Be still and know

The Revd Norman Drummond
BBC National Governor and Chairman of the Broadcasting Council for Scotland

The late Very Revd Dr Ronnie Selby Wright, former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and much loved BBC Radio Padre during the Second World War, recalled a small wartime church being built by some men of the 51st Highland Division at Genifa beside the Suez Canal:

When the building was finished the men proudly asked their divisional padre to come and see it. He had helped and encouraged them throughout the whole process and they naturally felt quite pleased with themselves when the job was finished. It had been very well done and the padre congratulated them; but he said that there was only one thing that really had to be changed. You see they had put in large letters where the communion table or altar stood, the words ‘Scotland for Ever’. He tactfully pointed out that this was hardly appropriate for a church and asked them if they would change it. He went back a few days later to see the final result. Instead of ‘Scotland for Ever’, the wording had been changed to ‘Scotland for Ever and Ever – Amen’! You see what they were driving at? They thought that ‘For Ever and Ever’ – and of course ‘Amen’ – would make it religious.

The many welcome visitors to Scotland’s Churches this summer will bring with them their own particular perceptions of what it means and has meant in times past to be ‘religious’. A visit to certain Lowland or Border towns where three or four churches, perhaps even of the same denomination, stand staring at each other in or around the town centre, might lead the visitor to think this is a very religious place. Yet some of these churches, either half full or half empty depending on individual opinions, may be shrines to interdenominational competition rather than to pure religion, let alone life enhancing Christianity.

It is worth remembering that the first properly constituted Christian church building was only consecrated in approximately 303AD. For three hundred years therefore the earliest Christians had contented themselves with continuing steadfastly in the apostles’doctrine and fellowship, in breaking bread from house to house and in prayers – and the Lord added to the Church daily.*

The embarrassing fact of the late 20th century is that Scotland has too many church buildings, or at the very least too many churches in some places and too few in others. Many a Highland village will have not one but three Presbyterian churches in the main street, a far cry from earliest days in Palestine when all that believed were together and had all things in common!*

No wonder then that those Second World War Scottish soldiers of the brave and famous 51st Highland Division should presume that ‘For Ever and Ever, Amen’ made ‘religious’ the church building which they had built and of which they were so proud. Perhaps they had become so used to pseudo religious language and interdenominational competition, spoken and unspoken, that the safest way to complete the church was to add those words as if in the ending of a prayer.

To visit any one of Scotland’s churches, particularly those who have graciously joined this scheme, is to know that churches not only describe the architecture of a certain period, but also the history and culture of the nation. Many will be the holy spots of interest and information. Yet it is important to remember that in these places men and women and their children and families have prayed and still do pray – not ‘Scotland for ever and ever, Amen’ but for renewal through forgiveness and for courage through faith.

‘Be still and know’ then, welcome visitors to Scotland’s churches, and enjoy peace and stillness and serenity well away from religious language or prejudice and far from the noisy ‘madding crowd’ of daily life. Draw in new strength from the unsearchable riches of Christ to face whatever may lie ahead for you and for your loved ones.

Feel accompanied by what the Church has seen fit to call that great cloud of unseen witnesses who before us have endeavoured to follow in the footsteps of Christ.

And if things do not add up in this way, it may help to remember that those men of the 51st Highland Division, proud as they were of the wartime church which they had built, never felt closer to God than when in some remote spot their Padre placed the small wooden celtic cross, so reminiscent of home, and said ‘Let us pray’.

*quotations from the Acts of the Apostles.

Printed in ‘Cathedrals Abbeys and Churches in Scotland’, 1996.