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"Discuss."

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  A. "Colonel Gaddafi should be a legitimate target of the Allied forces in Libya." Discuss.

  B.  "£75,000,000 was raised recently by Comic Relief. That is the equivalent of two bombing raids  

        on  Libya." Discuss.

  C.  "Nuclear energy is no longer a safe option and churches/ places of worship should use

        renewable energy to heat their premises." Discuss.

  D.  "Magnolia paint is the best colour choice for painting your church hall." Discuss.

 

  Now call me an old cynic, but the chances are that your church members, in one of the zillions of committees that churches are good at creating, has not got round to discussing A, B or C in the last few weeks. I would not mind betting my half-empty tin of magnolia paint on the fact that you may well have discussed D however, and if you have not, you will in the next year. That in short is church life as we know it, Jim.

  I recall a Presbytery meeting I attended just a few days after the Gulf War, whether it was "One" or "Two" I can't remember, but the atmosphere was charged with strong feelings about the legality or otherwise of the invasion. To its credit, our local Church and Nation committee (thanks largely to some Iona Community members) had hastily convened and brought to the Presbytery a motion condemning the action of George W. Bush/Tony Blair. The only problem was that the agenda of the meeting was long - very long - and we spent more than an hour discussing ministers' pensions. By ten o'clock at night, those church ministers and elders still awake were looking at their watches. Almost as an afterthought and bolted on to the end of the meeting, we "did" the invasion of Iraq in 5 minutes flat. That, too, is church life.

 Partly this is the fault of my church. "Presbyterian government" means we have no bishops who can pronounce to the press, if they are still listening which they are not, what "The Church" thinks about Gaddafi/Libya/nuclear power/magnolia paint. So we form a committee. Diaries are consulted, the meeting is arranged, and to our surprise the world has moved on, so by the time the Committee reports, we are reacting to old news. (Here's the church's tip for the Grand National: Foinavon.) It's a cop-out of course; and at times of national or international crises, or when there are serious issues to wrestle with such as nuclear power, it is much easier to talk about the colour of paint for the church hall redecoration. Deckchairs on the Titanic? Form the Titanic Committee and report back in 3 months. Better still, form the Titanic Commission (travel expenses paid), send it down to Presbyteries, collate the information and report back in 3 years. Perhaps my Anglican friends do not have this problem, except their bishops, if not yet looking for the P45 in the post, are rather obsessed with homosexuality and civil partnerships. That, too, is church life.

 And we wonder why young people, more interested in saving the rainforests than painting the church hall, are not coming to church? Yet I do remember some electrifying moments in church debates - George Macleod's last speech to the Kirk pleading for nuclear disarmament (with my immaculate sense of timing I had to follow the great man to the podium); the queue of dissenters at the Assembly Clerk's table after the Falklands debate approving Thatcher's response whilst she sat, impassively, in the public gallery of Edinburgh's Assembly Hall; The General Synod vote on women priests...Those were the days; the days when a minister friend of mine could hang around outside a pub at closing time and start up a debate on the existence of God. He tried it a few years ago and no-one was interested.

 Of course, there is a danger, as I have been reminded many times, of a knee-jerk reaction to today's news. Something tells me it is not a trap we will fall into easily in your local church. Next week, even if a radiation cloud from Japan has descended on us, your local church woman's group will still discuss Holiday Slides of Timbuktu or Flower Arranging with Dandelions. I have been guilty too often of acquiescing to such a syllabus. Meanwhile, the world waits (or does it?) for us to say something. Anything. But not about the colour of paint for your church hall.

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