General Assembly 2023 Supplement

General Assembly 2023 - Special Supplement

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Assembly Warned of Crisis in Ministry Morale

Tuesday May 23 2023


A study is to be carried out into causes of stress among Church of Scotland ministers, after the General Assembly was told there was a crisis in morale in the church.

The Faith Nurture Forum convener, the Rev Rosie Frew, agreed to the work proposed by the Rev Sandy Horsburgh. Mr Horsburgh said: “We are in crisis. Morale is low. I have lost count of the number of conversations I have had with friends and colleagues about early retirement, being on anti-depressants, about having lost all antidepressants.

“Asking for a survey is not asking for much. But a church should be an institution which has care at its heart, and doing a survey and committing to learning from and acting on its results will be a real sign of a church caring for its ministers.”

While the Faith Nurture Forum ceases to exist after this assembly, Mrs Frew said that the successor body, the Faith Action Programme, will take the work forward as it can be done using internal resources.

Earlier, Mr Horsburgh had said: “What the church and its ministers actually needs for our health and wellbeing is for the causes of stress to be tackled. To paraphrase the late Desmond Tutu, it’s not enough to haul people out of the river, you have to go upstream and find out why people are falling in.”

The Rev Roddy Hamilton said it was hard to recognise the upbeat tone of Mrs Frew’s speech, and that presbytery planning had had a major wellbeing consequence on him and colleagues in the ministry.

He said: “There were no words about the consequences on the wellbeing and mental health of ministers lying in bed at 3am worrying about this.

“I know at least half a dozen of my colleagues who have demitted in the last year, not to another job but just to get away from the church, because staying would make them more ill. And I don’t know how many more are just holding on.”

Mrs Frew said that currently four per cent of ministers are off sick, 14% of those with work-related stress.

“We are living in incredibly stressful times, not just because of mission planning,” she said. “Many of the causes of stress are relational breakdowns – people not being kind or considerate or respectful to one another. I’m not denying this is the hardest of situations, but we could all be careful with the language we use and how we treat other people as we all go through this together.”

She also urged ministers to use the support services available to them through the Ascend programme.

There were also calls to recognise the situations faced by newly-qualified ministers who have been unable to seek a parish, as very few calls were allowed during the Presbytery Mission Planning process. Mrs Frew committed to financial support for all such ministers (many of whom are in short-term assistant ministry roles) until they are able to be called, but said that it was up to presbyteries to complete the planning process.


During her speech, Mrs Frew admitted that the four years of the Forum’s existence had seen ‘massive changes in life and work as a consequence of the pandemic, massive changes in church life and work as a consequence not just of the pandemic but of Presbytery restructuring and Presbytery Mission Planning’.

“We asked much, and we promised much, and we did not fully appreciate at that time the impact this immense piece of work would have on the church, on every member and every minister of the church.”

But, she added, much had been achieved, including the approval of 30 presbytery mission plans.  “We asked much, we promised much, and we have delivered… Already the church is changing and the future will be very different.”


A proposal to review the provision of manses for ministers, and explore allowing ministers to buy their own house if they wish, was narrowly defeated. The Rev Robert Allan said that such a review would benefit ministers struggling in unsuitable and expensive manses, and that churches could benefit financially from renting out their manses. However, concern was expressed over the tax implications, and whether ministers would be able to afford suitable accommodation


There was a prolonged round of applause for the Rev Jean Montgomerie, the longest serving female minister in the Church of Scotland, who celebrated 50 years in the ministry recently. The Moderator told her: “I want to say from the General Assembly and from me: we stand on the shoulders of giants, and we walk the path of pilgrims, and you are both.”

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