2019 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which is an annual
gathering of about 600 ministers and elders from across the church,
took place in Edinburgh from 18-24 May. The new moderator of the
Church of Scotland, who will be in office until next May, is the
Right Rev Colin Sinclair, who is the minister of Palmerston Place
Church in Edinburgh. If you have never been to one of these gatherings,
the General Assembly is always a busy week. However, this year
there was an air of anticipation that the Church needs to change!
the outcomes of some of the debates which took place was the acceptance
of 3 significant reports which have the potential to radically
reshape the Church of Scotland, at every level. Last year the
General Assembly instructed a review of the workings of the Church.
And this year, the report from the Special Commission on Structural
Reform was approved. The overall thrust of the plans is devolution
of decision-making and resources from the central offices in Edinburgh
to reorganised regional and local structures, with an emphasis
on equipping churches for mission in their local context.
what the General Assembly decided was the following. Up to £25m
to be spent on projects aimed at church growth, with particular
emphasis on establishing new churches in communities where none
is present. The hope to establish 100 new worshipping communities.
Recognising that there are fewer people under 40 years of age
regularly coming to worship, there is to be a focus on engaging
with these age groups.
the last decade or so the costs of mission and outreach for the
whole Church, with new employees and administration, has grown,
while the number of people contributing to the Church has levelled
off. Therefore, the cost of central administration is to be cut
by up to 30%, with four administrative councils being merged into
local churches are gathered into groups called Presbyteries. There
are 43 Presbyteries across Scotland, each undertaking similar
administrative and oversight roles. This number is to be reduced
to about 12, which should free a lot of ministers from administrative
jobs to minister to the people. However, with the number of practising
ministers set to decrease, as a significant number reach retirement
age, there will be the development of local networks, as congregations
work closer together to share the good news of Jesus. Along similar
lines, Kirk Sessions will be reduced in size and focused on leadership
and local decision-making.
of the biggest challenges to the Church of Scotland is that, having
gone through unions with other church denominations about 100
years ago, and with the joining together of local churches, there
is a surplus of church buildings. Therefore, a Land and Buildings
Plan, focussing on 'well equipped spaces in the right places',
is being established. In the future, any money realised from sale
of redundant buildings is to be shared between congregations.
This, in itself, should help local churches do more for the people
in Jesus' name.
the Church looks to reform itself, there will be improved training
and support for all ministry and leadership roles. And, significantly,
the General Assembly is to be made smaller. To accompany all of
this reformation, which the General Assembly believe the Holy
Spirit is guiding us to, congregations are being encouraged to
enter into a season of 'prayer and preparation' from September
to December. This is good news.
the days of the initial reformation in 1560, the Church of Scotland
has always sought to reform itself; bringing new from old. Sometimes
reform has been slow, at other times it has been quick. And depending
how old you are you will know how the church has changed in your
lifetime. These new changes will give the church a new structure
and new motivation. However, we still have the same God-given
mission: in the power of the Holy Spirit, we share the knowledge
and love of God through Jesus, God's Son, with the people in our
community and the wider world.
hope that, haven taken time to read this, you will see some changes
which encourage you to return, or continue, to worship God and
be blessed to receive and recognise the very many graces that
God gives us.