WARNING: This blog post is NOT for those who like to wear rose-tinted spectacles and/or DO NOT have a sense of humour and/or HAVE a sensitive ecclesiastical disposition! If this is you please DO NOT read on. This blog post does not contain flash photography nor has any actual Church been harmed in its fictitious production!
The Church of Scotland has gone into liquidation. Struggling for the last seventy years, it comes as no surprise and yet it marks the end of one of Scotland’s notable institutions.
The outgoing Moderator, the Very Rev Terry Billy Young Fair (no relation to the previous great Moderator of like name) has confirmed he will spend his final two years of ministry signing certificates for all who have served loyally on committees up and down the land. He says: “It is essential to recognise in some small way the service to our institution. Whilst we cannot afford to frame these certificates, I am sure they will hang on walls with pride.” When asked, “Will they not end up in attics anyway?” he made no reply.
With little notice of the end time, Churches throughout our nation have had to adapt quickly. Some have simply shut their doors because they do not have the numbers nor cash to continue. The fittest in terms of cash have survived, some now with more money that they might otherwise have had because they no longer need to fund central government, however forecasters say they too will suffer the same fate within the next ten years as their brothers and sisters unless they adapt to the new Scotland. One delightful scenario that has emerged is the foresight of some of these larger Churches quickly developing partnerships with struggling Churches in other areas where valuable outreach work was already underway. Not only has this saved Churches and their vital work in areas of great need, it has also saved some jobs for ministers. Whilst no longer covering the whole territory of Scotland, the Church of Scotland (Continuing) may have given itself a lifeline in these new partnerships, mutually learning from one another, and reaching back out into communities with God’s love.
A number of Churches are now empty, but the Scottish coalition government has stepped in, together with a buildings business consortium, to take over these vacant Churches and adapt them into much needed flats and houses, which has the twin targets of reducing the housing problem and reducing energy consumption from these drafty old buildings. A number of Church goers have been left devastated at the closure of their Churches. A surprising feature is that many of them have decided not to attend the one Church in their area that remains open, despite the fact that it is often closer to them than the Church they travelled to attend. One whom I interviewed stated: “If it isny (isn’t) the Church I was baptised in as a wain (child) then am no goin (I’m not going).”
Society at large in Scotland is beginning to notice a difference. The social care the Church offered, second only to the national care offered, will be ending. Care homes are already telling families to prepare for the worst unless they can cough up the cash needed to keep places going and that seems unlikely. Families of folk who claimed Christian faith but never attended Church will now be struggling to find a minister who will administer the funeral last rites. There are even some members of the general public who think it an outrage that their local Church has had to close, even though they never attended nor contributed to its upkeep or outreach.
A number of ministers are now out of work, however the number of vacancies that already existed has limited the hit. Having spun several plates in years past they are now finding that some employers are interested in taking them on with their multi-tasking skills. One minister said to me, “It’s like workplace chaplaincy from another angle now.” They are also finding life has fringe benefits, like staying in their own homes rather than have (former) Elders debate whether or not to replace the shower head at the manse. Some ministers have even raised a small glass to the end of Presbytery meetings for the foreseeable future until a more workable system is put in place.
Those folk who worked hard at the old headquarters in Edinburgh have felt the liquidation harshly, a sad consequence of an institution which has been neglecting the signs of decline for years. The Growth Fund has sadly disappeared before it even got off the ground – it was supposed to replace the old Go For It fund which only supported 16% of congregations in any case and therefore the new Fund may not have had the impact desired if it followed the same lines.
On a brighter note, Attestation days have been cancelled, building reports including how many knives, forks and spoons Churches own, have been shelved, and most of the rules and regulations are awaiting shredding. Annual statistics are obviously no longer required, consequently some wealthy congregations are holding retiring collections in order to fund counselling for former Presbytery Clerks.
Politicians have also had their say on these dramatic days: the SNP say that’s what happens when you neglect an overwhelming mandate for change; Labour didn’t think there was much wrong and sees this as the first bad fruits of Brexit; the Lib Dems are still thinking about it before comment; the Tories are wondering why the richer charges would want to support those in poorer areas; and the Greens are happy that at least many old buildings will no longer be used and therefore reduce our carbon footprint in Scotland; the Monster Raving Loony Party was lost for words.
(Excerpt from “A nightmare” by Jerry Myer, a not-for-prophet publication)
An older grey haired gentleman, of notable standing within the Kirk, recently said that the General Assembly can sometimes be like the Grand Old Duke of York of nursery rhyme fame, and whilst it may have decided to be radical and vote for reform, it may very well decide to march down the hill again! And where would that leave us?
Mon the reformers!