Presbytery of Edinburgh Cluster Groups

From Jack Holt, Convener, Presbytery Strategy Team

This year at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the sombre tone of some of the debates revealed the present state of the Church as an institution. The difficult but necessary decisions made will have very real consequences for the national Church, and also for the future of your own congregation.

This was recognised by the Church’s magazine Life & Work, which took the step of producing immediately afterwards a special 4-page supplement sharing the outcomes. General Assembly 2021:  Special Supplement - Life and Work.

Pre-COVID, the Church was already aware that to safeguard its future in an increasingly secular society, something far-reaching needed to happen to the structures of the Church. Also, that there needed to be a renewed focus by the local and regional Church on its core values of mission and service, seeking to look outward and to proclaim with urgency and boldness its gospel message in word and deed.  So, through the agreement of a Radical Action Plan, and by the appointment of Assembly Trustees and, through them, a Chief Executive, this major overhaul was initiated.

But then the pandemic struck, and while the Church supported the national effort to suppress the virus by closing its buildings, its impact affected the Church mostly financially. Local congregations learned quickly how to produce worship online, followed by the courts of the Church discovering how to conduct their business via online Zoom meeting, but nothing could block the significant loss of income the Church has endured. And it was this factor that required both a speeding up of the process for change, and the need to propose the dramatic steps to achieve stability.

So, at the General Assembly, the Assembly Trustees set out the problem: presently the Church is using £11million of reserves annually to meet its commitments. This cannot continue indefinitely. To live within its means, the Church could now afford only 600 ministry posts (parish ministers plus Ministries Development Staff), plus maintain 60 vacancies (presently that number is over 200). To achieve this number the presbyteries across Scotland were allocated a number of posts, and instructed to achieve that number by 2025. For Edinburgh Presbytery that presently works with the number 78.2, the allocated number is now 48.5.

Two quotes from the conveners who presented these proposals are worth repeating here: The Very

Rev Dr John Chalmers, Convener of the Assembly Trustees said, “We are well aware that this is not an easy ask. Every one of us is a member or minister serving in parishes that will be affected by this. We know reshaping the Church around this will involve painful decisions. But in the goodness and grace of God we trust.”

The Rev Rosie Frew, Convener of the Faith Nurture Forum said, “We are draining the resources of the Church – people, morale, finance – just to keep this broken system going. Without a radical treatment plan the Church of Scotland will not survive.”

In a few months’ time, the Presbytery of Edinburgh will have its first look at the draft Plan that seeks to achieve not only the reduction in numbers, but also the reduction in the buildings being considered necessary, plus enabling the local church to fully engage in the Five Marks of Mission which is at the centre of national planning:

1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom

2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers

3. To respond to human need by loving service

4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation

5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

The Plan will outline the future of our own congregation in all these respects, and this article is to prepare all of us that change is likely and to see how we creatively may respond to this changing ti