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Cuts to Church Contributions Agreed

Saturday October 3 2020

The Moderator of the General Assembly, the Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair, enters the Assembly Hall

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has approved a cut of 18% to the amount of money churches are expected to contribute to the central organisation next year.

The cut in ministry and mission contributions is designed to help struggling congregations which have fallen behind in their contributions this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Assembly Trustees report warns that the Church’s total annual income could potentially fall by £30 million this year due to Covid-19, although convener the Rt Rev Dr John Chalmers admitted that it was too soon to judge the impact of the pandemic on church life at all levels.

The Assembly also approved targeted cuts of £4m to the budgets of the two central forums – Faith Nurture and Faith Impact – but even so was warned that the Church would need to take £8m from reserves next year.

In his speech, Dr Chalmers said that the church had ‘made a start’ on addressing the challenges identified in recent years, but that the Trustees were asking permission to go further: “We have changed our Council structure and we have been developing a new way of working with a Faith Action Plan which will incorporate the whole work of the church. But the Trustees wonder if we have done enough: so, we are also asking for the liberty to consider more effective and efficient ways of setting our priorities,funding the essential work we have to do at every level, and working smarter to be all that we want to be as a church.”

“That might mean holding to what we have, but equally if might mean further co-ordination across the Forums and across other agencies of the church…

“A very different shape of church lies ahead and against the extraordinary challenges that we face, we have to be ready, lean and fit for purpose.”

The Trustees won the support of the Assembly to explore the implications of unifying the two forums – which were only formed in January - into a single body, defeating a counter motion from the Rev Peter Johnston that would have put the work off for another year. Dr Chalmers said: “We have not made up our minds on this, we want to consult, but we need to do it now.”

The Assembly also rejected an attempt by the Rev Roddy Macdonald to suspend the review of presbytery planning (in which presbyteries assess the number and location of churches and ministers in their areas) for this year. Mr Macdonald argued that there was not sufficient time for presbyteries to conduct the ‘robust oversight’ called for by the Trustees, and that the Covid-19 crisis meant that many people would need be able to take part in consultations. However, Dr Chalmers said: “A church with over 200 vacancies, many of which will never be filled, needs planning. We can’t use anything, not even Covid-19, as an excuse for inaction.”

Earlier, during the presentation of the Trustees, Chief Officer Dave Kendall told the Assembly that, when asked whether he saw a positive future for the church, his answer was ‘a resounding yes’, and that ‘what will matter most in taking us forward will be the vision, quality, enthusiasm and ambition of the staff and the willingness of the Church, as people of God, to engage with the changes on our journey’.

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