An extensive two-year study has concluded that the Church of Scotland should not abandon its key commitment to territorial ministry.
The Special Commission on the Third Article Declaratory said the Kirk must reject a “supermarket” model which maintains a Church presence only where there is the “customer base” which makes it economically viable to do so.
Commission members acknowledged that the parish dimension was an integral part of their calling and a crucial aspect of their ministries.
From their consultation exercise the Commission felt it was clear that Presbyteries viewed the Third Article as a Gospel imperative and not an onerous obligation.
However the report did note that new patterns of ministry needed to evolve in the Church if it was going to prosper.
As such, the Commission has instructed the Ecumenical Relations Committee, in consultation with the Ministries Council and relevant Presbyteries, to seek discussions with sister churches on potential partnerships, and to report to the 2012 General Assembly.
It is hoped areas could be identified where a sharing of ministers and buildings would enable a more effective ministering to communities throughout Scotland.
The Commission was also told that there are places in the Highlands where the Scottish Episcopal Church or the Free Church has a considerable presence. In Shetland, the Methodist Church is strong.
It was suggested that in such places it may be possible for a territorial Christian presence to be maintained in co-operation with such churches.
Given that resources are becoming stretched for all denominations, the Commission believes there is a willingness amongst Scottish churches to explore the concept of ecumenical team ministry, not necessarily exclusively clergy, in a given area.
Linked to this, the Commission emphasised that the Church of Scotland did not see itself as “the” national church, rather “a” national church – and did not want to detract from the valuable work being done by other Christians.
The Commission readily acknowledges that reaching the people of Scotland is an ecumenical task and one to which the Church of Scotland contributes along with other denominations as partners in the Gospel.
Ministers are also being urged to consider serving in the poorest and most remote parts of the country, and the Commission invites all clergy to give “prayerful consideration” to a call in “Priority Area” and far-flung rural parishes. Traditionally these types of ministry have struggled to attract preachers, and can often have a prolonged vacancy period.
Linked to this, the Commission has also instructed the Ministries Council to consider authorising identified and appropriately trained individuals to celebrate the Sacraments in the absence of an ordained minister. The Ministries Council is already bringing proposals to this year’s Assembly for its Ordained Local Ministry scheme, which is being piloted in Caithness Presbytery after the summer.
According to the Council’s report, this style of ministry would be able to conduct Baptisms and celebrate Communions, but only on a local basis. A further report will come to the 2011 General Assembly.