THE Moderator of the Church of Scotland has warned that children should not be forced to attend kirk services as it risks putting them off religion.
The Rt Rev Albert Bogle believes it may be counter-productive for the iPod generation to have to sit on pews and be made to listen to ministers “rabbiting on”.
Instead, Bogle, who was appointed at the Kirk’s General Assembly earlier this year, says young people are more likely to become churchgoers if parents and grandparents first start informal faith discussions in the family home.
The 63-year-old minister, who delivered a sermon to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and welcomed the Dalai Lama to Scotland, has also claimed that people are as likely to find God in the coffee chain Starbucks as they are in church.
However, his liberal stance on formal worship has attracted strong criticism from the Free Church of Scotland.
Bogle, who is based in Bo’Ness, West Lothian, said: “The biggest influence for Christianity are older people reaching out to younger people in their families and sharing a bit of their faith without asking them to come to church with them, to sit on a pew and listen to minister rabbiting on.
“Just to sit and tell their story of faith to their children and grandchildren. I think sometimes that’s the most effective way.”
The Moderator feels that grandparents, in particular, have a crucial role to play in passing on their Christian faith.
He said: “My experience is that this younger generation that is growing up really do love their grannies and grandads.
“Whether it’s because grannies and grandads have become kinder people and more interested in their grandchildren I don’t know, but I think there is something unique happening in society today.”
The Glasgow-born cleric also suggested that adults should not have to attend services to demonstrate their faith. Instead he argued that spirituality is not confined to churches and individuals can make a valid connection with God while drinking coffee or admiring nature.
He said: “Too many people who are ‘religious’ give the impression that God can only be encountered behind church walls and in church services.
“But, do you know what? I’ve got news for everyone. God is in the world. He is walking about in the street. God might make a connection with you when you are drinking a cappuccino in Starbucks. Something of God’s presence touches you or you see something of beauty and it stirs you.”
Rev David Robertson, of St Peter’s Free Church in Dundee, felt the Kirk Moderator’s position was ill thought out.
He said: “In order for parents and grandparents to pass on their Christian faith they must first hear it.
“If some ministers are ‘rabbiting on,’ perhaps it’s time for them to learn to communicate the word of God in an effective and contemporary way to all generations It is a bit idealistic to think that God will connect with you as you sip your cappuccino in Starbucks. The problem with the Church of Scotland is that rather than there being too much preaching from the Bible, there has been, in all too many cases, a famine of hearing the word of the Lord.”
But Bogle was praised by the National Secular Society, whose campaign manager Stephen Evans said: “Being forced to attend services at an early age puts many people off religion for life.”