Dropping territorial ministry
It is time to lay down our cherished territorial ministry! Reluctantly but realistically, we have to let Article 3 go! It states... "As a national Church representative of the Christian Faith of the Scottish people it acknowledges its distinctive call and duty to bring the ordinances of religion to the people in every parish of Scotland through a territorial ministry."
With a projection of one third of charges vacant of a minister by 2023 and with the struggle to provide cover for services and funerals for ministers on holiday or study leave or absent through illness, then we simply have to get real! It is also time to get off our high horse - who do we think we are providing the ordinances of religion to the whole of Scotland, most of which seems to want little to do with the Christian faith, at least in the institutional form in which we serve it? In truth we are a national Church which represents the Christian faith of some 330,000 members, and how many of that number are actually active in the Church? In a population of over five million! How do other sister Churches survive without this territorial ministry, for example, the Presbyterian Church of the USA? If it were not for the recent increase in humanist and civil celebrants then I suspect the situation may have been far more onerous in terms of workload for many ministers. However much we have valued the territorial ministry in the past, we have to approach the future realistically.
By all means let funeral directors continue to contact clergy to see if they are available to take a funeral service for someone in the community who would like a Christian service, but we cannot guarantee this. There are also other Christian denominations within communities which can be contacted to provide a Christian service. Ministers in the future will not have enough time in the day to do all requested funerals and at the same time lead a Church in new mission pathways. It's fine if you are a minister coping with a small number of funerals each year but not if you are coping with several funerals every week. In a dwindling and declining Church there will come a time soon when there will be areas of Scotland where we simply will not be able to provide a Church of Scotland presence. We have to remember that we are not the only Christian Church in Scotland and that other denominations may be working in areas where we may no longer have a presence in the future.
What do we lose by signing off Article 3?
We lose the image of a national Church covering the whole of Scotland. It is sad that it has come to this, but in an increasingly secular society we have to reflect and regroup to allow for a new missionary advance in Scotland. We need less Church buildings; we need Churches to unite and find their strengths; we need ministry teams to work together. Maybe one day we will once again be a national Church that represents the faith of the people of Scotland!
We may not be called upon for every parish funeral. Some have seen this as a mission opportunity and there is no denying that parish funerals can often be times when a Christian message is heard by people who would otherwise not be found in Church, however in reality, many ministers conduct funerals satisfactorily, but with little success in changing minds and hearts to the faith or to the Church. At the very least, we need to share this service with other Christian denominations.
We can keep flying the flag with our hands whilst burying our heads in the sand...quite a flexible feat for anyone! But now is the time to undeclare Article 3 and set our focus on a new Kirk for the 21st century!
Mon the reformers!
(This page was last updated February 2020)