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Home  >  News  >  Church Warned on Ministry Numbers

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Church Warned on Ministry Numbers

Tuesday May 25 2021

The Rev Rosie Frew, convener of the Faith Nurture Forum


The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was today presented with a stark summary of the Church’s crisis in ministry numbers.

The Rev Rosie Frew, convener of the Faith Nurture Forum, was speaking as she introduced a Presbytery Mission Plan Act which envisages a cut in the number of charges to 600 plus 60 vacancies.

She said that the church currently has 700 ministers in post (of whom over 35% are due to reach retirement age within five years), plus 151 locums and 137 ministry development staff. There are 299 vacant charges, and 36 congregations under the guardianship of their presbytery, meaning a need for 335 interim moderators.

Mrs Frew said: “We are draining the resources of the church - people, morale, finance - just to keep this broken system going. Without a radical treatment plan the Church of Scotland will not survive. Our report offers the whole church a chance to thrive, to lay down the burdens that have been exhausting us.

“We asked the Assembly Trustees how many ministries are affordable, and they have given us the answer: 600 ministries, plus 60 vacancies, by 2025. And using that figure the Forum has painstakingly allocated ministries across the presbyteries. If you wish to claim more for your presbytery, you must tell the Church which other presbyteries should have fewer.

“We know there is no easy or painless way forward. But we can choose our pain: the short, sharp pain of surgery, with the prospect of recovery; or long, debilitating, decline with no hope of getting better.”

However, the Assembly did not get to vote on the plan, which will be considered when discussion of the Faith Nurture Forum resumes tomorrow. Much of the business of the day was taken up on technical and legal issues to do with the call of ministers in specialist roles such as chaplaincy, and a debate on tenure which concluded with the Forum being instructed ‘to keep questions around call and tenure under review’.

In response to a concern that closing churches could lead to reduced givings, Mrs Frew said: “This is a major challenge before us and we all have to play our part in it. We are a church with far too many buildings. We are a church who could be doing things in a far more creative, far more joined up way. I would just pray that people will be generous in giving for the glory of God and for the good of the Kingdom, not just for the building they like worshipping in.”

She accepted new motions calling on the Church to continue the Path of Renewal programme, to explore ways to listen to the views of young people, and commending the Acorn Project.


Mabel Wallace, the National Convener of the Guild, reported that the money raised for its six partner projects for 2018-2021 had risen to £551,434, and with United Nations match funding for the Malawi Fruits project to £638,000. She said she continued to be ‘inspired, encouraged, amazed, privileged and humbled as I look forward in faith for the journey still to be shared until my journey in office is complete’.


The Theological Forum will next year bring firm proposals on the confessional standards in the Church of Scotland. Following the Forum’s report into the place of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Church’s subordinate standard, Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions are to be asked to discuss the options presented before next year. The Theological Forum has said its preferred option would be an approved book of confessions, to include the Westminster Confession along with various other confessions and creeds.

The Forum Convener, the Rev Dr Donald MacEwan, agreed that the Forum would produce video resources on the Westminster Confession to assist the discussion.

Dr MacEwan, also committed the Forum to at least initial discussions about theological considerations around retrospective apology. He was speaking in response to the Rev Alec Shuttleworth, minister in an area of Fife where a local action group is seeking an apology from the Church of Scotland for the actions of Presbyterian ministers in the persecution of women accused of witchcraft in the 17th century.


General Assembly 2021: Full Coverage

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