Gathering with Members
Ruth Harvey reflects on her month, first visiting members in Europe, then attending the Church of Scotland General Assembly.
A flourishing community relies on opportunities to meet. These have been severely restricted, on site, since March 2020. It was therefore with delight that Caitlin (our Membership Manager) and I got on boats and trains in the first week of May and met with Members and Associate Members in their homes and in cafes, in the Netherlands, Germany and France.
Meeting with our Dutch Members (Jan, Desiree and Hanneke pictured above) reminded us of the remarkable story of community growth in that relatively small country. Family Groups have emerged around pockets of passion, where the energy and commitment of Members meets the curiosity of friends and neighbours, drawn to action and reflection for justice and peace. This is a story of organic growth. Travelling on to Hagen, we met with new Members in northern Germany, hearing of the growth of the German-speaking region. The creativity and gift of Members mean we now have books of liturgy in German and Dutch. Meeting with Jo, an Associate Member in Paris was truly delightful, not least because we also met her 7-month old daughter. Jo’s story of engaging with the Community as a volunteer and young adult reminded us of the impact experience at our centres has particularly on younger people.
Our agenda was to listen. In opening our ears to our dearly beloved members, we heard the pain and anger felt at the treatment of the vulnerable, particularly refugees; we were reminded of the deep yearning for spiritual belonging and for contemplative-action that extends beyond questions of doctrine and institutions; and we were reminded that while the oceans may divide us, deep currents flowing above and beneath continents unite us.
Church of Scotland General Assembly
May has ended for me with my first time as a Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. This meant that I was one of those who voted on Monday 23rd May to permit clergy and deacons the right to conduct same-sex marriages. In the words of one Commissioner, ‘General Assembly, this is 2022. This is time.’ Many would argue it has taken us far too much time to get to this point. Decades of theological debate and ecclesiastical wrangling have meant hundreds, maybe thousands have walked away, hurt and hurting, from the church. We have much to regret. Regret was another theme threading through the Assembly, with the Theological Forum bringing wisdom to the themes of regret and apology in relation in particular to witchcraft and the impact this persecution has had on women.
The St. Margaret Declaration, a public statement of friendship between the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland was signed, as one of many ecumenical developments, while internally further plans were ratified to reduce the number of presbyteries and ministries.
There is no doubt that Church as institution is going through rapid change. Into this context, the Board of the Iona Community (the ecumenical committee that reports annually to the Church of Scotland) reported. The Assembly affirmed our call to support those adversely impacted by the pandemic through our Unlocked programme; agreed that we must urgently consider the historic legacy of slavery, including the impact of modern-day slavery; and affirmed our call to immediate action for justice and peace in Palestine.
As with all we do, we believe that the community we seek must be reflected in the community we practice. Therefore, I look forward to the Iona Community Annual General Meeting in June, and to further gatherings in Regions and in Common Concern Networks as we deepen our prayerful action for justice and peace.
Ruth Harvey, Leader of the Iona Community