2010. május 7., péntek

Free Church of Scotland: hymn-singing again

Wee Frees may allow hymns, overturning ban lasting a century

06 May 2010
John Ross

A CENTURY-LONG ban on hymn-singing in the Free Church of Scotland could be lifted if a growing body of ministers pushing for change is successful.

Free Church of Scotland congregations like this one in Stornoway traditionally sing psalms unaccompanied. Picture: Jane Barlow

The group, believed to be a minority of church office- bearers, wants to introduce hymns and play musical instruments during services.

At present, the Church excludes instrumental accompaniment and limits its music to the unaccompanied congregational singing of psalms.

Those pressing for change deny suggestions they are motivated by a need to attract new members amid falling congregations, or to woo Church of Scotland members who may leave the Kirk in the row over whether gay people should be allowed to become ministers.

The Free Church split from the Church of Scotland in the Disruption of 1843 and claims to be the largest Calvinist congregation in Scotland, with 1,000 members.

Spokesman the Rev Iver Martin said: "Over the past few years there has been a growing unease over our form of worship. That unease came to a head a couple of years ago at the General Assembly, when it was passed to a committee to investigate.

"It has grown since then and the board of trustees has facilitated a study into why we worship the way we do."

"It has nothing to do with the Church of Scotland's troubles at the moment. This discussion has arisen independently. I can appreciate why people have been inferring that we might be trying to 'open the door', although the door has never been closed."

Nor were cash problems behind the move, he said. "Every church has dwindling congregations, even hymn-singing congregations."

"What we are looking at is a purely theological question about what exactly is our position on worship."

Mr Martin said the Free Church originally followed a tradition of unaccompanied singing, but in 1873 brought out a hymn book. Following a union in 1900 with the United Presbyterian Church, those who remained outside the union reverted back to psalm-singing and passed legislation restricting congregations to singing "inspired materials of praise".

Edinburgh minister the Rev Alex Macdonald is in favour of re-examining the position. He said: "I would like to see the psalms continue to be used, but I cannot see a good biblical reason for the prohibition."

Glasgow minister the Rev Ken Stewart, who backs the status quo, said the songs used traditionally were "inspired", or written by prophets directly inspired by God. He said: "If I didn't think the Bible mandated the singing of inspired songs I would not be so fussy about it.

"But as far as I can see, the Bible does mandate singing inspired songs in worship, and unaccompanied because our understanding is that the particular musical accompaniment used under the Old Testament was directly mandated by God in certain occasions and certain times."

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