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Andy O'Brien
Andy O'Brien

Praise for All Church Ministries

Thursday May 23 2019

- 'God botherer' chaplains lauded
- Disinvestment protests
- Housing and Loan Fund celebrates 50 years


A lengthy debate on the Ministries Council report saw warm tributes paid to all the ministries of the church. Convener, the Rev Neil Glover, said: “It is important that as an Assembly and through this report we record the remarkable work across all of Scotland, in England, the Channel Islands, in the Presbytery of Jerusalem and the Presbytery of International Charges, the work of all those who as parish ministers, deacons, ordained local ministers, auxiliary ministers, chaplains, readers, ministries development staff (and) those who work through the projects of Go For It, engage in this unique, perhaps sometimes strange, always remarkable and inspiring thing which is called the Ministry of the Church of Scotland.”

The debate included discussion on the future of ministerial training, payment of ordained local ministers acting as locums, procedures for long-term sickness and tenure.

An attempt to remove a statement that the number of academic partners for initial ministerial training is likely to be reduced to ‘one or two’ in future was defeated. Mr Glover said that inclusiveness and provision of distance learning would be key elements in the selection process for the training providers; and that the Council would accept collaborative applications from two or more of the providers working together.

The Council was asked by the Assembly to consider incorporating into new vacancy rules a principle that in future no ministers should be called on unrestricted tenure. The Rev Tara Granados, who moved the motion, said that tenure was ‘the elephant in the room’ in the discussions about Church reform, and that unrestricted tenure was a barrier to the flexibility the Church would need in future. She was backed by the Rev Dr Doug Gay, who said: “In the past, unrestricted tenure provided for stability. The need of our day is not stability, it is flexibility.”

An Overture from the Presbytery of International Charges, asking for consideration of a scheme allowing the Church’s overseas churches to call ministers from other denominations, was agreed.


As usual during the debate on the Armed Forces Chaplains, the Assembly heard from a senior member of the British forces. Rear Admiral Jim Higham, Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (ships) said that the chaplain had a special place in the Navy, encapsulated in the term ‘God botherer’

He said: “What’s interesting to me is that it suggests that the existence of a God, is something of a given.  Perhaps this is not as surprising as it seems, given that sailors spend so much of their lives at the mercy of the elements, experiencing both the beauty and majesty of the night sky and the terror and power of an ocean storm. From that angle it’s no wonder that the idea of God has always been such a tangible notion to sailors. It just isn’t something that we bother about very much – the chaplain, our ‘God botherer’ is there to do that for us.”

The Moderator told the Chaplains: “The great strength of forces chaplaincy is that you are not seen as people who try to do things for people but that you do things with people. You walk with them, you face together issues of life and death, you cannot put on an act - you can only be yourself. You are their friend in time of need. Thank you for being a face of the Church among those who serve in our armed forces.”


During the report of the Joint Emerging Church Group, the Rev David Cameron of Kilmarnock called for funding of Pioneer Ministries work throughout Scotland. He said: ”I’m not talking about £20,000 here and £40,000 there. This is a challenge to the new Assembly Trustees: put our money where our hope is.”


The convener of the Ecumenical Relations Committee, the Rev Sandy Horsburgh, told the Assembly that there had been ‘joys and sorrows’ in the Church’s ecumenical work: joys included improved relationships with the Scottish Episcopal Church (later echoed by Episcopal Church bishop the Rt Rev Andrew Swift) and sorrow in the decision of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland (PCI) to stop inviting the Moderator to its General Assembly. Mr Horsburgh said that the Church of Scotland continued to extend an invitation to the PCI’s Moderator, “Because we believe in holding out the hand of friendship and in the ministry of reconciliation.”

Mr Horsburgh said that he hoped the replacement with Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS) with a Scottish Christian Forum would allow more churches to participate. He said: “It is hoped that a lighter structure, based more on participation than on membership, will allow churches and Christian organisations to take part up to the level at which they feel comfortable.”

Youth representative Gemma King, co-convener of the National Youth Assembly’s working group on ecumenism, asked that a youth forum be included as part of the new body.


With the Housing and Loan fund reporting in its 50th year, the Assembly was shown a video of two couples who have been helped by the fund – one living in a house they own thanks to a loan from Housing and Loan, the other in a home rented from the fund. One of the interviewees, a retired minister, says he would not have been able to afford to retire without the help of Housing and Loan.


The Rev Ann Inglis, presenting the report of the Church Hymnary Trustees, reminded the Assembly that funds are available for projects matching the Trust purposes of ‘promotion and development of hymnody in Scotland’. Projects supported in the past have included local organist training programmes and the new Singing CH4 website being produced by the Mission and Discipleship Council. She said: “We are open to approaches from congregations, presbyteries and other church bodies involved in the advance of church music.”


During the morning break, a group of youth representatives and supporters made a silent protest against yesterday’s decision of the Assembly not to divest from fossil fuels, and there was another brief protest at the beginning of the report of the Investors Trust, when a group of Commissioners sang an alternative version of ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’.

The convener of the Church and Society Council, the Rev Dr Richard Frazer, warned during the report that ‘the discussion about these issues will not go away… the world is changing and we are in a climate emergency’. He added: “What I am suggesting to the General Assembly is that perhaps what we need going forward, under new arrangements with a new trustee body, is revived and refreshed consideration of our investment policy as a church.”


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