RAP under PAR
The Radical Action Plan is not about plotting a survival route but how we can share Good News more effectively. Radical change is essential.
So says the proposed Radical Action Plan from the Council of Assembly. But how many within the Church of Scotland think the ship can still be diverted from the iceberg? It has been hit and we have been taking in water for the last 60 years! This is about how best we can support the lifeboats!
Critical in the past, let me first lend support for the positive. Around 12 Presbyteries in the future, yes! BUT not bigger versions of the boring and stale Presbyteries that currently exist. These new Presbyteries must become the regional enablers of local Churches trying to do the radical on the ground. One little point – we asked for a 3 year radical plan, so the 12 units should arrive by 2022, not 2024-25. Aim high, folks!
Now for the rest of the proposed Plan. No, the Presbytery proposal was not the only good thing, the rest of the Plan has positive notes in it, like the idea of a single platform for faith and nurture resources, BUT it is lacking the bite and the edge of radical that is really needed in our Church today.
The establishment of a Growth Fund of £20-25m for period 2020-2026 sounds like a welcome idea and other denominations have tried this, but here’s why we should not go ahead with this…
> Is it £20m or £25m, or are we taking pot shots in the dark about how much we might have?
> £8m apparently available in the first 3 years BUT it will be reviewed after 3 years because we are cash strapped and may not be able to afford it in the future!
> By establishing this Fund control from the centre continues. However much you say it’s different, it’s really “Go For It” by another name.
> It will need administration by people who will carry out “robust monitoring” and put together an “evaluation plan”. More central control.
> You will need people in already busy and stretched congregations to do the research and have the knowledge and time to put in an application.
> If successful then your applied funding will last UP TO 5 years. In year 6 what happens? And funding may last less than 5 years.
> Match funding will be part of the criteria. Not a blanket to cover all applications, BUT match funding will form part of the criteria! Help ma boab! Have you tried getting match funding for Christian work? More work for the already stretched!
Cooperation with other denominations in the provision of territorial ministry – yes, but in the meantime? Once again we fail to grasp the nettle! It is not the core of our identity. Have we made this aspiration in Article 3 into an idol? When Jesus said, “Follow Me”, he didn’t ask the disciples to carry out a territorial ministry, he asked them to be witnesses to the Good News! If Scotland doesn’t support the Church then Scotland will have to have the Church that the Church is able to provide, and that will not be everywhere and will not cover every nook and cranny of this land that we love! Talk by all means (I’ll bet talk lasts a long time though) BUT face the present reality.
Flexible education, training and support programme – sounds good BUT where is it? What has the Ministries Council done in the last year? We have consultants to help us plan training! Financial pressure on students is nothing new, it has been around for decades, but it is mentioned in the Ministries Report as if this is a new challenge! Get your act together, never mind the consultants and the glossy approach, let’s sort out a way into ministry, let’s sort out the conditions and expectations of ministry, and then let’s support the women and men at the coal face properly! And that includes archaic manse provision – my favourite hobbyhorse, my friends - another aspect of ministry that is completely ignored! Ministers are being stretched in so many ways – sadly some people are even pressing the Presbyterian guilt button that makes you duty bound to keep the system going until you drop down exhausted (or worse) - but there is little in this Plan that alleviates their position. There are no interim provisions that help the ground troops in the meantime as they struggle to watch over their Church, another Church, a Presbytery Committee, find office-bearers in their congregation and in another congregation, and…well you know all the other demands!
The proposed Plan talks of reconfiguring M&M contributions – it says, “Bluntly, if the financial system does not collect the amount required to meet current demands then the Church potentially finds itself unable to meet its commitments.” Exactly! I agree! That’s why we need a streamlined plan for the next 3 years to radically reduce this! But only a few weeks before the General Assembly, we have no report from the Special Commission – why the Council of Assembly gave up this challenge to another body in the first place baffles me! They say the system needs to continue to function during transition – I get that, BUT jobs (still with high salaries, way above a minister’s stipend) were advertised in the meantime that still maintain the present system!!! Let’s freeze M&M for 2020 and 2021, and from 2022 (within our 3 year radical plan) we have a maximum M&M of £70,000 for any congregation! “But that will mean drastic cutbacks!” – sadly it will, but it needs to be done. And instead of a Growth Fund, congregations will have their own money to follow their own radical plans in their own local situation which they know best! And they could partner up with other Churches to share resources. The Report says, “Much of the wonderful work that is happening is despite our systems and structures rather than because of them.” BUT are we producing measures that will actually help the exciting things that are happening? It might be said that some congregations would only use the extra money to survive a little longer – if they do, they do, some may want to join the band as the ship goes down – BUT let’s set as many lifeboats in motion as we can to find that new life for the Church of tomorrow! Empower the local, that’s where radical really takes place! The GA 2018 asked us to free funds – not to add further controls - so let’s free them!
The Plan also talks of a refocus for the national office staff team – there is NO doubting their commitment, but doubt does exist about the need for such bureaucracy and the continuing scandal of high salaries. Bluntly, in a dwindling Church we no longer need nor can we afford all that we presently have centrally. Some of the suggestions in the proposed RAP are welcome but the Report is too wordy and tinkers with a system that needs radical overhaul. We need a committed independent team to deliver radical change, supported by some staff to assist in implementation.
Liberate local church, build capacity at regional level to support local churches, and streamline national structures – that’s what it says on the tin, but strangely the contents don’t match! Are there concrete proposals here that would inspire your local Church as it ponders the radical?
This RAP is supposed to be the blueprint for the way forward for the next three years, hailing a new approach to Church life, why has the Report slipped out quietly? Where was the glorious launch? Or do we believe it is not the RAP it should be? No radical plans about a new look communication department that grasps the cutting edge of modern technology?
Follow me. That means challenging tradition, going against the grain, loosening power, dispelling fear, a vision of what the Kingdom will look like amongst us. Is it persistent neglect of the radical call to “follow me” that has spelled decline and made the institution the end rather than the means to the end? You may or may not agree with “Extinction Rebellion” and its nonviolent efforts to urgently address climate change, but at least they are doing something about it. Have we got folk in the Church with stirrings of rebellion? They are out there!
To quote James Simpson in Life and Work 20 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.”
Will the General Assembly of 2019 say this proposed plan is not radical enough? I hope so.