Church members told to get serious or get out
A Scottish minister has told his congregation they need to pray and pay more ñ or face the boot.
The Church of Scotlandís Rev Daniel Hawthorn has told Belhelvie Churchís 600 members that if they donít meet expectations they may have to leave.
In a letter, Hawthorn and the Kirk Session told members they should give more money to the Church, pray and read the Bible more frequently and go out and preach the Gospel to others.
The church, near Balmedie in Aberdeenshire, says it would prefer to have fewer more committed members than a large number of casual members. About 200 of the roll of 600 are thought to worship actively.
The letter says: ìThere is a clear need for members to significantly raise their level of giving. Membership entails committing a realistic part of your income for Church work."
ì[The Church would] rather have a smaller roll of people who take their membership and Christian faith seriously than a larger one made up of those who do not.î It asks them to ìreflect upon member vowsî and to decide ìwhether or nor they wish to remain membersî.
The letter goes on to remind members that actually turning up at church is ìa top priority Ö in this way, the Kirk Session will be able to positively explore aspects of Christian commitment with those who wish to remain membersî.
A red Membership Vows card and a blue Membership Matters card were also issued. Members are asked to keep the red card ñ which reaffirms their vows ñ and to respond to the blue card. It gives them the choice of continuing by sticking to the conditions, discontinuing membership or discussing membership further.
The faithful of Belhelvie did not want to be identified, but there was clearly a measure of anger over Hawthornís actions. One said: ìThe church door should be open to anyone at any time. It feels like a threat by saying we can remain members so long as we attend and worship regularly and pay up.î
Another said: ìThe Church is out of order asking anyone to consider giving up their membership. Why should I have to say I want to be a member when I already am one?î
Hawthorn was away on holiday this weekend and could not be contacted for comment. However, he told a local newspaper: ìIím on holiday in England, the sun is shining and the leaves are falling from the trees. I would be happy to speak about this next week, but not now.î Unhappy parishioners are asked to contact him on his return.
A spokesman for the Church of Scotland was quick to assure people they could still go to their church without filling out a direct debit slip at the door.
He said: ìEvery minister is, of course, entitled to do all that they can to take their membership seriously. However, the actions in this particular incident are far from universal, with most ministers taking a more tolerant approach."
ìThe Church of Scotland has a responsibility to the forgetful as well as the faithful, and indeed to those who are not members as well as those who are committed and attend regularly.î
While the Church of Scotland has around 600,000 members, it is understood that only about 230,000 are active. Last yearís Scottish Church Census found membership of the Church of Scotland had dropped by 22% between 1994 and 2002.
The Belhelvie church states its aims as: ìTo faithfully proclaim and witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in word, deed, and, in His name, to serve the spiritual, social, and community needs and interests of the whole parish, and beyond, to both Church members and non-members.î