I mentioned in a recent sermon that in research in the National Archives in Edinburgh I had come across a namesake of mine, a certain Mr Nimmo, who had delivered a discourse on 3rd March 1735 at the Divinity Hall in Edinburgh University. The notes of the sermon were written under the hand of Bishop Robert Keith. The text is written in very strong language and for that I make no apology, as it is of the time…

I would consider myself to be one of the ‘vulgar’ i.e. of working class origin.

“That the Christian Sabbath is a very wise institution and admirable…if for no other reason than to promote friendship and harmony among the vulgar, who by virtue of that institution must once a week…turn out… in their best attire…in order to go to Church. Whereas if there was no such institution they would soon be suffocated with… nastiness and in a short time… become…a race of savages”.

Waxing lyrical about church attendance is not a new thing!

At time of writing this letter the Church of Scotland in its General Assembly is agonising over the state of the Church in Scotland. Just after the 2nd World War the membership of the Church of Scotland was at its highest ever. One asks ‘how can it plummet so badly in adherents seventy years on?’ To be honest we in the Episcopal Church don’t fare much better. The Scottish News this week was giving grim reports about the  amalgamations of parishes, closures of churches, shortage of ministers and lack of money. The only bright thing on the horizon apparently was the continuation of a community lunch club run by the church in Kilmarnock.

There are various reasons why church attendance has fallen away. Secularisation, Sunday shopping, Sunday Sport, lack of seed corn…most youngsters don’t do church and congregations are ageing and getting more infirm, and there’s Covid of course. The ‘lock-downs’ have not helped church attendance. For most people the Christian Church seems to be irrelevant in their lives unless they are wanting something… In the immediate vicinity, bar the Baptists in Gerrard Street, St Margaret’s will soon be on its own. It’s a dreich picture but why is this?

A lot of it has, I am afraid, to do with lack of imagination. St Nicholas Kirk, the mither kirk, part of its structure is about one thousand years old, stands empty. What sort of message is the Christian Church sending out to the population of this city? St Nicholas in the Middle Ages was the largest parish church in Scotland on the eve of the Reformation with 31 altars! I have always said that the undercroft of St Mary’s Chapel is an excellent platform for mission and engagement with the population. It is just yards from the busiest footfall in the city in St Nicholas Street, yet the doors are firmly lockit an’ sneckit!

Without putting too fine a point on it the Church has lost its way. We are not a glee club! We are here primarily to worship God in the Liturgy, to celebrate the Sacraments, to preach the Gospel and to challenge people’s hearts and minds. Community events are important but they are not first priority.

Running after the latest ‘fad’ does not fill churches. I mentioned recently in my Saturday Sermon in the P&J that young millennial men in England were, according to an article in the Spectator, turning to the Prayer Book for security and reason in their lives. The theology, and the English used, spoke strongly to them. You can read the Sermon elsewhere in the magazine. The sermon was unfortunately published anonymously, but many people have suspected correctly who the author was!

We have opportunity at St Margaret’s but like elsewhere the clock is ticking. Remember the Scots proverb… Tak tint o’ time, ’ere time tak tint!

Anyway, I am pleased that Fr Jack is with us and his advent is timeous. He is good at speaking with young people and is greatly helping with the sacramental and preaching life of this place, and of course  there is his musical talent as well. We also have another priest from Australia coming at the beginning of June. Our guest preacher on Sunday 11th of June will be the Rev’d Dr Fergus King whom many of you know. Fergus in his younger years was a member of this congregation. It will be good to welcome him back amongst us. His mother Prue is a regular communicant at the early Mass on Sundays.

There have been a couple of meetings recently to see how we can push things forward. I will admit that our biggest problem is lack of manpower. The reconvened Social Committee met and has come up with a programme until Christmas. The main thing is to try and resuscitate the Gallowgate Festival which will take place on Saturday the 5th of August. This won’t quite take the same format as before as I am concerned about footfall. The plan is to have Teas/Coffees in the Hall along with some stalls. I am hoping that other City Centre Charges will get involved too. We will be having organ recitals in church and tours of the gardens and the church…a sort of St Margaret’s Open Day. There will be a Gallowgate Raffle which I expect you will support enthusiastically.

In addition there has been a ‘brain-storming’ meeting with three of my friends from across Scotland and with two members of the Vestry and myself to try and see how we can convey what St Margarets is about across the country. How can we best tell the story…the historical tradition…the catholic sacramentality…the preaching of the Gospel? Initially we are intending to start up the Friends of St Margarets again, but in a different format. The intention is to produce a quarterly magazine which will contain up-market articles and possibly include some of the music that we have written and use in the Liturgy. I have it on good authority that the hymn ‘Wind of God, Keen wind of Creation’ written by Bill Brown is in the Glenalmond School Hymn Bookand is a ‘hot favourite’ of the pupils!

You will find other events listed in the What’s On page in the magazine.

Looking forward to an improvement in the weather and a better summer.

Kindest Regards,

As Aye,

Fr. Emsley