The Church of Scotland will begin to formulate its first-ever strategic plan for ecclesiastical buildings, subject to the approval of the General Assembly.
The Special Commission on the Third Article Declaratory, which was set up to investigate whether the Kirk should stick to a system of territorial ministry, has instructed the Ministries Council, General Trustees and Presbyteries to develop a long-term vision for the use of all existing properties.
In the Commission’s report to the Assembly, the General Trustees voiced their concern about the lack of an overall strategy and the large sums of money spent on buildings which are arguably no longer fit for purpose in terms of modern needs and expectations.
The Trustees claim this is a “major risk”, and that the existing Presbytery planning process must be taken seriously with the buildings element dealt with robustly and honestly.
Church buildings seemed to be an important issue throughout the report, with strong opinions voiced from those inside and outside the Kirk.
During the consultation sessions, many from the within the Church felt their building had a sense of “place” in the community, and that many locals, including non-worshippers, would identify with it.
In their submissions to the Commission, both COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) and SCVO (Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations) acknowledged that in some parishes the church building was the only community facility, providing a lifeline to many.
The Commission cited the case of Auchtergaven and Moneydie in Perthshire as good practice, where there is a sharing of facilities within one building. This includes the church sanctuary, a health centre and other community services.
Buildings remain high on the church agenda, and during the year the General Trustees urged congregations, where possible, to make their buildings multi-purpose for the whole of the community, instead of only being used once or twice a week on a Sunday.
In a separate report to the General Assembly, the Ministries Council has indicated its interest to examine the sustainability of church manses.