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Jigsaws, visions, and future plans PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Friday, 01 October 2010 17:40

Missing Jigsaw Piece

Today has been a day of catching up with a mountain of paperwork (which has been partially successful, thankfully), after a very busy month. Last night was the final meeting in a series of eight meetings that I have been attending throughout September as Vice-Convenor of the Implementation Committee for Presbytery with responsibility for implementing a new Presbytery Plan that will see a further reduction in the number of stipendiary (i.e. paid) posts available to the presbytery. I wrote earlier this month about the first of these meetings, which I was attending with my "minister of St Andrew's" hat on.

Having now visited all the eight different areas of presbytery, which in itself has been a helpful exercise for me as I have seen parts of the presbytery I am very rarely in, and having listened to all the questions and discussions during each meeting, I have been impressed by the manner in which what is, let's be honest, difficult news has been accepted by each group of congregational representatives. [There's more...]

With my Implementation Committee hat on, that means we have now distributed all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. Each area of presbytery is a piece of the puzzle. At the moment each piece is blank - we have made no prejudgement on the outcome of the discussions - ready for a vision of how the Church of Scotland will look in each area to be drawn upon that piece of the jigsaw puzzle. All we know is that when all the pieces come back together the total number of paid posts needs to be 57.

The next stage now begins in the process, which will take us through to January, in which each local area group will discuss amongst themselves how the stipendiary posts should be spread across their own area. A facilitator will assist in leading us through that process. It is going to be very challenging.

There were a few comments during the month from people who thought this was the wrong approach to take, and that the Implementation Committee should draft up a new plan for presbytery themselves and then come to each area and congregation to discuss it: a top-down approach. We are not doing that, and are deliberately not telling each area how many posts need to go. It is up to each area to think long and hard about the areas they know best and grasp a vision for the Church of Scotland with the resources available to the presbytery as a whole - to be realistic and sensible.

I mentioned in my earlier post that a number of principles were to be applied in these discussions. The last time new presbytery plans were drawn up it was done solely using the principle of population size which led to some oddities in distribution, but this time we are looking at things differently.

You may want to stop here! However, if you are interested, and in the interests of transparency because we want people to be aware of the discussions that are going on, I'll take you through these nine principles below.

Nine Principles to Facilitate Future Planning
1.  Communities

Every community of every size in every location within Scotiand is part of a Church of Scotland parish. This is part of the law of the church - that every household should be part of a parish. While population should no longer be the only principle in shaping Presbytery Plans as it was in the past, it still remains the starting point. It is important to remember that the calling of the church is not primarily to resource congregations, it is mission to everyone in the land.

On Sunday I mentioned Archbishop William Temple, he got this spot on when he said that, "the Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members."

2.  Mission

The church must be active and engaged in its community. Our calling as Christians is nothing other than the challenging of the people of Scotland with a vision of God's kingdom and asking them to respond to it in faith and love. It is thus not sufficient just to ensure that each home is in a parish, but that the church's precious resources are used to engage in mission, as instructed by Jesus. This will mean a mixture of current patterns of ministry and new emerging patterns of ministry meeting a 21st century context.

3.  Ecumenicity

Which is about different church denominations working together. We are not alone in satisfying the mission imperative of Jesus. We have sister churches who are also trying to do this. There may be occasions when this will lead to creative partnerships between denominations and a better distribution of the church's resources by working together, or allowing a stronger denomination to fulfil the spiritual needs of a particular area and redistributing the resources that would have been deployed there to a more needy location in which the Church of Scotland is the primary worship community.

4.  The Poor

It is clear in countless passages in the Bible that God is particularly concerned for the poor. The temptation to remove resources from the areas of the country that contribute the least financially, which can be very tempting when resources are scarce, must be countered with a concern for our sisters and brothers in faith communities that may be fragile. To do otherwise would be a mockery of the gospel.

5.  The Whole People of God

While the review of presbytery plans is predominantly about paid ministries and making the best use of these ministries, the discussions should not ignore the fact that all Christians are called to serve. This will mean that in some areas congregations may be served by elders and fellow members under the oversight of an ordained minister. Already this happens in some rural areas.

6.  Congregations

The foundation blocks of the Church of Scotland are the faith communities that come together to worship, witness and serve Christ: congregations, in other words. Through vibrant congregations we see a living expression of the gospel, commending the gospel to others through their active presence in their community. This is not the case for all congregations, however. Identifying and supporting those congregations that are dynamic and outward looking, contributing to their communities and the wider church will be important in order to build on those strengths in an area.

7.  Mixed Economy

The current parish system of minister, congregation and parish is not going to be overturned, however there is a growing realisation that the parish system can also find expression in different forms that may create new worshipping communities for different niche groups. I have talked about this before within our own context to describe some of what we are trying to do with groups like Juice. This can also stretch us to think about how the church reaches out to those who primarily connect with others through online networks, e.g. facebook.

8.  Financial Responsibility

This exercise is not about giving priority to the 33% of congregations that are net contributors to the ministry costs of the whole Church of Scotland. However, it does not take a rocket scientist to work out that a situation in which a third of churches are supporting the other two thirds is likely to cause problems. However, nothing is as simple as it may seem. For instance, during the local area meetings there were surprising results when looking at the per capita giving figures which often showed that the poorest congregations had a higher per capita contribution than the more wealthy churches. Presbyteries are encouraged to look carefully at how seriously congregations take their financial stewardship and consider allocating resources appropriately.

9.  Buildings

And, of course, the most thorny of all the principles and the issue that causes more grief than any of the others. There is a connection between ministry and church buildings, but that connection is not uniform across all congregations. Nationally it is clear that the Church of Scotland has too many buildings, many that are underutilised, some that are far too large for the current needs, and often buildings that are in the wrong place (they may have been in the right place when built, but now the population is centred elsewhere).

This is generally accepted for the Church of Scotland as a whole, but almost always when the discussion becomes local then every building is deemed to be essential. Resolving issues surrounding the use of buildings should be included in the discussions in each local area group.

And so there you have it. These principles are provided to help the discussions. They are not the be all and end all of the discussions. Nonetheless, the plan that is drafted on each section of the jigsaw puzzle must be defended by reference to these nine principles.

I apologise for the length of this posting, but I hope that is helpful.

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