What is the ‘Path of Renewal’?


Almost all of us know that Sherwood Greenlaw has for this past year been one of several congregations within the Church of Scotland that has embarked on a new endeavour entitled the ‘Path of Renewal’ – but, what exactly is the ‘Path of Renewal’? If you find difficulty in answering this question then take comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone! The Path of Renewal is not a pre-defined project which we are to follow. It is not a tried and tested approach that we simply need to adopt. Rather, it is an experiment designed to help us find new ways of responding to the challenges we currently face. As a consequence, we will only be able to describe the Path of Renewal with any certainty once we have decided together on our direction of travel and been on the journey for a while. 


The need for a Path of Renewal.


What do the following have in common? A business has been losing money each and every month for a year and a half. A man has been gaining weight every month for over a year. For twelve hours a ship is letting in water faster than the pumps can remove it. The answer in each case is obvious – something new has to happen or the trend that has been established will continue. The business will go bankrupt, the man will continue to gain weight and become unwell and the ship will sink. In short, recognising that change is necessary is the beginning of wisdom. An examination of the trend in our congregation suggests that we face an analogous challenge.


The background to our current challenges

The late 1950s was a period of transition for Scotland as a whole and the Church of Scotland in particular. For the one hundred year leading up to this period, Scotland had been transformed from a mostly rural nation into an industrial economy. People moved into cities and towns like Glasgow, Dundee and Paisley to work in industries that exported to the whole world. The year 1957 was the year in which employment in manufacturing industries peaked in Scotland. It was also the year of peak membership of the Church of Scotland. The Church successfully created vibrant congregations in large industrial centres (like Paisley). In those years almost all families brought their children to be baptised and then into Sunday School and, later, a variety of youth organisations. Large numbers joined the church, married, settled down and brought their own children up in a similar way. For all age groups, much of life revolved around the church. 

During the 1960s, 70s and 80s everything changed. Manufacturing industries were replaced by a new service economy. Job opportunities for women increased and patterns of family life changed. Consumerism became a more dominating force and people made more individual choices about how to spend their evenings and weekends. These trends were amplified as we moved into the 21st century. For many, life became busier and more complicated. Sunday became a day to spend time with the family or pursue hobbies and interests (or just ‘catch up’ before another busy week began).


The impact on the Church

Less young people joined the church and all forms of church activity became less central to the lives of an increasing proportion of people. At first, congregations were large enough for this trend to go unnoticed but it is now clear that the traditional means by which a congregation replenishes itself no longer works. In response, a whole series of new initiatives have been tried to attract new members. Some have been successful – but, not sufficiently so to reverse the overall trend.


What is needed now?

What we do not need is more of the same! We might have to accept that the days of large congregations in the traditional sense are over. That does not mean that God is not at work in the lives of every person who lives in our parish – whether they come to church or not. That’s a new way of thinking that may lead to a different form of engagement with others.


Also, there are many individuals in our church family who are expressing God’s love to others through their employment, by volunteering or simply by acts of care and kindness to family and friends. Do we need to celebrate what is happening and support each other in these activities more effectively? 

There is much that is happening in our local community that is an expression of love – Woman’s Aid, ACCORD Hospice and ROAR are just three examples. Could we find out more about the work of organisations like these and do more to support them? There may be much that is going on that we do not yet fully appreciate.

Importantly, small can be beautiful! For example, in the period leading up to Easter our Minister created an opportunity for us to gather each morning for reflection and prayer. The numbers attending were encouraging but never very large. Yet, many found these experiences deeply meaningful.

The path of renewal is emerging.


Phil Hanlon

On behalf of the Path of Renewal Group.