “mass exodus is taking place, on a biblical scale. In some places, there is a real danger that Christianity will become extinct.”

Before she resigned, Warsi admitted that this Government started off “from a very low base” when it came to faith issues because talking about faith was considered to be “either naive or stupid”.

As the crisis worsens, there is more that can and must be done. Church groups in the UK have done vital work on promoting this issue, but they need a broader coalition of support, including from politicians and from government, to help turn their campaigning efforts into real progress.

The UK has one further year to serve on the UN Human Rights Council, so the opportunity to get other countries on board with this agenda must not be squandered.

And here in the UK, we need to see a renewed focus within the Foreign Office on this issue, all the way up to the Foreign Secretary.

People of all faiths and none must not stand by in silence for fear of offence. Just like anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, anti-Christian persecution must be named for the evil that it is and challenged by people of faith and of no faith.

To do so is not to support one faith over another – it is to say that persecution and oppression of fellow humans in the name of any god or ideology is never acceptable and is morally repugnant.

As the Church of Scotland say: “To stand clearly on the side of justice, it is necessary to advocate religious freedom for all”.

If we fail to act now, not just the story of the baby born in the stable will come under threat as never before.

 

Two letters in The Herald

THE Rev Prof McGowan makes his position on the Church of Scotland well in his Agenda contribution (“The Kirk has lost its direction and is urgently in need of Reformation”, The Herald, December 18), and I wish him success in his work.

I wish however to deal with church finances. The model used by the Kirk is unsustainable and sadly is not up for discussion with presbyteries. The method used to sustain churches which cannot pay their way involves drawing down annually from viable churches sums calculated on a percentage of their income. The flaw is that more churches are fighting to stay afloat, so consequently flourishing congregations are hit by larger and larger levies. This puts more strain on them and restricts their work.

I believe it is this refusal to face financial facts which will reduce the Kirk to a rump sooner or later. It is, sadly, another indication of a fall from grace.

RA Cook,

58 St Ronans Drive, Burnside, Rutherglen

I FULLY support all that the Rev Professor Andrew McGowan says in his article.

Will the congregations of the Kirk who have not yet been consulted on the issue of homosexual clergy now arise and make their views known?

Rev Alex Buchan,

14 St Peters Road,

Buckie.

 

Covenant Fellowship

A Statement on the formation within the Church of Scotland of The Covenant Fellowship

We believe that the Church of Scotland is moving away from its roots in Scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith. We believe that the time has come for the creation of a ‘Covenant Fellowship’ within the Church. This Covenant Fellowship will draw together those who believe that the Scriptures, in their entirety, are the Word of God and must provide the basis for everything we believe and do. Our vision is nothing less than the reformation and renewal of the Church of Scotland, in accordance with the Word of God and by the empowering of his life-giving Spirit.

The Church of Scotland is facing a severe crisis. A majority of Presbyteries has now adopted an Overture which would permit those in same-sex civil partnerships to serve as ministers and deacons in the Church. Many people feel that the only way to protest against this unscriptural move is to leave the Church of Scotland. Many ministers, elders, members and adherents have done so already and more will follow. While respecting that position, our hearts’ desire is to remain within the Church, in order to seek its reformation from within, although we recognise that not all will feel able to make such an unqualified commitment.

It is important that we remain, however, without compromising our integrity. We refuse to be complicit in any act of disobedience to the Lord’s Word taken by the Church and we do not accept the trajectory which the Church has chosen, whatever the General Assembly of 2015 decides in respect of the Overture. We believe that, if the Church continues on the present trajectory, it will have departed from its constitutional basis as defined by Scripture, the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Declaratory Articles. We believe that it is our prophetic duty to challenge this, to protest and to call the Church to repentance on this matter.

The Covenant Fellowship is not being formed simply to protest on one issue. We long to see our nation won for Christ and commit ourselves with renewed and prayerful zeal to being involved in the outworking of the mission of God in our own day and into the future, by every God-honouring means, however traditional or imaginative and radically innovative.

However, the Overture currently before the Church has brought us to this point of decisive and concerted action. The departure from the plain teaching of Scripture, of which the Overture is a symptom, gives us cause for concern regarding the whole future direction of the Church. Many members of the Church of Scotland are deeply unhappy about the present trajectory but have had no opportunity to register their dissent or to call for the Church to return to the truth revealed in Scripture. Expressing your support for the Covenant Fellowship provides this opportunity. More detailed information about the structure and development of the Covenant Fellowship will be available in early 2015.

If you share our conviction that the Church is in grave danger and want to register your protest on this issue while continuing to be involved in the mission of God to our nation and beyond through the national church, please express your support for the Covenant Fellowship’s stand. There is no charge for doing so.

You can do this by sending an email to: CovenantFellowshipScotland@gmail.com

Or write to: Covenant Fellowship, Church Office, Margaret Street, Inverness, IV1 1LU

If you wish, you can express your support in the words of the following declaration:

Covenant Fellowship Declaration – December 2014

I believe that the Church of Scotland is moving away from its roots in Scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith. I believe that the time has come for the creation of a ‘Covenant Fellowship’ within the Church. This Covenant Fellowship will draw together those who believe that the Scriptures, in their entirety, are the Word of God and must provide the basis for everything we believe and do. This vision is nothing less than the reformation and renewal of the Church of Scotland, in accordance with the Word of God and by the empowering of his life-giving Spirit.

I hereby express my support for the Covenant Fellowship.

Name:

Congregation:

Position within the congregation. For example, Minister, Elder, Member, Adherent.

—————

Individual congregations, by a decision of their Kirk Session, may also express their support for the Covenant Fellowship’s stand.

The establishment of the Covenant Fellowship has been initiated by the Trustees of Forward Together, along with others who share the need for such action.

Iran Court Drops Jail Terms of 3 Christian Clerics – Naharnet

CSWThree Christian clerics sentenced to six years’ jail in Iran on “national security” charges have been acquitted on appeal, a Christian rights association said Tuesday.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide said Pastor Matthias Haghnejad and Deacon Silas Rabbani had been released but Pastor Behnam Irani remained in Karaj jail, west of Tehran, for a separate conviction.

The three Iranians were arrested in 2011 in Karaj, where they had set up underground churches.

They were found guilty in October on charges of “action against national security” and of “creating a network to overthrow the system”.

An appeals court in the Islamic republic dropped the charges in a hearing on December 9, said the Britain-based association.

“We continue to call on the Iranian government to… allow the country’s religious minorities to enjoy freedom of religion or belief as guaranteed under Iran’s own constitution,” the NGO said.

The Iranian constitution recognizes the rights of certain religious minorities, including Christians, but apostasy is punishable by death under the country’s Islamic sharia laws.

 

Kirk votes to support gay clergy ordination – KaleidoScot

The Church of Scotland has voted overwhelmingly in favour of a proposal to allow local congregations to choose a minister who is gay and in a civil partnership.

The Church’s 46 Scottish presbyteries have been consulted on the matter and have spent the last few months voting on the compromise position put forward by the General Assembly in May.

32 presbyteries have voted for the proposal, with only 14 against. Those not supporting it included Lewis and a number of Highland presbyteries. The Church has yet to formally announce the vote but it is clear those supporting change have comfortably won.

The vote represents an overwhelming expression of support for the General Assembly’s position and almost certainly means that local churches will be able to choose to select ministers in civil partnerships once a final vote is taken at the 2015 General Assembly.

This vote is part of an ongoing conversation on gay ordination within the Church of Scotland, triggered by the appointment of the Rev Scott Rennie to Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen in 2009. Mr Rennie is openly gay and has a civil partner.

Speaking about the result of the vote, Mr Rennie told KaleidoScot “The voting figures are hugely encouraging, and shows the Kirk is moving to a supportive and helpful understanding of modern families in all their shapes and sizes. All over Scotland, churches that offer people an opportunity to explore spirituality in a modern and open setting are growing. The Moderator has called on us to grow our congregations – this can only help.”

Revd Blair Robertson, the convenor of Affirmation Scotland, which is supportive of those in same-sex relationships entering ministry, said “it is heartening that a majority of presbyteries have voted for the overture and Affirmation Scotland naturally hopes the General Assembly will endorse this. Of course, this is not equality for lesbian and gay deacons and ministers but it is a step towards openness and inclusion.”

In relation to the vote itself, Mr Robertson suggested that “debates were often dominated by the ‘traditionalist’ side but when it came to the vote, the ‘revisionist’ position carried. This seems significant and demonstrates that the tide of opinion in the church is following towards acceptability of people in same-sex relationships…it now seems that the silent middle ground has made up its mind and voted for an inclusive, affirming church!”

Stuart Ryan, a member of the Church of Scotland in the Paisley and Greenock presbytery, also welcomed the vote and was critical of media reporting. He told KaleidoScot: “The way this debate has been framed by the media as divisive and controversial shows a lack of understanding. We’re having a democratic conversation within the church. It’s been honest and open; we don’t all agree, but we’re making a decision on how best to go forward and it’s clear that the compromise position has been welcomed by most of us. The press want [Scots] to believe that the church is splitting over ‘gay marriage’ but as only thirteen ministers [from nearly 1,400, representing 0.009%] have left in five years I take a different view.”

“The media like to play up the dissent from presbyteries like Lewis, but the truth is they’ve always been ultra-traditionalist and a bit of a law unto themselves. It’s notable that the same reporters haven’t attached the same significance to the larger number of presbyteries who have voted to support local churches making their own decisions. The outcome of the vote is exactly what I expected and it shows the direction the church is moving in.”

Mr Ryan added that he was pleased the announcement has come on the same day that same-sex marriage becomes legal. “Personally, I’m delighted same-sex couples can now be married. The church’s vote being confirmed on the same day is a happy coincidence, but it also shows that no amount of wishful thinking by the old guard is going to turn back the tide.”

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