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Kicked into the long grass (The Manse Question Part Two)




Amidst all the change which the Church is necessarily undergoing at this time it seems there is one thing that can never change…manse provision. Yes, you guessed it, the General Trustees are recommending the status quo on manses to the General Assembly 2024. All major gambling outlets have long since refused to give odds on that outcome. It seems the question of ministers living in their own homes is about to be kicked into the long grass yet again. At a time when the status quo is not an option for the Kirk moving forward, the General Trustees seem to be the exception, unless Commissioners stand up! Remember the motion I proposed last year to ask for terms and conditions for ministers to be able to live in their own homes and designated as a manse was only narrowly defeated. The General Trustees didn’t want their hands tied! The General Trustees even then were getting their boots on to kick the ball into the long grass, it’s tactics. I suspect there is an appetite for mixed manse provision in the Kirk and especially by many colleagues in ministry, but the General Trustees are proposing to keep us firmly locked in the past once again.

 

They say in their Report to this year’s General Assembly that most Presbyteries have no action plan for manses and deal with issues on an ad hoc basis; they say many manses are not energy efficient; they have even invented a survey for ministers on manse condition and suitability, thus locking the stable door when the horse bolted 40 years ago; and I even get a mention to say that I was invited to ONE meeting when all I did was answer some of their questions, however none of my questions were answered!

 

Let’s look at some of their arguments in their report…section 6…here’s the link…

 

HMRC is a fine resting place for the final nail in the coffin of mixed manse provision, for the General Trustees say that no movement can ever take place because it would have tax implications for those remaining in manses. At least one other denomination has provision for a housing allowance and the ability to stay in your own home, why have the General Trustees not pursued this much further? Why have the General Trustees not demanded a consultation and negotiation process with HMRC to find a pathway to mixed manse provision?

 

The General Trustees argue that the minister must stay in the parish in the manse in order to be “one of us” as he or she carries out their ministry. What an archaic, ridiculous argument! There may be a few places in Scotland where the minister might well be best to stay in the village, but there must be few now. We are in the process of creating huge parishes across Scotland through our Planning process, covering towns and clusters of villages, so it matters not a jot in which part the minister stays or if he/she stays nearby but outwith the parish, as some have done for years in a manse outside their parish. Was our organist of 53 years service not “one of us” because he lived 5 miles from the Church? In a row of several Churches in any town, people criss-cross to the Church that suits them, and some travel for miles to the Church, are they not “one of us” because they don’t live down the road from the Church building? As I say, a ridiculous outdated argument to make.

 

The General Trustees say the manse is a safe place for business and pastoral reasons! No more so that the Church building itself or your local coffee shop.

 

The General Trustees say that because of work pressures ministers live in manses to be “relieved of the burdens associated with property ownership”! Really, do they listen to what they’re saying? So, all you busy non-clergy people out there, poor you having to live in your own home and look after it! It’s what normal people do, live in their home and look after it! At the same time the General Trustees contradict themselves. Ministers are to rejoice in being free from the burden of property ownership, yet they state that manse provision is poor in many places in Scotland and needing attention – like that scenario doesn’t add to pressures on ministers!!!

 

The General Trustees mention the problem of buying and selling when ministers move, again this is normal for many people who change jobs or location, this is just another soundbite to make the move into the long grass seem reasonable. And why not encourage ministers to stay longer in a parish, it actually has many benefits.

 

The old chestnut of a parish where it is too expensive to buy a house is again raised by the General Trustees – the answer, as always, is easy, provide a manse – we are talking mixed provision here, not excluding the possibility of manses continuing!

 

The General Trustees argue that living in a manse means ministers avoid crippling repair bills and avoid paying Council Tax – if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry – this is what every home owner faces, it is NORMAL!! Meanwhile it is Churches who face any crippling bills because the manses are so large and not well-maintained and pay large Council Tax bills because many ministers are living in large houses unnecessarily.

 

If you want to read 41 good reasons for mixed manse provision then please follow this link, it is on my Reform Website:

 

These reasons were shared with the General Trustees and obviously neglected. They ticked the box to say I was asked to the party! As I write, the headline on our Church of Scotland website is the convener of the Assembly Trustees saying, “the Church is on the cusp of transformation and revival”. Since the Manse working group was convened by him, there is one important exception where we are not on the cusp of transformation and revival, MANSE PROVISION.

 

The jigsaw of radical reform is missing an important piece. We’re trying to step into the 21st century, albeit already late, with more than a foot in the 20th century.

 

Since I am unable to speak on this issue at General Assembly 2024, I hope and pray others will rise to the challenge and move that an independent body within the Church be set up to explore this issue further. I volunteer to serve on it. If not, as Arnie says, I will be back! Mon the reformers!

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