Kirk asks ministers to take a walk on dark side

THE Church of Scotland is planning to train ministers to deal with evil spirits after research showed half the clergy believe they have directly encountered "Satanic" forces.

The Kirk is considering lessons on the supernatural because a growing number of pastors are seeking advice on issues ranging from poltergeists to "possessed" parishioners.

According to research by one of the Kirk's leading experts on the subject, more than half of the church's 1,200 ministers report personal experience of "dark spirits" and "evil powers".

The Church of Scotland Ministries Council, which oversees training for new ministers, has developed a training programme which, if adopted, will teach clerics what to look for in a person who believes they are possessed or oppressed by the devil.

Ministers will not be taught how to conduct exorcisms but will be advised to refer parishioners to a small team of Kirk experts in the paranormal. They will also make sure they take advice from doctors and psychiatrists.

Rev Douglas Cranston, the convener of the Ministries Council, said: "Most ministers come across something like this at some time in their pastoral lives. The training would be given as part of a broader context of healing ministries in general."

The Rev Douglas Nicol, who helped draw up a report for the Kirk's Deliverance Group on the supernatural, confirmed that despite living in a materialistic age, many in the Kirk say they have encountered the dark side.

Nicol, the minister of Priesthill and Nitshill Kirk, Glasgow, said: "It's clear from our research that more than half of ministers have had direct experience of this sometime during their ministries. I might be contacted about eight or nine times in a year whereas a few years ago it might have been three or four times. There's more awareness of this now. In recent years there is much more openness about discussing the subject."

Nicol said full-blown exorcisms, where ministers believed that a person had been fully "possessed" by a devil, are so rare that he had never come across one.

He added that the situation which most Kirk "demon-busters" encountered was better described as "oppression", a lesser form of possession, where - it is claimed - a spirit will afflict a person, perhaps by causing mood swings, physical pain or depression.

Describing one case, he said: "I was speaking to a woman who felt she was being oppressed by a spirit and wanted help. Then the atmosphere changed and she started being hostile to me. I then addressed her by name, we'll call her 'Mary', and I said, 'Is that you speaking to me, 'Mary'?' And she said nothing. So that told me I was dealing with something supernatural."

Such a case is typically dealt with by a "deliverance" service, rather than full-blown exorcism, which the Kirk recently decided not to adopt.

A typical "deliverance" can last up to an hour and will involve two ministers, one ordering the spirit out of the victim and the other praying for the minister doing the delivering.

Nicol and others in the Kirk's small team of experts insist they are cautious in "diagnosing" a person as being oppressed by a spirit, and only intervene after taking medical and psychiatric advice.

Last year, Nicol conducted a deliverance service for Val McInnes, from Glasgow, who had a "spirit of pain" prayed out of her.

She told Scotland on Sunday: "I was suffering from this dreadful pain in my hip and I was convinced it came from a spirit in me which was giving me physical pain. I had tried painkillers and been to the doctor.

"This was very different from any pain I had felt before and I have arthritis. Douglas prayed and ordered the spirit out of me, and I could feel the spirit leaving my body, going all the way down through my leg and then leaving me completely. I believe that the spirit came into me during a difficult time in my life when I was feeling angry with others and I was vulnerable to that spirit."

Flora Robinson Black, also from Glasgow, had a "spirit of fear" taken from her by Nicol.

She said: "I felt under a deep spiritual depression. All the joy had been taken out of my life. I had suffered a bereavement, but this sadness was much deeper than that and lasted much longer, I was at the doctor, I tried antidepressants. My doctor was worried about me. I believe it was a spirit in me making me sad and fearful."

The Rev Douglas Irving, a former lawyer who convened the Deliverance Group for the Kirk - and who has himself dealt with a poltergeist - said: "Jesus commissioned us to preach the Gospel, heal the sick, and also cast out demons. It is a part of healing, even if just a small part. I don't like the Hollywood image of the exorcist and don't even use the word 'exorcism'. I want to take the sensationalism out of the whole thing."

But secular scientists urge caution in seeing diabolical work in people's ailments.

Dr Andrew Gumley, an expert in psychosis at Glasgow University's department of psychological medicine, said: "This is a fascinating subject but I would urge people to be careful about seeing all these kinds of occurrences in terms of the supernatural and possession by the Devil. For example, hearing voices at some stage in one's life is relatively common, affecting up to 25% of the population and it can be a common feature in people recovering from extreme trauma."