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Home  >  News  >  Fund Agreed to Help Ministers Struggling with Energy Bills

News

Fund Agreed to Help Ministers Struggling with Energy Bills

Saturday May 21 2022

New Moderator the Rev Iain Greenshields is sworn in on the opening morning of the 2022 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Picture by Andy O'Brien


Church of Scotland ministers said today that they were struggling to afford the rising cost of heating their manses.

On the opening day of the General Assembly, ministers spoke of deciding not to put the heating on in winter, only heating one room of the manse, or even skipping meals as the cost of heating large, often badly-insulated buildings rises by thousands of pounds.

The gathering voted to instruct the Assembly Trustees to develop a scheme to support parish ministers facing hardship due to rising energy prices. The Rev Iain Majcher said he feared for his family this winter. The Rev Peter Johnstone said that he and his wife had already turned the heating off last winter, and had still faced a monthly direct debit of £572. The Rev Bryan Kerr, moving the motion, said that while the Church of Scotland ministers were not poor, many have no choice but to live in large, badly-insulated manses, and that worries about fuel bills were for many ‘overtaking their ability to minister’.

The convener of the Assembly Trustees, the Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, argued that there were already funds available to help ministers in financial difficulties, and that the church also had a responsibility to its other workers, such as CrossReach and Mission Development staff. However, Mr Kerr’s motion was passed by 227 votes to 122.

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Dr Chalmers warned in his speech that the Church must make changes in order to both deal with its financial problems, but also to engage with the generations that are now broadly missing from church life. He said: “The statistics presented as a part of our report do not lie: in my lifetime we have gone from a Church of 1.3 million members to fewer than 300,000. Our contact with children and our reach to millennials and generation Z are marginal. However, from the contact we do have, we know that while they agree with many of our aims, the present shape of Church, and the concept of membership itself, means very little to them.

“These missing generations are our children and our children’s children. They are not without a desire for spiritual nourishment, they are still in search of meaning and they share so many of our values… but all evidence suggests that the ways in which these generations will pursue their search for meaning and their expression of faith will not be through a top-heavy religious institution. It will not be through experiencing Church sometime between 9am and 12 noon on a Sunday morning. And it will not be through a reinvention of what went down well in the post-war and baby boomer years…

“A Church which has shrunk by 30% in the last ten years and which is painfully involved in reducing the number of its buildings and ministries must acknowledge that proportionate cuts and savings have to be made across the board. However, no one should think that this is cutting for the sake of cutting and saving as such. It is pruning in order to grow. The task is and remains redesigning the architecture of the whole system in order to build a Church of Scotland which is relevant and fit for purpose.”

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The day ended with discussions about ministry allocation to specific presbyteries. The Assembly voted against an overture from the Presbytery of Sutherland requesting more ministers. A motion from the Presbyteries of Gordon and Jedburgh, arguing that the former should have a higher allocation as it had been wrongly categorised, was held over until Tuesday when it will be discussed under the Faith Nurture Forum debate.

The session ended at 6pm with much of the Assembly Trustees report still to be debated. That will now be taken on Monday afternoon following the scheduled business.

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Earlier, the new Moderator, the Rt Rev Iain Greenshields, said that he was ‘genuinely humbled, honoured and privileged’ to be appointed. He added: “I am looking forward to engaging with the church and representing this our church. My prayer is God will grant to me wisdom fit for the task, as well as your support and your prayers that have been so generously offered to me by so many people over the last weeks and months, and I deeply appreciate that support.”

In her letter to the Assembly, the Queen praised the Church’s response to the crisis in Ukraine, in supporting partner organisations in the area and in supporting refugees arriving in Scotland. She said it was ‘encouraging to know Church of Scotland has been able to offer support through raising funds and providing welcome to stranger. We all hope peace will be restored. We continue to uphold in prayer those putting into practice the love at the heart of the Gospel.”

She also noted the church’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, and wrote that she continued to pray for church leaders tasked with delivering reforms.

Her representative at the Assembly, Lord High Commissioner, Lord Hodge, praised the Church’s commitment to truth in public life. Speaking via video link as he is currently in isolation (although he said he hoped to join the Assembly in person on Monday), he said: “At a time when political leaders in autocratic regimes and, regrettably, in some democracies, have often been disrespectful of the truth and commentators accept with a resigned shrug the deliberate purveying of lies, the commitment of the Church, and other churches, to promote truthfulness in our public and private lives has never been more important. The Old Testament prescription of acting justly, acting with compassion, and acting with humility retains its relevance today.”

In his speech as outgoing Moderator, Lord Wallace spoke in defence of the Church’s engagement in political issues. Mentioning the Church’s interventions on issues of poverty and asylum, the former Deputy First Minister of Scotland said: “Having had a political role in my past, I do not buy in, in any way, to the argument that the Church should stay clear of politics. In many situations, silence can be deafening.

“What can be more political than a call to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, to welcome the stranger, to care for the sick, to clothe the naked and visit those in prison?”

He added: “Increasingly the issue as to how we treat strangers and those seeking our help is to the fore. Let our prayer be that those in government, those making decisions will pray and worry earnestly whether what they are proposing is on God side, on the side of Jesus, who as an infant had to flee to escape violence and oppression. On the side of Jesus, who says ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’.”

Lord Wallace said that he had been encouraged during his year as Moderator by seeing ‘many examples of congregations embracing mission, looking outwards into their communities’. He said that ‘we need to acknowledge the hurt and seek to heal’ the pain of the Church’s current reforms, but argued: “At all levels, and not least in our upper echelons, we should be ready to take risks to do what is right. We must be eager to discern the new imagination into which the Spirit is calling us, and in our neighbourhoods to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom of justice and love.”

He also praised the ‘remarkable response of individuals and congregations’ to the Ukraine crisis, saying that over £360,000 had been raised so far through the Church’s appeal. Lord Wallace visited Church partners in the Ukraine and neighbouring countries last week, and said the help was ‘very much appreciated’. He added: “we learned that they also want us to continue in prayer: not only prayers in support of their humanitarian efforts, but especially prayers for peace - a peace that will endure rooted in justice, reconciliation, and love.”

 

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When business got underway, in a session that was slowed down by teething problems with the hybrid voting technology, the General Assembly approved the creation of four new presbyteries:

The Presbyteries of Duns, Jedburgh, Lothian and Melrose & Peebles will unite to form the Presbytery of Lothian and the Borders

The Presbyteries of Angus, Dundee, Dunkeld & Meigle, Perth and Stirling will unite to form the Presbytery of Perth

The Presbyteries of Forth Valley & Clydesdale and Falkirk will unite, keeping the name the Presbytery of Forth Valley and Clydesdale

And the Presbyteries of Aberdeen & Shetland, Gordon, Buchan, Kincardine & Deeside, Orkney and Moray will unite to become the Presbytery of the North East and the Northern Isles.

The Forth Valley and Clydesdale union will take effect from June 1 2022, and the rest from January 1 2023. The reforms will bring the number of Scottish presbyteries in the Church of Scotland down to 26, with more mergers to come.

After the unions were approved, the Moderator said: “We recognise there is a significant history with regards to the former presbyteries and the good and positive contributions that have been made by those presbyteries through the years. So we recognise there is some sense of grief (at the changes). But a new story begins, taking a positive step into the future.”

The role of Presbytery Clerk in the new, larger presbyteries came up for a great deal of discussion. The Assembly passed motions instructing that proposals should be brought next year to ensure consistency of terms and conditions and pay and grading of presbytery staff across the Church, including whether they should be employed by the Central Services Committee (some commissioners expressed concern about thus); instructing the Assembly Business Committee to ensure there is appropriate support and training for Clerks; and the development of a code of practice and capability process for Clerks.

The Assembly narrowly rejected a motion from Seoras Orr calling for ‘overly ceremonial elements to be absent from future meetings of the Assembly’.

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Giving her usual address on the General Assembly’s opening day, Elaine Duncan, chief executive of the Scottish Bible Society, expressed ‘hearty thanks’ for both the prayers and financial contributions of supporter in the Church of Scotland. She announced that a new 30th anniversary edition of the most recent full Bible in Gaelic would be published this year, along with a new audio version of the New Testament in Modern Gaelic.


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