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General Assembly 2013

Thomas Baldwin
Thomas Baldwin

 

Wednesday May 22 2013

General Assembly 2013: Day five

The lion’s share of today’s business was taken up by the Ministries Council, with concern for ministers’ declining stipends and pensions, and falling numbers, along with some more upbeat moments.

The Rev Neil Dougall, Convener of the Ministries Council, expressed regret that the church’s budget for next year will make it likely that ministerial stipends and salaries for Presbytery Parish Workers (PPWs) will remain flat for another year. He said: “The council believes the church should make a commitment to maintain the current level of stipends and salaries. We respect the General Assembly’s decision (on the budget)... but invite the Assembly to affirm the principle that where possible stipends and salaries should go up in line with inflation.” This was agreed.

He was also forced to defend the changes in terms and conditions for PPWs, including a pay freeze and the loss of housing allowance (for which they are to receive a one-off lump sum). Mr Dougall said: “Still to work for the church on many occasions is to receive more than in a comparable post in the private or public sectors... Housing allowance reflected a different era. Virtually no comparable job in the modern day comes with a housing allowance.

“Obviously if there is something you have it becomes difficult to stop it, but sometimes it becomes necessary to grasp the nettle.”

A motion stating that ‘the Ministries Council’s treatment of PPWs has not been satisfactory’ was defeated.

While one Commissioner declared that Ministers were not feeling valued, another said that there were others much worse off, and said: “We need to get a dose of reality".

There was praise for the report of the Joint Emerging Church Group, whose report invites all congregations by the year 2020 ‘to begin to establish a new experience or expression of Church in each Parish’, although one Commissioner asked why it should take so long.

The Ministries Council report also includes a celebration of the Diaconate’s 125th anniversary, and there was warm applause for the Deacons in the hall. The Moderator said: "You are a movement that has served the Church of Scotland so well over the years. At a local level, you truly are a ministry facing the community."

The Council accepted a new section of the deliverance instructing it to draw up national guidelines for ministers, deacons and parish workers on the use of social media.

The Council was instructed to explore whether the Go For It! Fund, which presently is not available to congregations in the Presbyteries of England and Europe, could be extended to those churches.

There was also a motion, accepted by the council, that the study into why few under-45s are entering the Ministry (which is to report next year) should look into those churches which historically have sent a lot of ministry candidates.

The Pensions Trustees were finally heard (held over from Saturday) and included continuing regret for the lack of increases in pension for service before 1997. Increases to pensions from this period are discretionary, and the Trustees insist that they cannot afford it. The chairman of the trustees, John McCafferty, said: “Even a one-off one per cent increase to pre-1997 pensions would add £1m to the pensions deficit. There is simply no money for discretionary payments... and some will think it’s unfair but I say again ‘where is the money to come from?’”

The Convener of the Safeguarding Convener, Ranald Mair, said in his speech that 30,000 people in the Church of Scotland would need to be registered with the Protection of Vulnerable Groups scheme, which will take five years. He added that it would be dangerous to say that harm or abuse couldn't happen within the Church: "I wouldn't want any future Moderator or Convener to have to say 'sorry, we didn't do enough'."

There was the usual warm response to the report of the National Youth Assembly, presented by Moderator Euan Patterson. He reported on a gathering which explored issues of tax evasion, HIV and domestic abuse. The discussion which followed took in questions of how the youth participation in the General Assembly could be replicated in other courts of the church, and how the NYA could be better promoted by the Church so more people could get involved.

Earlier, the Special Commission Anent* Tenure and the Leadership of the Local Church had its deliverance passed unchanged. This means that next year it will bring proposals for continuing ministerial review and development, training and support for Elders, and a capability policy for ministers. While there was some disquiet among ministers about the prospect of appraisal – particularly about sparing the time – there was enthusiasm from others who have experience.

The Rev Tom Gordon, a hospital chaplain, said that appraisals in the NHS ‘offered me nurture, it offered me challenge, it offered me continuity. It offered me a launch into development’.

The Convener of the Special Commission, the Very Rev Bill Hewitt said: “We want to ensure we have the right people in the right places at the right time equipped to deliver God’s work and word.”

* Your reporter is determined to use ‘anent’ as often as possible while it is still in use.