Sign up to our monthly newsletter

Please confirm that you are happy to hear from The Church of Scotland:

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please visit the Privacy Policy on our website.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.

Home  >  Features  >  General Assembly 2014 - day 3

General Assembly 2014

Picture by Derek Fett
Picture by Derek Fett

Monday May 19

general assembly 2014: day 3


The Church of Scotland is to embark on a 'decade of ministry' from next year, in an attempt to combat the looming crisis of a shortage of ministers.

During the decade, proposed by the Rev Dr Doug Gay, the Church will aim to recruit for training at least 30 new candidates for the ministry, and to train 100 members in theology and practice of mission, each year.

The Convener of the Ministries Council, the Rev Neil Dougall, had earlier warned the Assembly of the "unpalatable reality" that that the Church would be short of 200 parish ministers by 2024. He said: “Perhaps the time has come to accept that between one quarter and one third of our parishes will not have a minister. And far from this being intolerable, it is an opportunity to develop different forms of ministry and mission.

“The time has come for congregations and ministers to accept that in many places new patterns of congregational life and ministry are required. (The council) invites the whole church to join it in seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit as we try to discover in practice what these new patterns look like.”

The council's proposals included a raft of measures for improving the recruitment, training and support for ministers, ordained local ministers, deacons and ministries development staff (former presbytery and parish workers).

However Dr Gay, Principal of Trinity College, Glasgow, said that while he appreciated "the determination of the council to face reality", the report did not give "a clear or positive enough lead about how we respond."

"If there is no response [to the decade of ministry] by 2020 then let us accept that either God is not call our people or our people are not listening, and we must then move to the radical changes that will be required before we go over the ministerial retirement cliff. But let us not do that without a bold move to respond to the challenge before us."

Although Mr Dougall resisted the call for specific targets, the Assembly overwhelmingly agreed with Dr Gay. One of his supporters, the Very Rev Albert Bogle, said: "We all need targets because if we don't have targets we don't fail. Ministry is the best job in the world. Young people want to be challenged by it. I think we can do it and I think we've got the people who can make it happen."

Also during the Ministries Council debate, the council was strongly criticised by the Rev Bryan Kerr for not addressing the ministerial shortage sooner.

He expressed "Regret that the council provided strong guidance and steered this assembly into accepting a 2020 vision based more on finance than mission.

"Regret that through this vision presbyteries had to go through difficult and painful presbytery planning exercises which, with the best will in the world, were never going to be able to be fulfilled.

"Regret that the council have seemingly only recently discovered that the demographic of ministry will mean a shortfall of minister in years to come, something that most of the rest of the church have recognised for many years.

"Regret that the council recommended to this assembly a closing, and then a capping of the admissions and readmission of ministers to our denomination.

"With these regrets, I hope and pray that the ministries council will, from here on in, look at the whole picture in regard to ministry, rather than trying to balance budgets."

More positively, there was endorsement for new legislation to be developed for next year to allow church plants and fresh expressions of church.

And the Church's youngest minister, the Rev Michael Mair, successfully moved a motion affirming that "age is no barrier to ministry" and encouraging the council to "challenge the myth that young people need to gain experience outside the church before entering the ministry."

Earlier, there was strong condemnation by the Very Rev Dr David Lacy of members of the church in Lochcarron and Skye who refused to acknowledge a female Moderator of the General Assembly last year. The Very Rev Lorna Hood, who made an official visit to the Presbytery last autumn, had previously spoken of being saddened by reports of discrimination against women in the church in certain areas - especially in refusal to accept women Elders - and returned to the theme during her report as outgoing Moderator on Saturday night.

Mr Lacy asked: "What action can this Assembly take about this flagrant disobedience of its own Acts, or is there some conceivable reason that we should just let it pass?"

The Acting Principal Clerk advised that anyone who felt they had been discriminated against should take it up first with the Presbytery, but could appeal to the General Assembly if they weren't satisfied.

One Elder from Lochcarron and Skye, Steve Fennell, said that only a minority of people in the Presbytery felt that way, and said that another Commissioner had been upset after Mrs Hood's speech on Saturday. "Yes, there was some objection to Lorna Hood, but it was a very, very small number of people. The majority of people, the majority of parishes have no problem with women Elders.

"A past minister said 'if a woman elder is ordained here I’ll be on the first ferry off the island'. I was so taken aback that I didn’t say what I should have said - 'I’ll buy you a ticket'."

General Assembly home