Saturday, 22 May 2010

Report of Ministries Council

This was a long, complex and highly debated report. This summary can only provide a flavour of the nature of the discussions and of the important decisions taken during this session.

The report addressed proposals dealing primarily with 3 aspects of the Council’s work: training, tenure for ministers, and reduction in the number of paid ministers in light of the Kirk’s financial situation. All of these aspects are interrelated and this interelationship became evident in the nature of the deliverances proposed, and the debate that followed the presentation of the report by the convenor, Mr. Graham Finch. This summary will be presented in three parts, addressing each section separately.

Mr. Finch began his address by quoting from Prov. 28:19 “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. He acknowledged that the report would be a difficult one to present and that the proposals within were radical, but he urged the General Assembly to consider the necessity of taking bold decisions if the Church were to have a stable position in the future. He stressed that the report and proposals had been developed to allow the Kirk and the Council to fulfil its remit of giving special priority to the poorest and more marginalised. “ Out of crisis come both vision and opportunity” he stated.

The Convener then presented his proposals for different forms of training ministers and lay people within the Kirk. Mr. Finch referred to the Ministries Training Review, now in its second phase as forming a clear part of the 2020 Vision document and setting the principles that will shape the training programmes and ministries of the Kirk for many years to come. Mr. Finch then presented a broad overview of three training strands for future Ministries of Word and Ministries of Word and Sacrament. The plan contemplates the provision of training readers and ordained local ministries deployed at local level and for ordained ministers at national level. The readership training would be at certificate level, the ordained local minister would be at diploma level and the ordained minister would be at degree level. The specifics of each strand are outlined in section of the Ministries report in page 3/29. The key pointers for future models of training outlined by Mr. Finch were : (a) flexibility of access and delivery, (b) developing selection procedures in relation to vocation and the changing demographics of Scotland;(c) establishing a clear training path to allow for movement within the various ministries recognised by the Kirk. (d) an awareness by those training for ministry of the need to work in an ecumenical manner (e) training patterns should always complement training at a wider level within Scottish society; this should be done in cooperation with other Councils. (f) need to develop training in specialist ministries. (g) need to develop training in cooperation and wit constant dialogue with academic partners.

Discussion pertaining to training issues. Some concern was expressed about the creation of a “hierarchy” of ministers and there were echoes of “second hand ordination”. The lines of managerial support and supervision between ordained national ministry and ordained local ministry seemed somewhat unclear. Comments also arose about the need to focus on the preaching and teaching role of the ministry within a congregation and the excellent current training for ministers. One discussant said, “if it is not broken why fix it?” However most of the comments seemed to centre on the fact that there are currently very few people training for full time ministry, there are many empty charges and there is a need to recognise that lay people, also experience a calling for God to serve and that training should be provided for those calls. Finally, a discussion arose about the renaming of the readership post into a “local ministry of word” but this suggestion was discarded because of the Reformation tradition attached to the title of “reader”. The deliverances related to this section were all approved.

Ministries Council (2) : Tenure and the Number of Ministers

In its report to the General assembly 2009 the council flagged up the fact that the cost of sustaining ministry had reached a critical point and would require significant action. The council then undertook research as well as a consultation exercise with Presbyteries on the best way to fulfil its responsibilities with regard to the provision of ministries in a sustainable way. In particular, the Convener stated that there is an imperative need to deal with a massive deficit. Several proposals were examined and presented to Presbyteries for consultation. Mr. Finch stated that the only way of reducing the deficit was to prune the amount of money spent on paid ministries. “It is more than a pure cost cutting exercise, it is a real opportunity to grow in new ways” said Mr. Finch.
He then referred to the consultation with Presbyteries on Tenure. Eight proposals were put forward to the Presbyteries for consultation prior to the General Assembly and most of the presbyteries seemed to favour the option of maintaining an unrestricted form of tenure for paid ministers as the norm. However, this form of tenure presents serious difficulties for planning provision at Presbytery level. The need for flexibility in planning is crucial argued Mr. Finch as the need to balance the budget is imperative for the future of the Kirk. Tenure was considered by one Presbytery as “a luxury we can no longer afford”.

Discussion on Tenure. There was considerable discussion on the issue of tenure with some arguing for the need for time to develop familiarity and trust with the congregation. Others mentioned the importance of going with a congregation through various stages of life before the fruits of ministry could be seen. Others argued that the freezing of pay for ministers had already been a disincentive and stated that charges advertised without job security were very difficult to fill.

On the opposite view, some commissioners argued forcefully for the need to abandon the tenure mentality and join 21 century labour market conditions, just like every one else. One discussant concluded his address stating “Ministries without end are a bad thing” others stated that this position induces complacency. An amendment was proposed suggesting that unrestricted tenure should not be the norm. There was wide and impassioned debate and an electronic vote was taken where the motion that tenure should not be considered the norm was approved.

Number of Ministers. Mr Finch then addressed the need to reduce the number of paid ministers. He proposed to reduce the number of funded ministries to 1000 full time equivalent posts. This means an effective break with the mentality of one post one person to allow for the planning to be done on full time equivalents. This means that some ministry posts might be done part time, or that some of the duties traditionally carried out by the minister, will be devolved to members of the congregation who will be specifically trained.

Discussion on Number of Ministers. The proposal for the reduction of the number of ministers was also hotly debated. Some argued in favour of asking congregations to give more money. For example, if every member of the congregation gave an additional £22 the projected number of ministers would not need to be cut. Others by contrast argued in favour of letting the spiritual gifts of ordinary members of the congregation flow and take up positions within each parish. “Lay people are willing and able to work in Christ” was stated by one commissioner. Other said “these people are ministers in the full sense of the word, but they will never wear a dog-collar.” In the end, the vote to reduce the number of ministers was approved by the Assembly.

The role of women in the church was also a hotly debated issue, primarily because women have been allowed to be ordained within the Kirk for over 40 years, however, there are still areas within Scotland where congregations for theological reasons, refuse to acknowledge the role of a woman minister. Commissioners spoke against the discrimination of women, at the pulpit, but also within eldership positions within the parish.

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