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General Assembly 2022

Picture: Derek Fett
Picture: Derek Fett

General Assembly 2022: Reports

Thomas Baldwin summarises the reports to the 2022 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland


The Assembly Business Committee reports on the progress of presbytery reform, under which the number of presbyteries in Scotland is expected to be reduced to 10 or 11 by 2024. Six new presbyteries have already been approved, of which five are in operation and the sixth, the South West, will commence on September 30 this year. This General Assembly will be invited to approve four further mergers, to create presbyteries for Lothians & Borders, The North East & the Northern Isles, Perth, and Forth Valley & Clydesdale. A Highlands and Hebrides Presbytery is expected to be proposed at next year’s Assembly.

In response to the smaller number of presbyteries, the committee proposes that the Moderator’s programme of presbyterial visits should be changed from a 10-year cycle to a five-year one. Presbyteries will be able to choose to focus each visit in a particular area, should they wish.

The committee also reports that the Moderator’s flat in Edinburgh – used for official entertaining and living accommodation - is no longer suitable for the latter purpose, and that a business case is being drawn up for it to be sold and replaced.

A major part of the report provides an update on the committee’s work on General Assembly reform. Firm proposals will not be brought until next year, but a series of recommendations includes continued exploration of the most suitable venue, frequency and timings for the Assembly; measures to bolster the engagement of youth and overseas delegates; improved preparation for Commissioners, to enable them to engage better with the debates; a review of the effectiveness of the Barrier Act; and reflections on the ceremonial elements of the Assembly.


The report of the Assembly Trustees begins by acknowledging the ‘uncertainty, anxiety and stress’ felt across the Church, as a consequence of the ongoing reforms and of the Covid-19 pandemic. It offers the ‘the warmest commendation and thanksgiving for those who have continued to participate in the mission of God, learned new skills, walked the second mile and maintained the hope of our faith’.

The report introduces regulations for the new ‘Giving to Grow’ scheme of congregational contributions, which if approved will replace Mission and Ministries payments from next year. It states that the new system is based on the principles of transparency, clarity, sustainability, fairness, growth, regional flexibility and incentive to mission.

The new scheme has been designed to allow churches, particularly those which are doing well, to grow their income and retain more of it locally. It ‘provides support to those who cannot pay the full cost of their minister but aims to encourage more congregations to be able to do so’. The Trustees admit that Giving to Grow offers less certainty than the existing system in funding the Church’s national finances, but state that ‘the vision is that congregations will grow their income and use this to fund mission and outreach, as opposed to the National Church setting expenditure goals and requiring contributions to pay for this’.

The Trustees restate their commitment to an end to deficit budgeting, but state that the impact of the pandemic has hampered efforts in that regard. While the 2021 national deficit of £3.1m was ‘much smaller’ than budgeted, the Trustees warn that there will be ‘deficit budgets on ordinary operations for at least the next two to three years’ until the current reforms to presbyteries, the implementation of the Faith Action Plan and the transition to ‘Giving to Grow’ are complete.

The Trustees also bring a summary of the report of what has become known as the D10 Group, which was established to review how the central Church’s work is best delivered. The report notes that the staff of the two Forums (Faith Nurture and Faith Impact, established in 2020) have now been brought together as Faith Action Staff, under a Head of Faith Action Programme. It recommends that, from next year, a single Leadership Team should oversee the Faith Action Programme, with four Programme Groups – given the working titles Mission, People & Training, Public Life & Global Justice, and Resource & Presence – overseeing the details. Around half of the new Leadership Team would be recruited from the Church’s Presbyteries.


The Supplementary Report sets out the latest congregational statistics and proposed budget for 2023, as well as indicative budgets for the following four years. Church membership at the end of December 2021 was 283,600, a fall of 4.6% since 2020 and 34% since 2011. Over half (57%) of congregations offered online worship last year, and most of the rest (38%) alternative offline provision. Almost a third of congregations reported a new worshipping community.

The central church budget proposes drawing £8.7m from reserves next year, and the indicative budgets predict another £31m over the following four years, despite the church having achieved the substantial savings targets set three years ago. The Trustees say this is necessary ‘in order to fund and achieve the necessary changes that have been identified’ but that the shortfall ‘needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency by the national administration’.

The Supplementary Report also proposes that the Seeds for Growth Fund – originally agreed in 2019 but put on hold during the pandemic – be implemented, with £20-25m made available over seven years to support new worshipping communities and fresh expressions, work with young people and community transformation. Arrangements are also set out for the Pioneer Mission Fund, following an instruction of last year’s Assembly, under which an initial £100,000 will be made available this year to support local church growth.


The Faith Nurture Forum states that it has been a year ‘of significant change’ and acknowledges that ‘we are in a very unsettling place at the moment’. It expresses concern that ‘the disconnect that many have felt from church and the erroneous belief that we have too many ministers has impacted on recruitment’, but emphasises that support for people training for ministry and going through the admissions process – who it says have been ‘most affected’ by last year’s Presbytery Mission Plan Act – has been a paramount concern.

The Forum says that it is a great credit to staff and members that it has managed to reduce spending by around £1.4m while ‘our support to all our areas of output – recruiting, training, support, retirement, priority areas, children and young families/adults and more – has been first-rate despite the challenges of Covid’.

The Forum brings a revised Code of Practice for the Ministries of the Church of Scotland, and an update on the proposed Capability Procedure for Ministers which is to be presented in full next year.


The Faith Impact Forum records the work of the Church and its partners in responding to the situation in Ukraine. It notes that Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees has compiled a list of ways in which faith communities can help, including advocacy, prayer, financial donation and practical welcome of refugees coming to Scotland.

It also states that we need to remember refugees from around the world ‘where there is not the same upsurge of international support’, including Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Myanmar. Congregations in Scotland are encouraged to support work with asylum seekers and refugees, and the work of Mediterranean Hope and other international partner projects is commended.

The deliverance urges the UK Government to do more to ensure Covid-19 vaccines are available throughout the world, particularly in poorer countries. The report states that ‘in Africa, Asia and many low- and middle-income areas across the world (the) vaccine is not getting into the arms of the many, but the privileged few’.

Under the heading of Global Justice, there are further sections of deliverance commending the Korea Peace Appeal and instructing the Forum to engage with the issue of abductions, forced conversions and forced marriages of religious minority women and girls in Pakistan.

The Forum also reports on the work of the Net Zero Strategy Group, which is responsible for helping the Church reach its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2030. An Environmental Footprint Tool is being developed with the Church of England and will be introduced in the second half of this year, and a Net Zero Pathway – an online resource helping congregations identify practical actions to reduce their emissions – will also be launched later in 2022.

Under Societal and Political Issues, there is a section condemning the practice of Conversion Therapy (therapies which seek to ‘convert’ someone’s sexual orientation to heterosexual, or transgender people to their birth gender) as ‘harmful’ and calling on the Scottish Government to ban it.


The Committee on Overtures and Cases notes that the Solemnisation of Same Sex Marriage Overture was approved by 29 of the 41 presbyteries, and therefore the General Assembly will be invited to convert the Overture into Church law.

A guidance document on solemnisation of same sex marriage has been prepared by the Legal Questions Committee, and will be made available over the summer if the Overture is passed by the Assembly.

The Faith Nurture Forum notes in its report that it is consulting with the Legal Questions Committee, Ecumenical Relations Committee and the Theological Forum on preparing a liturgy to be used in same sex marriage services.


A large part of the Legal Questions Committee report is given over to a draft Church Courts Act, setting out the functions, responsibilities, procedures and membership of the three courts (Kirk Session, Presbytery, General Assembly) and the relationships between them.

While the draft Act does not make significant changes to current legislation, the Committee states that it ‘seeks to articulate current practice and describe rights and duties more fully’ than current legislation and that ‘the intention has been to draft material which is both clear and understandable, removing archaic words and phrases’.

It is emphasised that the Act is presented as a consultative document, with the intention to sent it to presbyteries and other groups and a further draft to be proposed in 2023.

The Committee also brings proposals for a Presbytery Review process, which have been in development since 2016 but have been delayed by the ongoing Presbytery Reforms and by the pandemic.

The Committee states that the new presbyteries will ‘have considerable responsibilities… and with such responsibility comes accountability’. Under the proposals, Presbytery Reviews would be carried out every five years by the presbytery itself, overseen by a three-person group appointed by a Presbytery Review Committee. It will assess how well the presbytery is fulfilling its functions and responsibilities, enable good practice to be shared across the Church, and enable action to be taken in cases of conflict or non-compliance. Again, the proposals are presented for consultation, to be followed by an Act to be presented in 2023.


The CrossReach Board invites the Assembly to commend the staff for ‘their continued efforts… in dealing with the challenges of an ongoing pandemic and give thanks for their dedicated service in Christ’s name’.

The report states that the Covid-19 pandemic has taken ‘a significant human toll’ but also a ‘significant financial strain’, and that the past year had also seen difficulties in recruitment. While sustainability funding from the Scottish Government has helped offset the worst of potential losses for adult care and older people services, there has been very little such funding for children and family services. There was also no funding for children and family services in the winter pay initiative, which the Board notes ‘posed a significant difficulty for organisations such as CrossReach, with its diverse workforce engaged across a range of services from pre-birth to end of life’.

Despite these challenges, the Board says it is ‘heartened’ by the end of year financial performance, but ‘recognised there was still some way to go, particularly in a challenging funding environment and with cost pressures continuing to rise’. It says that there has been ‘a significant amount of work’ on identifying and managing the key risks facing CrossReach, but ‘there is still work to do’.

Everyone who has supported CrossReach over the past year is thanked, and congregations are encouraged to adopt CrossReach as a charity of choice for next year. The newly-formed presbyteries are encouraged to recommit to the Presbytery Pledge ‘at the earliest opportunity’, and to ‘consider how they might work more closely with CrossReach in their congregations and communities as they develop plans for the future’.


The Theological Forum brings the final conclusions of its review of the role of Westminster Confession of Faith as the Church’s subordinate standard. It proposes the creation of a book of Confessions, to include the Westminster Confession as well as other statements of faith; as well as teaching on the Church’s confessional position and the vows and subscription of office holders.

The Forum argues that the changes will mean those who disagree with the Westminster Confession no longer have to subscribe to it, while keeping it as a subordinate standard for those who regard it as important. It states ‘We believe that the following proposals will clarify our faith, allow for a greater range of Reformed identities in our Church, and give us a confessional position that is fit for purpose in the challenging context of 21st century Scotland’.


The report of the Ecumenical Relations Committee commends the report of the International Reformed-Anglican Dialogue, Koinonia: God’s Gift and Calling, to the wider Church. The Committee notes:

“This report sets out the theological concept of koinonia (encompassing fellowship, communion and partnership) as a foundation upon which to comprehend more fully what binds us together, and is particularly helpful to the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church as, together, we explore the opportunities opened up by the Saint Andrew Declaration.”

The Assembly is also invited to approve a ‘Declaration of Friendship’ between the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. This has been prepared by senior representatives of both Churches and is offered ‘in the belief that it marks a decisive and irrevocable statement by both Churches of our friendship with one another, based on our shared faith in Christ’.


The General Trustees (GTs) report that in 2021, 28 churches (some with halls), 26 manses, a further separate hall, nine glebes and eight other properties were disposed of. This leaves the GTs with 1276 churches, 770 manses, 1096 halls and 330 other properties, and 12,500 acres of glebes.

The report says that the employment of a Presbytery Buildings Officer (PBO) in the North East Presbytery Cluster has proved ‘of enormous benefit to the congregations involved, as well as the Trustees’, and that PBOs have now also been appointed in the Presbyteries of Clyde and Fife. The GTs, who are funding 50% of the costs of the PBOs for an initial three years, are in discussions with the other reformed Presbyteries to encourage similar appointments.

The Board record its thanks to the national office staff, to Presbytery and Congregational Fabric Conveners and others ‘who have worked tirelessly through these difficult times’. The report notes that site visits have not been possible due to Covid restrictions, and warns that any effects of this will only become apparent when restrictions have been lifted.

The deliverance also reminds financial boards and Presbyteries of the ‘duty to provide a habitable manse and to keep it in a good state of repair and decoration’.


The Guild marks its 135th anniversary this year with a report that acknowledges the challenges of the past year, but celebrates ‘the many ways in which the Guild members, individually and collectively have taken their lights out from their proverbial bushels and shone for all to see in the past year… The report is written with boldness and assurance about the role of The Guild at its core whilst recognising the significant challenges the Guild has faced particularly in terms of income from capitation fees, loss of income for the current Projects and the continuing challenge of meeting with post COVID 19 restrictions’.

The report laments the loss of ‘a number of groups’ that have not been able to restart post-pandemic, but praises the Guilds changing their patterns of meeting (from evening to afternoon or winter to summer) to enable groups to restart, and the ‘innovative ways’ members have kept in touch with each other during lockdown. It also says ‘we have welcomed a significant number of new members across the year, which is a source of great encouragement’. Two new Guilds have been established, at Newmilns and Newport on Tay.

At the national level, the Guild has been working with the eating disorder charity BEAT, and the Christian fostering/adoption charity Home for Good. ‘By shining a light on these important issues and responding to need in practical and financial ways, the Guild has demonstrated Christ’s love in action’, says the report.

Internationally, the partnership with Guilds in Malawi continues to grow and develop. A project providing solar lighting into church secondary and primary schools has so far added 172,800 study hours for students and community members.

Despite the challenges of Covid-19, the Guild raised a final figure of £587,155.38 for the six partner projects from 2018-2021. The total raised by the Guild Project Partnership Scheme since 1969 now stands at £7,347,490.52, which the report describes as ‘a remarkable total and testament to the outward looking nature of Guild members’.


The Housing and Loan Fund provides support with housing for retired ministers, their widow(er)s and former spouses and civil partners, either by letting houses at below-market rates or providing loans on favourable terms for the purchase of property.

This year’s report shows that 17 new and three updated applications for support were approved in 2021. At year end the Fund had 183 tenants and 99 borrowers. 16 houses were sold during the year and eight bought, giving a net income of over £1.4m, and four houses were being marketed or prepared for sale. Due to the Fund’s healthy financial situation, rent has not been increased this year. In response to changes in the housing market, the Trustees have agreed to raise the maximum value of a house the Fund will purchase, or give a loan towards, by £20,000 to £220,000.

The Trustees urge ministers within five years of retirement to approach the Fund if they think they might need its assistance, and also say they welcome an initial approach from those within five to ten years of retirement. The report also emphasises that the Fund is able to help those who are already retired, should their circumstances change.


The Chaplains’ Committee invites the church to thank those who serve as Chaplains, but in particular this year recognises the service of those involved in the Armed Services’ response to Covid-19, and in the withdrawal from Afghanistan last year. On the latter, the Committee states that it ‘is sure that the whole Church is grateful to personnel, including chaplains, who responded quickly and expertly to the desperate situation in Kabul in the summer of 2021.  Whether in theatre recovering people and equipment, or in military establishments in the UK dealing with the difficult questions posed by veterans of operations in Afghanistan, their families, and the bereaved, chaplains rose to the kind of dramatic challenge that stretches every skill in ministry, all the while dealing with their own feelings, memories and questions’.

It also records ‘less headline-grabbing challenges’ for military chaplains including work in South Sudan and on NATO/UN deployments.

Making the regular plea for eligible ministers to consider service as chaplains, the report admits that there is ‘a constant slight tension, in a Church with a ministry shortage, between the recruitment needs of parish ministry and those of Service Chaplaincy’, but argues ‘the Church gains far more than it loses, over the long term of a minister’s career, by encouraging the discernment of God’s call to serve as a chaplain’.


The Pension Trustees report that all the Church schemes under their management are more than fully funded. The impact of Covid-19 on the valuation of the valuations has been excluded, ‘in line with industry practice’ but will be reviewed when more information is available about the lasting impact of the pandemic.

The statutory increases in payments across all the schemes were 3.1% for benefits accrued between  April 6 1997 and  April 5 2005, and 2.5% for benefits accrued since April 6 2005. The discretionary increases were 3.1% on pre-1997 service in the Ministers Main Fund, and 4.9% on all benefits in the Widows and Orphans and Contributors Funds.

The Trustees report that they have reviewed and updated their position on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors, and that their policy is for the schemes’ assets to have the highest ESG rating available.

The report also states that the schemes’ low risk investment strategy has kept its funding positions ‘mostly immunised’ from market volatility caused by events in Ukraine.