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Church Urged to Show Humility

Thursday May 26 2022

The Rev Dr George Whyte

The outgoing Principal Clerk to the General Assembly, the Rev Dr George Whyte, has urged the Church of Scotland to show humility and listen to others, as it seeks to serve 21st century Scotland.

Dr Whyte, retiring after 41 years as a minister, told the final session of the 2022 General Assembly: “Asking what God wants to do now and how does he want to do it demands the application of heart and mind, it needs rigour and honesty, teaching, preaching and prayer and it needs us sometimes to be quiet and listen.”

He said that, referring to Assembly Papers since World War Two, the Church seemed to have a tendency: “To be too often looking back, off the pace… we have not had the wisdom of King Canute about the impossibility of turning the tide back, so we have railed against the changes in the common life which we resented, but which we were powerless to stop.

“Sometimes we were not a very humble church. We can be a bit precious about our place in the scheme of things. We were ‘king of the castle’ in white, Protestant Scotland and, even once that castle was knocked down, we have been too often drawn to grandiloquence and lofty letter-writing to those in power.

“Any group which lacks humility doesn’t listen and doesn’t learn, either to the God who might have new plans, or to the neighbour who might have new needs, new questions or - heaven forbid - new insights. Perhaps that’s how we ended up being off the pace.

“Thank goodness that in recent times we have put more emphasis on conversation, and networking and listening and learning and making friends with other Christians who worship in different ways to us, and - dare I say - with people of other faiths who worship in different ways to us, but who have things to tell us.”

The Rev Fiona Smith was sworn in as Dr Whyte’s successor, becoming the first woman to hold the job permanently. The Moderator, the Rev Iain Greenshields, said that the role was ‘a vocation where faith and theology, practice and procedure are held together in service for this, the Church of Scotland’.

In his closing remarks, the Moderator praised the Assembly’s willingness to work together to find a way forward through difficult debates. “If the Church is to do anything it has to work together on mission,” he said, “And it has to work together to bring Christ to the people and the people to Christ, and surely that is our greatest privilege.”

The Lord High Commissioner, Lord Hodge, also paid tribute to Dr Whyte as well as the Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, who has finished his term as Convener of the Assembly Trustees.

Lord Hodge said that the week had given him ‘a strong sense of the energy and vibrancy of initiatives being taken at a local level’ across Scotland, and that he had been inspired by ecumenical co-operation between the Church of Scotland and other denominations in Milton, an area of multiple urban deprivation in Glasgow.

“Most of all, what I will take away from this week is what a drug addict in Milton, who had no active connection with the church, said to (parish minister) the Rev Christopher Rowe on meeting him in the community: ‘You give us hope that God has not abandoned us’.”

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