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When moderators become critics

William Crawley | 17:25 UK time, Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Some theatre critics are so powerful that a damning review could close a show overnight. Maybe churches should develop an ecclesiastical equivalent. Just imagine it: you open the Monday papers and you find your local church's music, sermon, and after-service care given the kind of honest, informed critique that we expect from drama, TV, music and technology critics these days. Something like the Mystery Worshipper idea, but with no mystery about the author.

If such a position becomes available, a former Presbyterian moderator might be up for the job. Dr Stafford Carson (pictured, right) has used his personal blog to set out a detailed and highly critical account of the Opening Night of this year's General Assembly. He says he is merely summarizing much of what he heard from others after the service, but his commentary includes criticisms of the service's duration (particularly the fact that it took so long to say goodbye to the outgoing moderator and welcome in the new one), the failure of the tech team to properly play a DVD (which "made the arrangements appear amateurish"), and the loss of "a significant piece of Presbyterian pageantry". This last point relates to the now discontinued tradition of parading moderators in and out of the service, then back in again, to welcome in the newly elected moderator. In past years, some have argued that this older tradition appeared rather Monty-Pythonesque, but clearly some former moderators quite enjoyed it.

Dr Carson's criticisms appear to have stung the outgoing moderator a little. Dr Norman Hamilton (pictured, left) has added a comment in response to Stafford Carson's critique. 'I absolutely accept that things could have been better last night - they always can,' he says, 'but I am a bit taken aback at the minimal level of comment on the ministry content of the evening . . . instead of concentrating so much on the packaging of the service, maybe we would do well to try to figure out exactly who the service is for and who it is NOT for; what we are trying to do and what we are NOT trying to do. I have lots of thoughts on this - but will keep them to myself at least at this moment in time - and see what others think! Some thoughtful, constructive and gracious discussion on this could be of real help!'

The debate about the Opening Night of the General Assembly continues on Stafford Carson's blog. Another contributor there comments: 'Sounds as if the occasion was more of a smouldering bush rather than a burning one.' Ouch.


  • Comment number 1.

    Stafford Carson was bang on the nail. I listened to the event on Radio Ulster. It appeared to be an absolute shambles. Norman, I believe, got it wrong, big time, and should have the grace to admit it.

  • Comment number 2.

    Sometimes parties throw up the oddest conundrums. You are happily enjoying your gin and tonic when, out of the blue, a friend presses you for your opinion on the most obscure moral and theological issues: precisely the sort of issues on which you would like the expert opinion of, say, a reformed evangelical ex-Moderator of the Presbyterian church.

    On a moral level I was asked if someone could break the commandment not to steal if his actions did not deprive a property-owner of the possession of that property. Is infringement of an owner's rights of disposition theft? Is it morally wrong, for example, to appropriate in a spin class an exercise bike which someone else has booked?

    Then, on a theological level, it was put put to me, if someone denies abiogenesis and contends that only God can bring about creation ex nihilo, yet advances the notion that a computer might generate meaningful, apposite and convenient data without human intervention, is there the implication that the person believes there are cases where the Almighty might intervene directly in even the most mundane human affairs? Might He, crazy as it sounds, deign to make the odd gym appointment for some of His suitably eminent followers?

    I confess I had no answers but I did wonder, on an ecclesiastical level, how one might weather the possession of high office in the Christian Church so as to leave it possessed of a sense of deep humility rather than brazen entitlement?

    I realise these moral maze questions might be more appropriately posted on an open thread but I hope I may be forgiven, I thought I might get a more informed response here...

  • Comment number 3.


    Go to the following link:


    Scroll down to the essay - Clericalism:The death of the priesthood. Click on it and read.

    I found it an excellent read and very good analysis regarding the difference between "a deep sense of humility" and "brazen entitlement."

  • Comment number 4.

    RJB - thanks for that link - a really fascinating article!

    I'm afraid work pressures leave me little time to engage in debate at present - the most I can manage, I'm afraid, is a little saintly sniping.


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