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Church Told to 'Imagine an Exciting Future'

Monday May 22 2023


The Convener of the Church of Scotland’s Assembly Trustees has urged the Church to display a new spirit of Reformation in the face of falling membership and ministry shortages.

The Rev David Cameron told the General Assembly that it was a ‘critical time’ for the church but urged Commissioners to imagine an exciting future.

"Imagine Church where members are enthusiastic about doing things differently," he said.

"Imagine listening to one another and dreaming bold dreams and having the energy and encouragement to experiment and learn in the process. Imagine being able to move forward in positive ways tackling serious issues of the day, responding to the real need in Scotland. Imagine finding a creative way of getting different people with different views together to create a different future. Imagine planting new church communities where they've always been needed, breaking out of our constrained systems to do so.

"Sharing ministry for the pastoral care of the elderly in the aging congregations whilst recognising the need to be intergenerational, fully integrating our young people, shaping the life of the Church.

"The new alongside the old, energising and inspiring with the gospel imperative, ‘go and make disciples."

Mr Cameron acknowledged the hurt and pain that had been caused by the Presbytery Mission Planning process over the past year, which he admitted ‘has felt harsh and rigid and people have not been as kind and pastorally sensitive as they should have been’. But he said the time had come to "lay down burdens which have been exhausting us all."

The Trustees agreed to a proposal from the Rev Dr Doug Gay instructing them to explore alternative approaches to ministry planning which would ensure churches that can afford a minister (or be supported to afford one in the case of deprived areas) would be permitted to call one.

However, the Assembly rejected an Overture from the Presbytery of Glasgow which would have appointed a Special Commission to review the Mission Planning process. Presenting the Overture, the Rev Mark Malcolm said that it was not about criticism of the process or stopping it, but about exploring whether there might be other options.

Mr Cameron said that setting up a Commission at this stage would be premature and bring delay, but assured the Assembly that review was built into the process. He urged them to ‘embrace instead the task of rolling up our sleeves and getting involved in this good work going forward’.

The Assembly passed another section of the Overture, instructing the Theological Forum and Faith Nurture Forum to produce a report reflecting on the numerical decline of the Church and the steps required to address it.

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The Assembly passed an amendment from the Rev Bryan Kerr noting ‘with alarm’ research which suggests that black and ethnic minority ministers are being overlooked or asked not to officiate at funerals in favour of a ‘Scottish minister’. Mr Kerr said: “We ought to be standing up for our ministers and calling this out for what it is. It’s racist, it’s xenophobic and has no place in our church.” The Assembly Trustees are to work with the church’s EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion) group to highlight the issue and liaise with public bodies and funeral directors.

While one commissioner suggested that under certain circumstances the church should be ‘tolerant of intolerance’, the majority of speakers were in favour, including the two black ministers who spoke.

The Rev Dr Kwame Ahaligah said: “Racist ideas should not be tolerated or explained away. The Gospel should challenge us to confront such opinions with a strong prophetic voice.”

The Rev Everisto Musedza said: “As a black minister… it’s very difficult to hear someone try to explain my pain, my humiliation and rejection away.”

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The Assembly agreed to the Trustees’ proposal to delay a decision on the future of the Church’s George Street offices, although not without some disquiet. Dr Brian Sheret asked why the Church couldn’t repurpose a redundant church building in Edinburgh, and Craig Dobney said ‘it would be good for us all that the central church could show, through their efforts to do something about 121 George Street, their solidarity with the rest of us  who are having to give up buildings’.

Mr Cameron said that the future of the offices was still on the agenda: “We will make the right decision at the right time.”

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During the report of the Theological Forum, the General Assembly approved the creation of a Book of Confessions forming the Church’s subordinate standard. The Book, to include the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Scots Confession, Nicene and Apostles Creeds, and the 1992 Statement of Faith, must now be approved by presbyteries under the Barrier Act.

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The Theological Forum agreed to review the Third Article Declaratory, which commits the church to providing the ‘ordinances of religion’ to every parish in Scotland.

Bringing the motion, the Rev Robert Allan pointed out that Scotland was now mostly secular, and given the shrinking number of ministers asked whether it was possible for the Church to maintain the commitment of the Third Article. He said it was ‘a noble aim’ but that the church should be ‘humble enough to reconsider’.

The Assembly agreed to the proposal, although the Rev Scott Rennie warned that being a national church and parish church was fundamental to the Church’s identity.


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