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General Assembly 2016

'Blue Book' of Reports to the General Assembly 2016
'Blue Book' of Reports to the General Assembly 2016

general assembly 2016: reports

Summaries of the main reports to the General Assembly



The Ministries report focuses on further moves to adjust the church to falling numbers of ministers.

While the Council reports that the Tomorrow’s Calling initiative to attract more ministers is showing early signs of having a positive impact, it calls on the Church to ‘face the fact’ that by the early part of the next decade there will only be around 600 full-time parish ministers.

It states: “This is so far short of the number anticipated in current Presbytery Plans (850 Parish ministers + 150 other ministries) as to make the inherited model of a single minister in a single (albeit linked in many cases) Parish (with a single set of buildings) essentially unworkable. The Council believes it would be fruitless and considerably demotivating to spend time and energy in trying simply to prop up the existing system.”

Instead, it proposes the development of what it calls a ‘hub’ approach in appropriate areas, in which parishes are grouped together, with a leadership team led by a single shared parish minister. It acknowledges ‘this will require huge effort in terms of preparation and training and will demand cooperative effort across the parishes and amongst the ministries’ and warns ‘there is no room for obstructiveness and the kind of wars of attrition that have often accompanied formal attempts at union and linkage’. However, it adds that the results could be ‘transformative for the life and ministry of the Church of Scotland’.

In order to move towards this model (which the report concedes is not the only possible option, the Council seeks to develop ‘a Vision for Ministry’ reflecting the challenges of the situation in contemporary Scotland. The report sets out a vision based around three foundational ideas – Ministry as a contemporary reimagining of the life of Jesus, Ministry as a continuation of the Ministry of Christ, and Ministry as preaching the Good News and pastoring the Church – and the Council is committed in the deliverance to ‘a wide-ranging consultation… through a series of roadshows’ to develop this vision.

The development of the hubs will involve changes to assessment and training processes for new ministers; support of existing ones through ministerial development review and continuing ministerial development (the report sets out the latest progress in developing these programmes) and commitment to ‘a culture of ministry and discipleship among all God’s people’. The deliverance instructs the council to ‘explore practical proposals and a legal framework’ for the new structure.

The report on the Tomorrow’s Calling campaign notes that the initial video has been viewed over 160,000 times, making it the most watched video the Church of Scotland has produced; and that it has been ‘one of the Church’s highest profile initiatives in recent years’.

The Council: “…is also pleased to report seeing the seeds of these efforts translated into numbers applying for Ministry. Three rather than two Vocations Conferences now run a year with local area conferences also being planned. In excess of one hundred people attended these conferences.”

Work on Pioneer Ministry has continued over the year and five projects have now been identified for the Pilot Scheme approved last year.



The Church and Society Council reports on the results of its ‘Speak Out: 10,000 voices for change’ consultation which will inform its work for the next decade.

Seven themes have emerged from the responses: building local communities where people flourish; doing politics differently; investing in our young people; ensuring the health and wellbeing of all; caring for creation; building global friendships; and creating an economy driven by equality.

The deliverance instructs the council to bring an implementation plan for the next 10 years, based on those themes, to next year’s Assembly.

Among the other areas of work brought to this year’s gathering is a new theological reflection on corporal punishment of children. The deliverance calls on the Assembly to recognise corporal punishment as ‘a violent act… damaging to mental and physical health’ and calls on the Scottish Government to remove the defence of ‘justifiable assault’ from the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act.

The report into divestment from fossil fuels recommends that the church should not invest in ‘the most harmful’ fossil fuel companies – those which derive more than 15% of their turnover from extraction, thermal coal and oil from tar sands. It also calls on governments and businesses to ‘help speed the transition to a low carbon economy’ and on the Council, Investors Trust and Pension Trustees to engage with oil and gas companies ‘to establish their commitment to meeting UN climate change targets’.

A separate section on energy issues and fuel poverty calls on the Scottish and UK governments to address unfairness in domestic energy pricing and notes ‘with regret the UK Government’s reduced commitment to renewable energy’.

A section on education affirms the role of school chaplains.

Further areas of the report are not represented in the deliverance but bring updates on the council’s work in human trafficking, refugees and violence against women, the Society, Religion and Technology Project and the Scottish Churches Parliamentary Office.



The Mission and Discipleship deliverance includes 30 sections encompassing the breadth of the council’s work; commending its resources and publications and encouraging Kirk Sessions and Presbyteries to participate in upcoming conferences and events.

In particular, it reports that the council has this year ‘sought to focus afresh on the following challenges: resourcing the rural church; addressing the needs of those with additional learning needs so we all can have a real sense of belonging; understanding the views of those in the ‘invisible church’; nurturing those involved in creating new expressions of emerging church; shaping our buildings to give support for those with dementia; envisioning leadership at a congregational level; and using local events to make a national impact’.

The research into the ‘invisible church’ – active Christians who do not attend church – has been written up into a book by Steve Aisthorpe, and will be launched at the Assembly.

The interim report of a working group on developing the eldership states that ‘the role now needs to be contextualised for today’s Kirk’, and instructs the council to collaborate with other relevant groups on ‘re-focusing the meaning, purpose and role of eldership’ and to develop proposals for eldership training.

The Learn: Eldership publication continues to be ‘a bestseller in church terms’. Other Learn publications developed this year include ‘Learning Disabilities – A Discussion Starter’ and ‘How Will Our Children Have Faith?’, while a resource for office bearers, one on pastoral care and another on working with children and young people are planned in the next two years.

The relaunching of the Pray Now book to coincide with the General Assembly and share the theme of Heart and Soul has resulted in increased sales, and is repeated this year.

Pray It Forward Cards are now on their third reprint and a new set is being prepared.

The online resource Starters for Sunday continues to be widely used, and the council draws attention to the creation of resources allowing worshippers to respond to the refugee crisis.

Life and Work reports that, in line with last year’s deliverance, a Business Manager has been appointed; a business committee set up to look after the commercial aspects of the operation; and a major piece of market research commissioned which will shape the direction of travel for the magazine in the near future.



The Council of Assembly’s report leads on measures to take strategic steps to prepare the Church to face the challenges of falling numbers and ageing membership. “The Council recognises the increasing fragility of some congregations and some Presbyteries,” the report states, giving thanks for the many good things going on in the Church of Scotland but stating that the problems and challenges ‘cannot be ignored’.

A Joint Working Group, including representatives of the Council of Assembly, Ministries Council, General Trustees and Panel on Review and Reform, was established to address these problems and has consulted with congregations and Presbyteries. Its recommendations are:

“a)… a series of regional roadshows engaging the widest possible range of Presbyteries and congregations in discussion about the future of the Church, its ministry and its discipleship;

“b)… to identify and allocate appropriate staffing resource to work alongside Presbytery Clerks to facilitate greater cooperation between Presbyteries, including the sharing of resources and, where appropriate, joint working;

“c) taking account of the findings of the first two actions, conduct a review of the Strategic Framework, identifying any major themes or projects which the Church may wish or need to address in the next ten years and suggesting a smaller number of core priorities which would assit the Church to make the most effective resource allocations.”

The group has also looked at alternatives to the present ministries and mission contributions system, but concludes that: “whatever system is used, the total budgeted amount must still be collected from congregations and if some were to pay less under any revised method then others, inevitably, would have to pay more… the current system remains both effective and fair.”

Budgets for next year were, as ever, presented as a supplementary report and not available at the time of going to press. The report notes that that total congregational Ministries and Mission contributions for 2016 were less than half of total congregational ordinary income, and a reduction on the total in 2015. “Early indications are that total congregational income in 2015 may have increased marginally from 2014. It is very encouraging that the commitment being shown by church members and adherents through their offerings remains strong.”

The Council also brings new regulations governing the oversight of the Presbytery of Europe (now to be known as the Presbytery of International Charges), which has heretofore been overseen by the World Mission Council.



The focus of the World Mission Council report this year is on the environment, particularly the havoc already being wreaked by climate change on poorer communities around the world; and how the council’s partner churches are trying to help.

Among the situations highlighted are the drought and flooding in Malawi last year; the failure of the maize harvest in Zambia; droughts and crop failures in Indonesia; severe floods in Pakistan; and record breaking dust storms across the Middle East blamed in part on the civil war in Syria, which has meant that farmers are unable to cultivate their land.

Congregations are encouraged to develop links with churches around the world; to support the work of Christian Aid and to support the Fairtrade movement.

Elsewhere the Council reports that the Church of Scotland was one of the churches represented on a 12-person international ecumenical delegation that travelled to Pyongyang and was hosted by the (North) Korean Christian Federation. Members and congregations are urged to ‘read the Pyongyang Appeal to support efforts to encourage dialogue and mutual exchange that might reduce tensions, promote respect for human rights and a culture of peace and reconciliation with North Korea’.

In the Holy Land, members are encouraged to visit the Tent of Nations near Bethlehem, and the Council is instructed to ‘support the Christian community, our partner churches, as well as our Palestinian and Israeli partners as they peacefully oppose the occupation and work to ensure there is fair access to water for all people’.

Attention is also drawn to World Mission reports on human trafficking and on gender based violence. Members and agencies of the church are asked to read the reports and engage with the resources that accompany them.



CrossReach again reports on a year of ‘many outcomes and highlights’ delivered against a backdrop of increasing financial pressure.

Gradings awarded to services by the Care Inspectorate are again positive, with not one service given an ‘unsatisfactory’ or ‘weak’ grade in any of the four inspection themes (care and support; environment; staffing; management and leadership) and the majority rating ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’.

The council also points to a survey of service users in which 96% agreed the service helps them feel safe and secure; 91% that it helps them to remain or become more fulfilled; 99% that it accepted and respected them; 93% that it helps them to feel valued and included; and 99% that it treats them fairly and consistently.

The organisation has been unable to set a break even budget for 2016 but has reduced its deficit (excluding exceptional expenditure) from £597,000 to £124,000. It was unable to give staff a pay rise in 2015, but has been allocated additional funding by the Council of Assembly for a cost of living increase this year.

It welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment and funding for social care workers to be paid the Living Wage, but expresses concern about financial pressures: ‘there is a limit to the savings and adjustments that can be made without affecting the quality of service delivered, or the proper remuneration of staff’.

It also says that identifying other sources of funding is ‘crucial’, and that a Supporter Development Manager has been appointed ‘to vigorously take this forward’.

A Business Strategy Group has been set up to work towards a three- to five-year strategic direction for CrossReach in the face of the ‘complex and challenging issues in an uncertain and fast moving environment’ faced by the organisation.

Churches, groups and individuals are asked to support the work of CrossReach through prayer, reading and passing on its newsletter, supporting the charity financially, purchasing calendars and Christmas cards and through volunteering.



The Panel on Review and Reform reports on progress on the ‘Path of Renewal’ project, aimed at creating missional churches. Following a series of conferences around the country, 38 congregations have this year begun the process.

The main pilot scheme, on which 23 congregations have embarked, will include ‘significant investment’ in a two-to-three-year training and mentoring process aimed at helping ministers and congregations ‘discover how to become missional churches in their communities’.

A further eight congregations are in a similar but less intensive ‘pilot light’ process; while seven are involved in ‘pilot team’, where ‘the Steering Group discerned a need for further exploration of missional theology and how it might impact local churches and communities’.

In addition to the continuation of this process, the deliverance instructs presbyteries to consider the Panel’s report on ‘empowering local leadership’, the Theological Forum to consider whether people who are not Ministers of Word and Sacrament could be authorised to administer the sacraments; and the Panel to consider how the scope of the Ordained Local Ministry could be developed and broadened.



The Guild reports on a year in which it has begun to implement the action plan approved at last year’s General Assembly. This has included re-arranging the committee structures, renaming the National Executive Committee the National Council, and holding roadshows around the country.

It is also working on ‘a series of new ideas and opportunities’, including a new resource for Guild leaders, a new-look newsletter and more frequent e-newsletter, increased social media presence, more large-scale gatherings and a national recruitment campaign. A new range of Guild merchandise resulted in turnover increasing by 300% in 2015.



The Chaplain’s Committee reports on proposals for the Church to sign up to an Armed Forces Corporate Covenant, similar to that which the Church of England agreed with the Ministry of Defence in 2015.

Such a covenant would endorse the principles that ‘no member of the Armed Forces Community should face disadvantage in the provision of public and commercial services compared to any other citizen’, and that ‘in some circumstances special treatment may be appropriate’.

In practice, that could involve supporting the employment of veterans, accommodating the training and deployment of members of the Reserve forces, and supporting requests of leave and flexible working by employees whose partners are on deployment.

If the Assembly approves, the Committee will work with the Council of Assembly, Ministries Council and Social Care Council to draw up a document for next year.



The most eye-catching proposals from the Assembly Arrangements Committee report are possible changes to the timing and timetable of the Assembly.

The proposals come from a group set up in 2014 to review and consult the Church on the ‘shape, size and frequency’ of the General Assembly. Their recommendations include moving the Assembly to the second week of June, which would allow extra preparation time and avoid the general exam times at universities and colleges, opening the possibility of a wider range of cheaper accommodation for commissioners. Other possible options for moving the Assembly are, the report says, ‘fraught with difficulties’.

The group also wishes to explore reordering the opening day of the Assembly, which it believes is too long. Other than the necessary formal business, the day would include ceremonials, welcoming of overseas and ecumenical delegates and ‘setting out what the broad themes, strategies and aspirations of the Church should be in the week of the Assembly’.

In both cases, the deliverance is to explore these proposals with relevant committees and bring recommendations to next year. The report rejects more radical proposals including moving to a biannual assembly, which it says has proved problematic when other denominations have tried it; moving the venue, which it says would be too expensive; reducing the number of commissioners and appointing Moderators for two years.

There is a plea to Councils and Committees of the church for more concise reports and in more accessible language. To help first-time commissioners, A summary of each reporting committee’s remits and responsibilities is to be included either in future reports or mailings to commissioners.

Further moves are ongoing to encourage more people to access the reports digitally, and from 2017 the default position will be that commissioners will be expected to use a digital download unless they request a print version.

Assembly Arrangements commits to managing the Heart and Soul event until 2020, and also to considering the possibility of developing regional events or reunions ‘as a way of engaging the whole church in matters of common purpose’.



The Ecumenical Relations report, on the theme ‘Crossing Borders’, leads on the high-profile joint report with the Church of England and the Columba Declaration, which the Assembly is asked to approve and which the report describes as ‘an historic step forward in the relationship between the two churches’. The declaration formally acknowledges a common faith between the two churches and recognises each others’ ministries.

On relations with the Scottish Episcopal Church, which since 2013 has only been an observer of the discussions which led to the Columba Declaration, the committee acknowledges ‘there have been no formal bilateral links’ but says that ‘constructive’ discussions took place in early 2016, with more to follow in May, ‘specifically to bring forward concrete proposals for a way forward in a strengthened relationship’.

The report also mentions discussions with the United Free Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, both of which have distanced themselves from the Church of Scotland – the United Free Church by formally ending the Covenant between the two churches, the Church in Ireland by deciding not to send its Moderator to the General Assembly - following decisions in recent years on ministers in same-sex relationships.

In both cases, meetings have been held in which both churches aired their positions, with further talks to be held following this year’s General Assemblies. The report states the committee’s belief ‘that when new tensions arise between churches, it is dialogue that can provide the space for speaking and for listening until a way forward becomes clear’.

At a local level, the report notes that Livingston United Parish Church celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, and that the Border Kirk in Carlisle and Longtown, is exploring a Shared Buildings Agreement with the local Methodist Church.



The Theological Forum reports it has been consulted on various pieces of work this year, including the draft report of the Eldership Working Group, the Church and Society Council report on corporal punishment of children, and material to be issued by the Why Believe? Group.

It also states that it is continuing to work on a substantial reflection on the theology of same-sex marriage, particularly in the context of ‘constrained difference’ under which ‘we permit each other in good conscience to interpret Scripture differently’.

“The Forum believes that such a way of working is not alien to our tradition and offers the Church of Scotland its best chance of moving through the crisis and recriminations of these days. Other churches are beginning to adopt our methodology of ‘constrained difference’ and the Forum’s reflection on same sex marriage will take that pattern of thinking further.”

The results of that reflection will be presented to next year’s General Assembly.



The Safeguarding Committee reports that it intends to seek an external review of the current safeguarding practices and procedures throughout the church, stating that ‘there needs to be a more comprehensive communication between Congregation, Presbytery and General Assembly Committee, to ensure compliance and good practice’. The committee is to consider this further and report to next year’s General Assembly.

The deliverance instructs churches, ‘as a matter of urgency’, to ensure anyone involved in ‘regulated work’ with children or vulnerable adults is a member of the PVG (protection of vulnerable groups) scheme. It also reminds congregations of the importance of ongoing safeguarding training.



The General Trustees report that in 2015 they granted loans from the Central Fabric Fund of £2,900,000, and grants of £858,000. They report plans to engage in a Manse Review, to gain a better understanding of the extent of problems involving manses – not just neglect but unsuitable size, location, layout and access, among others.

The Trustees report the appointment of a safe buildings consultant and ‘are determined to change the generally negative culture surrounding health and safety matters at a congregational level’. They also ‘continue to have major concerns’ about congregations not keeping up professional inspection of their buildings but not dealing with problems that are identified.


General Assembly 2016

Full reports on the Church of Scotland website