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'We Have a Huge Role to Play'

'We Have a Huge Role to Play'

Tuesday January 14

Thomas Baldwin meets Dave Kendall, the newly-appointed Chief Officer of the Church of Scotland


The first thing you notice when you enter Dave Kendall’s office in 121 George Street is the astonishing view from the window, looking across the Forth to Fife and, on a clear day, the mountains beyond.

The second thing you notice is that the office is festooned with flipcharts and there are pieces of paper on the walls, with a dizzying array of action points and priorities – testament to the complexity of the to-do list facing the Church of Scotland’s first Chief Officer.

Not that Dave, who has spent most of his working life in the nuclear power industry, seems daunted by a job he clearly feels is a natural fit for. “When I became aware of the new role and looked at the skills and experience requirements, there appeared to be good alignment in terms of my faith and working life,” he says.

“The relevant management areas I have been involved in include delivery of significant changes, improvements to interfaces between the head office and the power stations, office relocations, major projects and programmes, training, departmental/office management and culture change.

“In addition I’ve also very much enjoyed the voluntary charitable and church work I’ve been involved in, and the need for change in the church really resonated with me.

“I located the Radical Action Plan and Special Commission Report [on church governance] on the Church of Scotland website, and thought ‘I can play a part in this’.”

‘This’ is the restructuring of the central structures of the Church, which is one of the outcomes that Dave is now tasked with delivering.

“There is an identified need for a focal point to develop and lead the change,” he says, “In particular this is about how we work together to deliver the support that the local and global church needs in an ever changing environment.

“My intention is to work closely with the management and staff to ensure that everyone is clear on the changing priorities and that they are empowered to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.

“I think the 121 building is very ‘interesting’ in terms of the shape and layout, which makes it difficult at times for people to interact. Another part of my role will be to make sure we find ways to improve the way we work together. The feeling I’m getting back from everybody is that is certainly what they want to do.”

However, while saying he’s ‘very encouraged by what he’s seen’ in his first few weeks, Dave admits there will be challenging times as the Church looks to make savings of 20-30% from the central administration.

“It has been a difficult period for the central team due to the uncertainty, and the next phase will continue to be a challenge for people as we think about how we can make those changes and start targeting areas where we can make reductions in workload,” he says. “My priority is to look after staff, make sure we keep them reassured and enable continuous two-way communication.”

Dave grew up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and still has the accent, despite living for almost 40 years in Scotland – since 1990 in East Kilbride, where he is an elder at the West Kirk. He is married to Sue, with grown-up twins, Emma and Thomas.

He has got more involved in the Church since taking a role at the University of Strathclyde which meant he was spending less time away from home than previously.

“I have found space and time to do more in my local Church. This includes attending the excellent ‘Words and Worship’ training with two of my fellow elders so that we were able to lead worship, and I’m on the worship team helping to think about how we can change the ways in which we worship God. My past involvement includes the business planning and fundraising to build new halls, which have been important to our community outreach and financial stability.

“I am also involved with the finances of the church and thinking about the actions we need to take following a presbytery visitation.”

Despite his involvement at local level, he admits to not being familiar with much of what happens at ‘121’ before starting in his new role, and that part of the challenge is to improve the interfaces between the centre and the parishes – although he says it’s not a situation unique to the Church.

“It’s not uncommon for some element of disconnect between a central organisation and the people it serves.

“In doing my initial research for the role and talking to [Convener of the Assembly Trustees, the Very Rev Dr] John Chalmers, it really surprised me the reach that we’ve got. We’re touching on so many different parts of the world and doing groundbreaking work – it’s terrific.

“Even the Scottish dimension to it was much broader than I thought it was – but then I can’t be alone in that, so we’ve got to continue to find ways in which we can communicate more effectively with local churches and presbyteries.

“I think it’s about continuing to improve our support to local churches and presbyteries, because we are here to service and enable them. The Growth Fund also presents a real opportunity to invest in areas that need focused work or investment.”

He says that the desired outcomes include ’liberated churches building capacity at local level, making sure that the national structures are the right ones to support this aim, and at the same time relying on God’s word and God’s grace to guide us on our way’.

“I’m in a privileged position to be the Chief Officer of the Church of Scotland, and it means a lot to me both because of my faith and the outcomes we’re seeking being so important to the Church.

“I feel very positive, it is my natural inclination which drives me on. I see lots of good things happening, and am excited to be a part of it.

“We have a huge role to play in difficult times for the country and the world. We’ve got something vitally important to tell people, and we need to find the best ways of doing it.”