The Church of Scotland today announced major plans on how it aims to grapple with the changing face of ministry in Scotland.
Reports of the Ministries Council and Panel on Review and Reform, to be considered by commissioners at the General Assembly, affirm that the Church must restructure now if it is going to grow in the future, particularly with the current financial climate.
In 2010 the Ministries Council is budgeting for a deficit of £5.7 million – an “unsustainable” situation. Since Ministries receive 87 per cent of Ministry and Mission funds from congregations, this is a problem for the whole church and not just the Council.
If a balanced budget is not achieved in the next few years the Council’s resources will be exhausted and will not be able to sustain ministry across the country. Therefore, the Council needs to prune to grow.
The report claims the only way a serious difference can be made to the deficit is by reducing the amount of money spent on paid ministries. The Council sees this, as it has consistently said, an opportunity for growth in new ways, through new patterns, it is not just a cost-cutting exercise, even though that is also clearly necessary.
Consequently, the Ministries Council wants to move to a scheme of 1,000 full-time equivalent posts for ministry, rather than having only a “one minister, one parish” format. The Council believes that, as a side-effect of the introduction of more flexible working conditions, this could also help increase the number of female ministers, who currently make up only a fifth of parish ministers.
Among the recommendations are bi-vocational ministers – clergy who would spend part of the week in the parish whilst doing another part-time job.
Linked to this, the Council is also exploring ways to tap into a wider range of the talent of the Kirk’s membership, encouraging more people to train to take part in leading worship. A pilot of training towards a locally ordained ministry is set to begin in Caithness after the summer.
The Council estimates that the Kirk could have a substantial part-time preaching pool within a few years if the scheme was to be successful, and training would be rolled out nationwide. Visionary thinking in the church is also leading to new and different patterns of emerging church.
The Panel on Review and Reform will propose a scheme which will pilot an alternative presbytery structure, the primary objective of which would be to strengthen presbyteries to develop and experiment with ways of working which focus on the delivery of the mission of the Church in their own areas.
A pilot scheme, if approved by commissioners, would take account of local circumstances and would bring decision-making about deployment of resources for mission closer to congregations.
Just as John Knox envisaged it 450 years ago, the Church of Scotland will continue to be a national church with a pastoral concern for the people and the nation.
But as Presbyterians know, reformed churches are constantly reforming, and the next few years are likely to be ones of significant change for the Kirk as it balances the books and gets to grips with new and exciting forms of ministry in the twenty-first century.