What does it mean to belong?

So, here’s the thing.

Over the last few weeks we’ve been doing our usual gathering of names for the congregational roll at St Mary’s. We ask people here to fill in a form each year before the AGM indicating that they want to be included on the congregational roll. It has taken a few years for some people to get used to this, but now most people accept it for what it is – a simple clerical device that means we can keep the roll in a constantly changing congregation up to date.

This year, I’ve as many questions about the result of this exercise than I have answers.

You see, there are people indicating to me that they want to be regarded as members of St Mary’s who I didn’t expect. In particular, people who live at a distance who don’t ever set foot in the building from year to year.

Now in once sense this is unremarkable. Most congregations will have people who are on the roll whom they never see. The thing that makes this a new development is that some of these people live very much at a distance and are indicating that they think of themselves as active members due to the way they participate online with St Mary’s.

Furthermore, some clearly go to other congregations physically and receive the sacrament there but are indicating that they want to think of themselves as being on the congregational roll here. This is, I think, to do with our ethos.

Moreover, there are people who are a couple of ministers in other denominations who are actively working in parish life but who are indicating to me that they want to be included on the congregational roll of St Mary’s.

Now some of this is easy but other aspects are really complicated. The Scottish Episcopal Church doesn’t actually allow for dual membership of it and another denomination to start with, but I’m not sure that people are indicating to me that they want to be Scottish Episcopalians when they indicate to me that they want to be members of St Mary’s. The Scottish Episcopal Church doesn’t, strictly speaking, allow for people to be members of more than one of its congregations either but I’m not so sure that it matters what the church thinks – actual members do believe that they belong to more than one congregation anyway.

From time to time, the Vice Provost and I have conversations about reviving the idea of a Friends of St Mary’s for those living furth of the city of Glasgow who have some allegiance to the congregation. I think that idea of a supporters group is probably a good one. However, I don’t think that is quite what we are talking about when we think about church membership.

I think people want to belong to St Mary’s and not think of themselves as friends of St Mary’s but as actual participating members who are distant from Glasgow.

Now, what does this mean? (That’s a real question and I’d welcome responses in the comments below – I’m still trying to work this out for myself).

What do we need to do to make sense of this? What do we need to do online and with our communications generally to facilitate this situation. Clearly the internet and what we do with it here is having an impact on our life together including our life together apart.

What should the church say about multiple membership?

What does church membership mean in the age of the internet and how is it changing?

I’m interested to hear John Chalmers of the Church of Scotland say today that he wants the church to think about what impact online engagement is making on membership of that denomination so it seems to me that this is an ecumenical matter. This is particularly significant given how negative he has been about social media in the past.

I’m obviously interested that some of the people who do turn up to the Church of Scotland are actually thinking of themselves in the core of their being as belonging in some way to us too. (We must presume that the converse is true too, though I know of no examples).

There’s probably more that I want to say about different types of belonging in another post further down the blog and there’s certainly a lot to be said about ecumenical matters.

However for now, what does it mean to belong?


Synod – membership

We have a debate about how to define the membership of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Sally Gorton speaks against changing our current rules. She has done so before.

Alan Thornton speaks against giving anyone other than the Rector the role of keeping the role.  I think.

John Armes speaks of the importance of keeping involvement of those  who are not communicants. He wants a roll which allows people to say whether they want to be a member or not regardless  of whether they are communicants or baptised. (I agree with this).

Robert Warren speaks – he wants something different too.

David  Mumford speaks in favour – he wants a transparent list of those who are members and that this list could be shared with the  vestry. However, he is concerned that people cannot be on 2 electoral rolls.

James Milne believes in Civil Liberties so speaks in favour of the motion. At the moment people can be put on a list of members against their will.

+Mark speaks – at 16 you can have sex and drink so why not be able to be a member of the church. He speaks in favour of 16 being the age of consent to church.

Darren McFarland speaks in favour of the motion. New legislation is important to stop people abusing church rolls by just turning up to become members by receiving communion to try to swing a vote.

Alison Peden supports the new canon – good for people to know when they actually belong.

Hugh Lee wants the Rector to remain in charge of the roll. Speaks of someone coming to church to receive communion once a year to remain on a roll. Wants to be able to challenge that and throw them off a roll.

Gregor Duncan speaks – he has to read rolls. He thinks that the present roll works well. He thinks it is bad to frame legislation to prevent people from being perverse as they will be perverse whatever legislation is passed.

John Whittall – Aberdeen and Orkney – has been in England and sees no problem with the idea of an electoral roll. Do we really need three rolls?

Patricia Pettie allows Sally Gorton to speak (again!) in the debate. She challenges James Milne to spell out the liabilities that beloging to a church has. He passes the buck to the lovely Jeremy Auld who will respond at the end of the debate.

John Lindsay endorses John Armes’s point. Wants an inclusive church and thinks the present system works.

David Brooke – asks who is responsible for the privacy of the church roll. It is a data prtection issue.

Iain Paton – used to think he was against this canon but now has changed his mind. Are we an unconditionally inclusive church? No the gospel is unconditionally inviting. We have an open invitation. Believes the new legislation will be a pastoral tool that will be helpful.

Jeremy Auld gets up to speak. Rolls should be held by vestry as they are the trustees. This is just the first reading – we can always amend this. There is a liability in law that could fall on every member of a church. Being a member has responsibily. It is right that people know whether or not they are on a roll and cannot be added against their will. It is possible to be the trustee of a charity at age 16 – so 16 it must be!

The motion is put.

It fails in the house of bishops. The motion falls.