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Derek Fett
Derek Fett

Truth in Love

Friday May 17 2019

The Rev Dr Doug Gay, author of Reforming the Kirk, reflects on the big decisions to be made at this year's General Assembly.

How to adopt a radical action plan

In line with the decisions of GA 2018, GA2019 will have some big calls to make and some tough decisions to take. We will need to speak the truth in love. As someone who will be a Commissioner at this year’s assembly, I want to share some thoughts about how we do this.


No surprise, perhaps, that I think we start with how rather than what. I am guessing many of us have been part of family conversations where we have wrestled with a significant dilemma. Perhaps in some of them, the people with the loudest voices have shouted and argued and thrown their weight about, sure that they have the right answers and other people are too dim or mean to see that. But I think many of us will also have had experiences of a different kind, when we were faced with a tough decision and we all realised that there were no easy answers. In those situations, the conversations can feel very different. There is a seriousness of intent, there is a sense of humility and as the conversation unfolds, we witness attentive listening to one another and respectful wrestling with tough choices. When a decision has to be made, the family owns it together and makes a commitment to support those who may be most or worst affected by the decision.

Wisdom and Faith

There are no ‘right’ answers to how to reform the Kirk. In our institutional life we try to make wise decisions, in faith, in prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit. Sometimes wisdom goes slow and piecemeal, sometimes it recognises urgency and moves decisively to go ‘all in’. Every session knows you can only patch a leaking roof so many times, before it has to be stripped back, relined with improved insulation and reslated. Sometimes, wisdom goes down the middle, perhaps by setting a direction of travel, and establishing meaningful pilot projects. While faith enables us to take risks, it should also protect us from believing that everything depends on our strategies and schemes.


After the how, some brief thoughts about the what. Two years on from the Chalmers Lectures and Reforming The Kirk, these are my top ten priorities, in order of priority!

1 Major investment in new modes of member training and congregational learning.

2 Reform of the ministries and mission system to maximise local control, initiative and flexibility.

3 Simultaneous presbytery reform and council reform, enabling devolution of finance and function, alongside streamlining and consolidating redesign of central structures.

4 Strategic reform of education for ministry, investing to create more capacity in fewer centres, including dedicated new capacity for youth and children’s ministry training.

5 A national programme of church planting and reseed/restart initiatives, planned at presbytery level, aiming for 100 new congregations by 2030

6 A national programme supporting liturgical renewal, encompassing a new Book of Common Order and a revised ‘online CH5’ by 2024, grants to support local liturgical training and enhanced courses in liturgy and preaching for serving ministers.

7 Continued focus on seeking new vocations to and sources for Ministry of Word and Sacrament, combined with more flexibility in sacramental authorisation and with all new inductions on the basis of fixed five-year tenure.

8 The introduction of a new parallel mode of commissioned eldership, serving for fixed terms, alongside the traditional ordained for life option.

9 Moving out of 121.

10 Sponsoring (without controlling) a key artistic/cultural project or prize within Scottish life, eg in traditional music, poetry, theatre or visual arts, as an act of reparation and a declaration of intent.

The Rev Dr Doug Gay is Principal of Trinity College in Glasgow.

General Assembly 2019: Full Coverage