Radical Report Card
In 2018 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was presented with a Strategic Plan for 2018-2028. Following 60 years of constant decline, we threw it out in favour of a three-year radical plan. So, four years later where are we?
1. ARTICLE 3: that noble aim of parishes covering the whole of Scotland remains. There are areas where one Church remains where once there were half a dozen. Larger parishes with larger workload for ministers are no longer tenable and NOTHING has been done to address this. The Church of Scotland needs to take a dose of humility and work from its real situation instead of its imagined status and do so with imagination that does not result in only survival of the strongest.
2. SEVEN YEAR ITCH: It took 3 years to put the Strategic Plan in place – it took a further year to come up with a Radical Action Plan – and three years later we have still come up well short of the mark – SEVEN years and little to show for it.
3. UNCHANGING MINDSETS: Many local Churches and members still want to see the status quo with little evidence to show a new enthusiasm to embrace the challenge of mission facing the Church – mind-sets have not changed enough, despite the Church Without Walls Report saying it was the biggest challenge facing the Church – TWO DECADES later it is still the biggest challenge. For the record, where there are little glimpses of something new emerging, well done!
4. RADICAL: The Radical Action Plan was not radical enough and its overall aims unachieved, formed by an unimaginative former Assembly Council.
5. FUNDING: We were going to free up funds that have been locked in property accounts because of archaic laws – NOTHING has changed. No Growth Fund but millions still in reserve. And a WOEFUL response from central Church to congregations hit hard by the pandemic.
6. M&M: We were going to reform the outdated and archaic M&M system – it has taken FOUR years to do so and only next year will we see this reform finally emerge… hopefully!
7. ASSEMBLY TRUSTEES: Slowly but surely, judging on the publicised meeting notes, our 12 have descended into management-speak when what we needed was a clear and simple forward plan, embraceable by all our members.
8. WEBSITE: Our Church of Scotland website has been broadly irrelevant and unexciting for many years and this is the face of our Church online?
9. LAWS and REGULATIONS: No legal team has been set-up to reduce the legalities and red tape which hinder our progress as a Church and still we trundle on through the quagmire of mundane and needless rules and regulations, to say nothing of the archaic edicts and language!
10. STRUCTURAL CHANGE: This was supposed to see us lean and fit for purpose, but we are left with more of an impression that the deckchairs have simply been moved. Difficult as change is, have we made enough changes centrally that we really need? And the old question of the 121 building seems to have found itself in the long grass again, no surprise there! Larger PRESBYTERIES have taken too long to establish – why couldn’t this have been done sooner? And they are still consumed with lengthy details when they are supposed to be travelling “light”! My hope is dwindling that they will be “robust, imaginative, and courageous”. And we appoint a minister to be Principal Clerk at a salary DOUBLE that of other ministers - we never learn, it seems – all are equal but some are more equal than others!
11. MINISTRY TRAINING: Nothing seems to have emerged about new-look, easy-access, affordable, pathways into full-time ministry.
12. MINISTERS OF WORD and SACRAMENT: There was a time when, whatever you thought of the old Maintenance of the Ministry Committee or its successor the Board of Ministry, we had the feeling that someone was “looking out” for ministers and their particular situation. NOT anymore.
13. MANSES: For many a long year a mixed provision on manses should have been readily achievable. NOTHING is ever done about this ridiculous archaic provision, made all the more untenable by the present rise in energy costs, making large manses very difficult to heat and leaving ministers to bear this extra high burden with no choice where to live. Yes, I know, some like living in manses, and that’s fine, just don’t dictate that we all have to do so!
14. YOUNGER PEOPLE: An aim to involve younger people goes unnoticed as the many grey and ageing brows keep the old ship afloat at the cost of the next generation of the Kirk. Our attitude and ways do not lend themselves to appeal to younger people.
15. LEADERS: High time we held elections for leadership posts, based on their manifesto for change, and held them to account to deliver.
16. GENERAL ASSEMBLY: The annual bash remains irrelevant to many, within and outwith the Church, and attempts at reform feeble. Seems like we just don’t know how to change, never mind semper reformanda!
Overall: Could do an awful lot better!
Finally, to quote from James Simpson in Life and Work 23 years ago… “The Church has always needed radicals – members concerned to get beyond what is peripheral to arrive at the root of the matter; members prepared to question assumptions about what it means to be the Church in our day. It is very easy to become immersed in keeping the roof on the church building and the organ working and the money coming in, that we fail to discern what God is seeking to do through the Church for the world he loves. The Church of Scotland needs to find ways of touching the hearts of those who believe that the Church is not for the likes of me.”
Indeed we do, but we are still too immersed in the old to take that leap of faith and actually be radical.