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General Assembly 2018

Wednesday May 16 2018

Reports to the Assembly

Summaries by Thomas Baldwin. Full reports are available on the Church of Scotland's General Assembly site.


“We live in an era of unprecedented change, rapid and unabating. For an organisaiton such as the Church that changes very slowly, this leads to nervousness and a sense of uncertainty,” begins the Council of Assembly report.

The report introduces a new 10-year Strategic Plan for the Church, as instructed by the Assemblies of 2016 and 2017. The resulting document, entitled ‘Worshipping God, Inspiring Faith, Connecting People’, is a result of the series of roadshows from 2016-17 and consultations with Conveners and representatives of all the major Councils, the Ecumenical Relations Committee, the General Trustees and with members of the Youth Assembly.

The plan sets out the context the church is currently working in, its challenges (shrinking membership and ministry numbers, too many inadequate buildings, falling income and ineffective structures) and strengths (committed people, a base in every community in Scotland, ecumenical breadth and outlook and proven track record of engagement in social reform, social care delivery and working with people at the margins of society).

It then commits the church to eight overarching goals: ‘People Confident in Faith serving in communities’, ‘thriving intergenerational churches’, ‘growing congregations’, ‘people engaged with local and global concerns’, ‘well-supported ministry teams’, ‘well-equipped spaces in the right places’, ‘sustainable finances’ and ‘effective local, regional and national structures’.

In each case, roles are identified for local, regional and national church, and measurable targets are included to be met over the coming years.

There are also four principles underlying the whole strategy: ‘whatever we do, we do prayerfully, with humility and seeking to be in tune with the spirit of God at work in the world’, ‘the activities which we undertake must be sustainable’, ‘flexibility of delivery and choice appropriate to context’ and local, regional and national levels of church ‘working in an integrated and cooperative way’.

The Council, which commits in its report to an annual update with assessment of progress towards the goals, commends the Plan to the General Assembly, ‘asking for a wholehearted and cooperative commitment from all sectors of the Church to making it work’.

Elsewhere in the Council report, and related to some of the strategy goals, is an update on the National Offices Buildings Project. The report notes that the George Street offices are showing their age, outdated and inefficiently used, with average desk occupancy of 35%.

The three options for the building are:

The report suggests that ‘Option 2 may be the best way forward (but) there is still considerable work to be done to clarify the detail and in particular to determine how such a project would best be financed'.

Therefore, the Council doesn’t bring a firm recommendation to the Assembly but requests an instruction to continue a programme of work on the project and bring a further report in 2019.

The central church’s financial operating results for 2017 were significantly better than expected, but still ran at a deficit of nearly £1.8m. The Council of Assembly also notes that improved results were ‘not entirely due to welcome causes’ – including a substantial decline in the number of ministers, resulting in an underspend on stipend and salary costs.

The revised budget for 2018 indicates a deficit of around £4m, more than half of which is accounted for by the Social Care Council. The report notes: ‘this position is not sustainable beyond the short term’.

It also warns that ‘in 2016 aggregate offerings decreased by 1.5% and it is likely that there will have been a further decrease in 2017’.

As usual, proposals for the 2019 budget were not available at the time of going to press, and will be presented to the Assembly in a Supplementary Report.


The Assembly Arrangements Committee brings measures to address what it says is ‘a concern that the Assembly is not exercising its governance and legislative functions as well as it could and should do’.

These include proposals to reduce the length of speeches, limiting conveners’ speeches to 15 minutes and the time allowed for moving amendments and counter-motions to five minutes.

A leaflet is to be produced and distributed with the Assembly mailing, and a short video placed on the Church’s website, encouraging commissioners to ‘consider the work of our Churhc in terms of theology and sociology… we should ask if the report we are considering fits with what we believe and… whether the approach being suggested is right for our context’.

The General Assembly app has been discontinued in favour of developing www.gapublications.co.uk as ‘a cross-platform, web-based resource’. All General Assembly papers are accessible from this site.

The proceedings, and Heart and Soul, will again be webcast through the Church website, with an option including British Sign Language; and again the debate of each Council and Committee’s report will be available to playback online within 24 hours.


The Guild reports on the conclusion of its three-year programme based around the strategy ‘Be Bold! Be Strong!’.

The money raised for the six partner projects – Street Pastors, Care for the Family, Christian Aid’s work in Bolivia, Feed the Minds’ anti-FGM work, Mission International in Haiti and Prospects – totalled over £600,000 from 2015 to mid-February this year.

The strategy for the coming three years is entitled ‘One Journey, Many Roads’, and the theme for 2018-19 is ‘Seeking the Way’.

The project partners for the three-year period are: the Boys’ Brigade Scotland’s ‘Faith in Young People’ project; the Makeni Mother and Child Centre in Zambia, through the World Mission Council; CrossReach’s ‘Join Up the Dots’ mental health programme; the Free to Live Trust’s ‘Seema’s Project’; the Sailors’ Society’s Port Chaplaincy in Scotland; and Malawi Fruits’ training and support for young farmers in northern Malawi.

The Guild also announces that initial contacts have been made towards the possible twinnings of Scottish Guilds with those in Malawi.

At home, it announces that there have been 600 new members in 2017-18, but acknowledges ‘a backdrop of difficult challenges around membership numbers, demographics, lifestyle issues and finance’,

However, it says, ‘the Guild has sought to face up to problems and to find new approaches’.

Kirk Sessions, Presbyteries, and national councils and committees of the Church are encouraged to consider how they can offer support for the Guild.

The Guild has also been working with Faith in Older People exploring the ways in which the church relates to older people; and plans are being made to explore the issues of loneliness and isolation, through a conference event and the setting up of ‘a network of interested parties’.


The Ministries Council report reveals that the statistics for people applying for the various ministries of the church (Full-time Ministry of Word and Sacrament, Ordained Local Ministry (OLM), the Diaconate, the Readership) show increased numbers entering the discernment process in 2017 (78 across all four ministries, up by 19 compared to 2016) but that the number of people taking that forward to application was actually down on the previous year (37 compared to 48).

There were 13 applications accepted for the Ministry of Word and Sacrament, which is a similar number to the previous three years.

As of August 2017, there were 39 candidates in training for the Ministry of Word and Sacrament, 12 for OLM, two for the diaconate and 26 for the Readership. This year, 13 people will complete training for Full-time Ministry of Word and Sacrament, and five for OLM.

The report notes ‘that there is an increasing challenge to find a broad geographical spread of placements for candidates and probationers’ and that ‘the current IME (Initial Ministerial Education) programme places a high level of commitment on all those ministers who support the delivery of the programme… These challenges form a part of the major review of IME’.

In 2017, there were also seven admissions, two readmissions and two conditional certificates issued to ministers ‘transferring in’ from other denominations.

The Council states that it is developing a recruitment strategy for ministry, but that the details will be dependent on the strategic plan for the whole church currently being developed by the Council of Assembly (see last month’s Life and Work). The full strategy is due to be presented in 2020, with hopes of ‘significantly greater numbers of ministers entering ministry from 2025 onwards’.

In the section on presbytery planning, the Council warns that ‘the best estimate is that in 2023 the number of ministers available to serve as parish ministers will be in the region of 20% lower than is currently the case’.

However, it is not seeking to impose an across-the-board downward adjustment of 20%, which it says is ‘not what the church needs’. Instead, it says, it is ‘working to assist Presbyteries in their planning for the future by enabling a supportive and visionary process, rather than as an exercise where something is done to Presbyteries and congregations’.

It states that some Presbyteries may choose to implement a 20% deduction in ministries, while some will take a different tack, suggesting hub-style ministry (trials began last year), locally trained worship teams and Fresh Expressions or Pioneer Ministry approaches as possible responses to the ministry shortage.

All five Pioneer Ministry posts have now been filled, and the report says ‘each is engaged imaginatively in building relationships in communities to which they have been called’.

There are also updates on key projects within the Council’s development programme, which include the development of Ascend (‘the catch-all name for the full range of services designed for the development and support of those in ministry’), supervision, coaching and spiritual accompaniment for ministers, continuing ministerial development and ministerial development conversation.

Elsewhere, the Council recommends relaxing the rules barring ministers from from applying for charges in which they have served as interim moderator, in certain circumstances.

It also brings proposals which will allow parish ministers to continue in post beyond the age of 75 on a case by case basis.

The deliverance also includes a section recognising the 50th anniversary of women’s ordination, calling on the assembly to ‘give thanks for the ordained ministry of women in the Church of Scotland and reaffirm the commitment of the Church to the equality of women and men in all forms of ministry within the Church’.

The Go For It Fund, which marked its fifth anniversary in 2017, has allocated over £5.2m to projects over its lifetime. The report includes statistics revealing that congregations receiving Go For It funding ‘are on average younger, welcome more new Christians and have more young people in worship than other Church of Scotland congregations’, although it cautions that it is not established whether this is cause or effect.


Mission and Discipleship’s report is built around the proposed themes within the Council of Assembly’s strategic plan: active discipleship, worship, and connecting with communities. “This is an exciting journey, but also a challenging one,” it notes. “It is not just travelling forward in faith… it is also about leaving behind much of what has felt safe and secure.”

The report incudes a lengthy section on elders, which it says ‘continue to play a vital but changing role in the life of the church at every level’. Churches are encouraged to consider a fresh approach enabling elders to ‘promote a discipleship culture’, but also ‘to streamline the critical administrative and governance tasks which elders undertake as trustees’. Two new guidance documents have been produced by the Council to assist Kirk Sessions with this.

A section on young people urges the church ‘to listen to young people and to learn from them what it means to follow Jesus today’. Congregations are also urged to take part in the Year of Young People, including a series of ‘Encounter and Celebration’ roadshows to be run by the Council. The Council also proposes, in collaboration with the Theological Forum, ‘to develop creative, instructive and grace-filled pathways for the spiritual development of children and young people in order to support congregations in welcoming them to the Lord’s Table’.

The Council’s ‘Weekly Worship’ materials online have been viewed 110,000 times and accessed by 81,000 unique users, and the Conversations in Worship resource ‘is being used by congregations to help people gather and share stories of how they have encountered God in worship’.

The Joint Emerging Church Group commits to an evaluation of the impact of the Fresh Expressions movement in Scotland, and seeks an extension of the Church’s partnership with Fresh Expressions until 2020. Congregations are instructed ‘to explore what opportunities exist for a fresh expression of church in their parish’.

Congregations are urged to make use of new resources from Mission and Discipleship, which include Learn publications on Understanding Our Faith and Children and Young People, Pray Now, Diverse Gender Identities and Pastoral Care and various online and downloadable resources. Every congregation is also urged to actively promote Life and Work ‘as a tool to encourage, inspire and resource’.


The Church and Society Council’s report and deliverance is structured around the themes which emerged from the Speak Out process of the last couple of years, and which will form the basis of the Council’s work going forward.

Among the proposals under the Caring for Creation banner are proposals that the Church of Scotland should, over the next two years, divest from fossil fuel companies unless there is clear evidence that these companies are themselves modifying their policy and practice.

A section on Building Global Friendships is focussed mainly on the EU. There is no specific statement on brexit, but the Council is instructed to ‘facilitate informed public conversation about our future relationship with Europe’, the UK Government is called on to ensure that powers returned from the EU are devolved to Scotland in line with the Devolution Settlement, and both Scottish and UK Governments are urged to maintain high standards of human rights and environmental protection post-brexit, and to seek ‘the strongest possible social, cultural and economic ties with other European countries.

It also restates the Church’s long-held opposition to nuclear weapons, and congratulates the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

A section on health welcomes the introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol, and calls for the appointment of a Commission on the long-term future of the NHS in Scotland.

And under ‘Investing in Young People’ the deliverance contains a proposal for the Council, with the Mission and Discipleship and Ministries Councils, to establish a Young People and Education Action Group, ‘to coordinate the Church of Scotland’s contribution to the nurture and support of young people’.


This year’s World Mission report focuses on the experiences and challenges faced by the Church’s partners around the world in ‘living out our common calling in a diverse array of contexts’.

“Dialogue with people of other faiths can help us to grow in common understanding and empathy, help defuse violence brought through misunderstanding or wilful malevolence, and encourage us to seek to work together in areas of common cause,” it states.

Bringing in voices and experience from across the world as well as at home in Scotland, the report concludes that ‘Our Christian Faith invites us to embrace the other, and to extend compassion and hospitality to those outside our own faith community… The church is God’s body here on earth for the healing of the nations. It is for each person of faith to seek to be friends; to stretch out the hand of friendship beyond the confines of our own traditions, and live as witnesses to Jesus Christ, who came into our world of injustice and violence, to transform it through love’.

Members, congregations and presbyteries are urged to engage with the world church and other faiths in a range of suggestions including inviting speakers from other faiths to speak at their churches, visiting other places of worship, befriending refugees and taking part in Interfaith Week or Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The deliverance commends the work and witness of Mission Partners who ‘work not only in good and joyful but also in difficult and challenging situations’; condemns all forms of religious discrimination; commends the Programme for Christian Muslim Relations in Africa; gives thanks for the work of Christian Aid; encourages the church to remain conscious of HIV/AIDS and supportive of efforts to support people with the virus; and encourages congregations and presbyteries involved in twinning to explore interfaith issues with their twinning partners.


“On one hand, the need for high quality care seems to be ever more pressing… on the other hand, the ability to continue to fund this has become one of the major challenges of current times,” states the CrossReach report.

Against this background, the church’s social care arm reports on a year which has seen over 90% of its services rated good or better for quality of care and support and for quality of staffing, 88% for quality of environment and 83% for quality of staffing; 23 of its services retaining the Customer Service Excellence Award; and over 90% satisfaction on key areas in the service user survey.

Financially, it reports that ‘the journey to sustainability has been a long one’ but that it is working towards a break even budget for 2019, excluding pension deficit payments. The pension deficit amounts to over £1m annually and a discussion is ongoing between the Social Care Council, Council of Assembly and Pension Trustees on a strategy to address this.

The situation in terms of staff payment remains the same, with the Council unable to pay the Scottish Living Wage to all staff but saying it ‘remains committed to addressing low pay and is making every effort to direct its limited resources to this end’.

Centrally, the organisation has made 22 recommendations around structure, function, funding and reporting cycles, and these will be further explored over the next year. A study of whether CrossReach could share office space and administration with the national church offices concluded that there were too many barriers for that option to be tenable.

CrossReach says ‘the support of the Church is much valued’, highlighting the presbytery pledge initiated this year by the Presbytery of Lewis, which invites all congregations on Lewis to support the work of CrossReach. The Council describes this as ‘a particularly welcome initiative’ and invites other presbyteries to consider similar initiatives.


The Ecumenical Relations Committee offers a renewed Ecumenical Policy for the Church. The new policy updates the one which has guided the committee’s work since 2005 which, it says, has ‘sought to effectively represent the Church of Scotland in national and international contexts’ but ‘has not been effectively complemented by a resources of local ecumenism’ and ‘has not engaged the Church as effectively as might have been hoped’.

The new policy ‘commits the Church of Scotland to the support of the principle that, at local, regional, national and international levels, churches ought to act together except where deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately’.

If the policy is adopted, the committee says it will bring a strategy for its implementation to the General Assembly of 2019.

A review has also been taking place of the ecumenical body Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS). The committee’s comments on the review include that ‘there is a relative consensus on the need for a body which expresses the shared life of the Church in Scotland’, but ‘a disconnect between the member churches and ACTS itself with respect to the vision, structure, operations and administration of ACTS’.

It also notes that the committee regards ACTS as ‘out of step with the challenges facing the church in Scotland at this time… it requires to renew its vision and to broaden its membership base if it is to have a continuing role’.


The chaplains’ committee begins its report with a warning that military chaplains ‘feel marginalised and their ministry undervalued’ as a result of the new Registrations of Ministries Act.

Under the Act, chaplains (and other ministers working outwith the parish) will have to go through an assessment process and possibly training before they can return to parish ministry. The report acknowledges that ‘the intention of the Act is to make the transition from military to parish as seamless as possible… however at the time of writing the details to enable this to happen are still being worked on’.

Therefore, it states, the Chaplains will feel especially grateful for the reaffirmation of the General Assembly this year.

During the year, the report says, Church of Scotland military chaplains have served in Sudan, at various bases in the Middle East, Iraq, Cyprus and a six month deployment in a Trident submarine.

The Moderator of the General Assembly signed the Armed Forces Covenant, pledging the church’s support for the forces community, last year. One of the pledges made was to urge the appointment by Presbyteries of Veterans’ Champions. The report notes that so far, 18 have done so.

It also warns that ‘recruitment of new Church of Scotland Military Chaplains has reached a critical point’ and commends consideration of the role to all ministers.


The major part of the Theological Forum’s report is a response to last year’s instruction ‘to re-examine the Church’s current understanding that all children must be baptised prior to sharing in the Lord’s Supper’.

While the Forum states that there are sound theological grounds for baptism to come before Communion, it also recognises that there are important pastoral considerations in permitting unbaptised children (and adults) to take Communion.

It concludes: “…the normal ordering of the sacraments should never be reversed or ignored, but this normal ordering need by no means mean that unbaptised persons should be turned away from the Table. Rather, such persons should be welcomed to the Lord’s Supper, and subsequently encouraged to seek baptism and further instruction in the life of the church.”

The Forum also reports on responses it has had from other denominations on its 2017 report on same-sex marriage: “While recognising profound theological concerns expressed with regards to certain sections and conclusions… the Forum is heartened to hear that its report has been of help to those denominations engaged in similar discussions.”


The General Trustees state that ‘all is not doom and gloom’ with the Church of Scotland and buildings, pointing to an increasing number of new developments, refurbishments and upgrades ‘to meet the needs and expectations of the 21st century’.

However, they warn that there is a risk of “a build-up of major property-related problems at congregational level due to a lack of personnel with relevant experience combined with a failure to ensure that basic maintenance programmes are undertaken.” In an effort to address this, the Trustees held six seminars around the country, attended by 592 office bearers and ministers representing 42 presbyteries. They say that feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and that further events will be held later this year.

Another risk is that there is ‘no co-ordinated strategy… to identify and timeously deal with surplus and redundant buildings’. A detailed strategy is to be prepared by 2020, in conjunction with the Council of Assembly’s strategic report which calls for ‘well-equipped spaces in the right places’.

The report notes that ‘70% of congregations have appointed a Health and Safety Administrator and that 50% of Presbyteries have appointed a Health and Safety Co-ordinator’ and urges the remaining congregations and presbyteries to follow suit.


The Church Hymnary Trustees report that they have investigated the feasibility of producing copies of the Hymnary in larger type than the current large print edition, but have concluded that it is ‘neither feasible nor necessary’. Some people who require very large print use the CD ROM version to produce a format appropriate to them, and that a file of hymn lyrics is available free from Hymns Ancient and Modern for people who need them.