Open letter to my Presbytery Clerk
Having sat in your seat for five years before you took up office as my successor as Presbytery Clerk, I know some of the pressures you are under to keep a system going. I used to joke (but was actually serious) when I was Clerk that one day soon I would be arriving at 121 with the white flag, issuing the surrender on behalf of Falkirk Presbytery! Perhaps that day has come. I write therefore not to add to your burdens but to try to bring an end to the chaos and start to see a new way forward. Some still cry “no surrender” but I have no truck with them, I’m afraid!
The issue is we simply can’t go on as we are. Let me give you an example. My name has surfaced at the top of the list to become an Interim Moderator. I should, as a good Presbyterian minister, take up the mantle and keep the show on the road, but here’s my thinking: I was ordained into a charge 15 years ago that had two full-time ministers - an Associate and me. In time the Associate left and was not replaced by Presbytery. Four years ago we united with a neighbouring congregation who had a full-time minister. Three full time ministers down to one. An OLM was assigned but has taken unwell and another dear retired colleague who helped enormously sadly passed away. Now I can sense you (and other readers) stretching for the violin to accompany my sob story because I now find myself “on my tod”, which in a sense is true though I have many supportive Elders. I have no great desire to continue to try to be a leader of worship, pastor, introducer of change, and funeral taker of some 40-50 funerals per annum, whilst adding the meetings and funerals and vacancy delights of another nearby Church. The hours of a week are limited and I truly believe that God has not called me to work myself to death. It is sad that the Church is now calling me to do so because that’s the way we’ve always worked and we’ll work that way until we all die or the great revival comes! (Which, incidentally, we have been waiting on for some 60 years now!)
It was once said, “This woman is not for turning”! Well, this man is!
I seek no sympathy because my name has surfaced to the top of the list because I know that if it’s not me then it will some other poor colleague who has to bear the burden. On behalf of all sensible thinking people, I call for a halt to the madness!
Roughly speaking, we have 32 charges with 13 vacant in some form or another. Some Elders have been trained as IMs but with these vacancies we are stretched to the limits to provide IMs and locum cover. Some colleagues in charges are now well over normal retirement age and we place too much burden on the few retired ministers who help. With a third of charges vacant throughout Scotland within the foreseeable future, I imagine some other Presbyteries are not dissimilar to us.
Let me make some suggestions…(radical ones, is there another type?)…
1) Our Presbytery Planning Team is robust in it’s thinking as instructed by the General Assembly. Most areas of our Presbytery do not need more than two Churches in their area, perhaps even one will do! We should be able to reduce our charges by about 12 or more. And we ask each charge or grouping to outline their plans for the future. And we agree this plan before Christmas 2018! Let’s get the minister and Elder from each charge round the table and talk turkey!
2) As an interim measure, until the General Assembly drops territorial ministry, all parish ministers will only conduct parish funerals if they are able and have time to do so, but they have the option to be unavailable and invite funeral directors to make alternative arrangements; also, when ministers provide cover for holidays and study leave for colleagues then it is really to cover members funerals. Surely other Christian denominations in areas would be willing to help? Otherwise civil celebrants will be called upon. I’m not saying territorial ministry is not a desirable thing, simply an unsustainable thing.
3) We look towards neighbouring Presbyteries, Stirling for example, to join forces to face the future and hope this pattern will be repeated throughout the country, leading eventually to decentralising of power and resources. We make contact now!
4) We streamline our Committee system now to cover what’s absolutely necessary, giving powers to Committees as appropriate and reducing our Presbytery meetings from seven to four by 2019.
I look around and see fellow ministers struggling to do all that is asked of them, trying to meet demands of a Church of the past. How can they even contemplate a brave new future if they are swamped by the chaos now closing in?
Reluctantly, because the minister asking me is a very nice man and doing the best job he can in the circumstances, I have to say for the time being I cannot become an Interim Moderator without possible detriment to my own wellbeing and without detriment to the opportunities for mission that presently lie before us here at Falkirk Trinity. Presbytery may take a dim view of this, but whatever happens I plead with Presbytery not to ignore the predicament now upon us which, I fear, is only going to get worse.
Your friend and fellow minister,