The Church of Scotland has today announced major plans for how it aims to grapple with the rapidly changing face of Scotland through its ministry and structures.
The Kirk, which is in the Prebyterian tradition, is Scotland's largest Christian denomination, along with the Catholic Church.
Religious adherence has traditionally been higher in Scotland than in some other parts of the UK. But the challenges of an increasingly mixed-belief society, where there are significant numbers of non-believers alongside a diversifying base of spirituality, are being increasingly felt by the historic and newer Christian churches.
Reports of the Church of Scotland Ministries Council and Panel on Review and Reform, to be considered by commissioners at the denomination's General Assembly in May 2010, affirm that the Kirk must restructure now if it is going to grow in the future, particularly with the current financial climate.
In 2010 the Ministries Council is budgeting for a deficit of £5.7 million – an “unsustainable” situation, it acknowledges.
Since Ministries receive 87 per cent of Ministry and Mission funds from congregations, this is seen as a problem for the whole Church of Scotland and not just work that comes under the umbrella of this one Council.
If a balanced budget is not achieved in the next few years, the Council’s resources will be exhausted and will not be able to sustain ministry across the country, say Kirk representatives. Therefore, the Council needs "to prune to grow".
The report claims the only way a serious difference can be made to the deficit is by reducing the amount of money spent on paid ministries. The Kirk's Council sees this, as it has consistently said, as "an opportunity for growth in new ways, through new patterns, it is not just a cost-cutting exercise, even though that is also clearly necessary."
Consequently, the Church of Scotland Ministries Council says it wants to move to a scheme of 1,000 full-time equivalent posts for ministry, rather than having only a “one minister, one parish” format.
The Council report says that, as a side-effect of the introduction of more flexible working conditions, this could also help increase the number of female ministers, who currently make up only a fifth of parish ministers.
Among the recommendations in the report are bi-vocational ministers – clergy who would spend part of the week in the parish whilst doing another part-time job.
Linked to this, the Council is also exploring ways to tap into a wider range of the talent of the Kirk’s membership, encouraging more people to train to take part in leading worship.
A pilot of training towards a locally ordained ministry is set to begin in Caithness after the summer.
The Council report estimates that the Kirk could have a substantial part-time preaching pool within a few years if the scheme was to be successful, and training would be rolled out nationwide. Visionary thinking in the church is also leading to new and different patterns of 'emerging church'.
The kirk's Panel on Review and Reform will also propose a scheme which will pilot an alternative presbytery structure, the primary objective of which would be to strengthen presbyteries to develop and experiment with ways of working which focus on the delivery of the mission of the Church in their own areas.
A pilot scheme, if approved by commissioners, would take account of local circumstances and would bring decision-making about deployment of resources for mission closer to congregations.
"Just as John Knox envisaged it 450 years ago, the Church of Scotland will continue to be a national church with a pastoral concern for the people and the nation," a spokesperson said this morning (27 April 2010).
He continued: "As Presbyterians know, reformed churches are constantly reforming, and the next few years are likely to be ones of significant change for the Kirk as it balances the books and gets to grips with new and exciting forms of ministry in the twenty-first century."