Rise of Scotland's Radical Preachers; They Reject Soggy Christianity-Lite, Rail against Secularism, Lazy Thinking and Liberal Intolerance and Are Packing Their Church Pews Every Sunday

Daily Mail (London), March 25, 2017 | Go to article overview

Rise of Scotland's Radical Preachers; They Reject Soggy Christianity-Lite, Rail against Secularism, Lazy Thinking and Liberal Intolerance and Are Packing Their Church Pews Every Sunday


Byline: John MacLeod

IN the concluding part of a powerful series on religion and its role in modern Scotland, a leading writer meets key figures battling to protect Christian churches from public indifference and state opposition.

IT is the first evening of March on the first day of Lent, and hundreds have packed St Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh for Mass with the imposition of ashes.

Archbishop Leo Cushley presides with gravity and aplomb over a liturgy maximally confusing to those not born to it. We stand. We sit. We kneel. We stand again. The hymns are traditional and robust. The faithful duly queue for the dab of ash on their foreheads and queue again 20 minutes later for the sacrament.

It is all reverent and ordered and a far cry from the gloom that beset this Archdiocese four years ago with the disgrace of Cardinal Keith O'Brien, and months of depressing newspaper coverage. Archbishop Cushley was duly consecrated his successor in September 2013 and has since had decisively to reorganise.

The Kirk's essential problem is its haemorrhaging membership. The Catholic Church's burden is a desperate shortage of priests. Parishes have had to be combined, churches here and there closed all together.

'Yes, I've had to restructure things,' Archbishop Cushley confided. 'We have 113 parishes in the Archdiocese and by 2020 I will have just 30 diocesan priests under the age of 75. I have some priests from religious orders - seven or eight from Poland, for instance, and they're a great help. I have, too, half a dozen young men in a seminary - really excellent men - and some of them have graduated from university, which we didn't used to get.' Of course changes and closures are most upsetting, especially for older believers. 'We are all attached to the place where we were baptised or our grandmother helped to buy the altar. I've been there,' the Archbishop has remarked. 'The church where I was ordained is now a car park.

'It's not going to be easy in some places. I want to encourage people to be courageous and charitable and magnanimous and to do what is best for the local Catholic communities so we all move together.' After the rites, I am invited to join some of his young people for a lecture on the Eucharist. It is in the cathedral cafe, a cosy place, and every seat is occupied. There is a large mix of background and nationality. Archbishop Cushley talks for nearly an hour, moving freely around the room, with fluent authority and much quotation; Ignatius, Tertullian, Augustine.

Occasionally he puts questions, which are answered thoughtfully, or someone questions him. He is an enthralling speaker and, though dignified, bubbles with unfeigned optimism.

'There's something about our young people today,' he tells me. 'There's a steeliness. They don't want me to teach Christianity-lite. They want it straight, to do the stuff it says on the tin.' The Rev David Robertson, 55, has seen more than restructuring - he, in 1992, beheld near-total desolation, when he was inducted to his second charge, St Peter's Free Church in Dundee.

In a building that could seat 900, only seven appeared for the first service. There were no young people, no families. The atmosphere was dispirited and hopeless. The temptation was to retrench - meet in the small hall or go in search of the traditional constituency (Highland and Hebridean students) or resort to some gimmick or other.

Mr Robertson is himself from the North - Easter Ross - but of Brethren upbringing, irrepressible enthusiasm and keen social conscience. He held his nerve and just preached, refusing to dumb down or, cannily, to abandon the sanctuary. There was no targeting. Free Church students either did not exist or were not interested.

'We decided to try to reach out to everyone. We met in the main church, sought to improve our singing, switched to the New International Version. …

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