Thursday, February 22, 2007

The history of a denomination: XIX.

Our illustration for this post draws attention to the fact that in 1919, for the first time, an Archbishop of Canterbury was present at the United Free Church General Assembly. Archbishop Randall Davidson, himself a Scot, was concerned for ecumenical relations. He dreamed of the reunion of Christendom, a dream that many Anglicans still hold, although they tend to pursue relations with churches less nonconformist than the old United Free Church was.

A spirit of relief sat upon the Assembly. The terrible war was over at last, and the radiant sunshine of the assembly period seemed the sunshine of peace. The Moderator was Dr. William Malcolm Macgregor of Edinburgh. For some reason which none in the Assembly could fathom, he added a long black stole to the Moderator's already elaborate outfit. Let it remain a mystery. He also introduced the custom of ending his prayers by saying the Lord's Prayer, in which the whole Assembly joined, a far more understandable innovation.
Delegates from the English, Welsh and Irish Presbyterian Churches attended, and so did delegates from Geneva and from the Waldensians of Italy. The Waldensian delegate, Captain Bartolo, attended in the uniform of Britain's ally, Italy, and he remarked on the extraordinary resemblance the Moderator bore to the poet Dante. He felt at home, he said, seeing such a face in the Hall.

In the mission debate an extraordinary scene ocurred when Rev. G. R. Robertson of Tranent proposed in a spirit of brotherhood that the German missionaries who had been expelled from certain stations which had been handed over to the United Free Church be allowed back. The spirit of the day was against him, and he was often interrupted by hostile shouts. The motion was defeated. The Germans were still unforgiven in the Assembly, as in the country.
But the end of the war provoked some other debates. Following worrying reports coming out of Eastern Europe, Mr. J.D. Robertson moved that the Assembly call upon the allies to ensure religious freedom in all countries that adhered to the League of Nations. Mr. A. Herbert Gray moved anouther addition to the Assembly's deliverance to the League of Nations deploring the severity of the terms of the treaty of Versailles. It looked, he complained, to armed force as the great preserver of peace, but he felt that the greatest means to secure lasting peace were forgiveness, generosity and good-will. He further denounced the treaty as a flat denial of Christianity. That motion was rejected.
With the war over, the vacant Chairs in the Colleges were filled. The Moderator himself was appointed to the Chair of New Testament in the Glasgow College, Mr. Hugh Watt appointed to the Church History Chair in New College, and Mr. A. B. Macaulay of Stirling was appointed to the Chair of Systematic Theology and Systematics in Glasgow.
Relations between the United Free and Church of Scotland Assemblies continued to warm. They agreed to work together on a Scottish Churches' memorial in Jerusalem, and once again the Moderators visited each other's halls.
But the great moment was to take place when the Committee on conference between the Churches.
The great question was this: was disestablishment and disendowment of the Church of Scotland necessary for negotiations to proceed. It was already clear that parliament would have to pass the legislation necessary BEFORE any move on the part of the Churches. But what legislation? Disestablishment or an act recognising the spiritual independence of the Church of Scotland?
Principal Henderson indicated the latter. If Parliament were to recognise the freedom of the Church of Scotlnd, that would be enough.
It was then the opposition, led by James Barr of Govan, burst into the open. Nothing but disestablishment and disendowment would suit them! James Barr dwelt eloquently on the great effect the sacrifices of the Church of Scotland would have on the working people, apparently fogetful that under his scheme the United Free Church would sacrifice nothing.
But he was overruled. And, to the astonishment of some, the Church and State committee meekly agreed to accept the report that would move both Churches forwards!

Next time, God willing, we shall see the form of that forwards motion.



Blogger Hiraeth said...

Disendowment has always been a silly business. Try as they may, the advocates of disendowment always come across badly.

7:36 pm  

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