|Future Plans: Options and Choices|
|Written by Peter Johnston|
|Friday, 01 April 2011 02:04|
At the Stated Annual Meeting of the congregation on Sunday 27 March 2011, Andy Williamson our Session Clerk updated church members on the current situation with our ongoing discussions to consider the future shape of the Church of Scotland in Blantyre and Hamilton as a part of the wider discussions taking place in the whole presbytery (and national church).
Two options were presented to the congregation, and I promised to present these here so that more consideration could be given to these in church members' thoughts and prayers for the future. [There's more...]
The reason why the current situation in Blantyre, where there are currently three Church of Scotland congregations, is going to change in the future is the decision of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland 2010 to reduce the number of paid posts in parishes to 1,000 in order to balance the Ministries Council budget which has been operating with a large and unsustainable deficit.
Representatives from each congregation were invited to try to determine how their own particular area could contribute to the reduction in staffing required for the presbytery as a whole. This involved our representatives at St Andrew's attending a series of meetings with representatives from our neighbouring churches in Blantyre and Hamilton.
Agreement was met over proposed plans for Hamilton Town Centre churches, but no agreement could be reached for the churches in Blantyre though it was recognised that the staffing to be provided for Blantyre would be the equivalent of two posts.
As a result of this failure, the Implementation Committee from presbytery (which has responsibility for drawing up a plan for the whole of presbytery and then implementing that plan) discussed the various different options and came back to meet with the representatives of local churches (the three Blantyre congregations plus Hillhouse and Trinity) to present two options that they were recommending to us.
Blantyre is in a rather unique position in comparison to some other communities across presbytery in that the three current congregations are broadly equal, with similar levels of financial giving, parish sizes all below the presbytery average, and none paying the full costs of a parish minister. Because of this parity on these terms it is hard to make a case for bringing together two of the congregations and leaving one congregation unaffected by these changes.
A linkage between congregations where a single minister serves two seperate congregations, a tool that is frequently used in a rural setting, was not deemed an appropriate option for an urban situation such as that in Blantyre.
The two options that the Implementation Committee presented both give team ministry provision where the new congregation would be served by more than one stipendiary (paid) post working together.
Option 1: A United Blantyre Parish Church
This option would unite all three Blantyre congregations to form a single new congregation for all of Blantyre. It would be served by a single Kirk Session (and other relevant committees), and would use two places of worship. One of these would be the current Blantyre Old building, and the second building to be either St Andrew's Church Centre or Livingstone Memorial Parish Church.
The retention of the Blantyre Old building was in part geographical (so that there would be a worship centre in both High and Low Blantyre), in part financial (there is a potential financial liability stemming from a grant allocated to facilitate the alterations to the church building that might take effect if the building ceased to be used as a place of worship), and in part recognising the facilities provided on that site.
This united congregation would be served by two full-time equivalent posts. This could be two ordained ministers, or one ordained minister and one other post (e.g. youth worker, pastoral worker, families worker, etc). There would be the possibility of a non-stipendiary post, e.g. a reader, also being placed by presbytery into this large parish.
The current partnerships with Hillhouse and Trinity Parish Churches in Hamilton (which would both be served by one post each, as present) would be encouraged to continue and could develop with a formal covenant to work more closely together (as already happens with respect to our youth work which is done jointly with representation from all five congregations) - this is called a "parish grouping".
Any decision over which building, St Andrew's or Livingstone Memorial, would be retained as a place of worship in low Blantyre would be for local parties to determine. A failure to come to a decision would necessitate either presbytery being asked to make the decision or the use of independent arbiters. Any decision to retain all buildings would have to be argued with a strong business case to support that retention as good stewardship of the resources of the new congregation.
Option 2: A United Blantyre/SW Hamilton Parish Church
This second option builds on the current partnerships already at work between the five congregations of Hamilton Hillhouse and Trinity and the three Blantyre churches. It would see a team ministry involving all five congregations uniting to form a single congregation served by four full-time equivalent paid posts, and four worship centres. Three of these worship centres would be Hillhouse, Trinity and Blantyre Old, the fourth would be either St Andrew's Church Centre or Livingstone Memorial Parish Church.
The Implementation Committee recognised that Option 2 might remain an option for the longer term future even if at this stage a less ambitious option was implemented.
Any changes would need to be agreed by all congregations involved, and working towards that agreement will take considerable further discussion. This is ongoing and future meetings have been scheduled to discuss these options. Our own Kirk Session will be discussing the options and choices thoroughly.
Please note that the above options are only that at this stage. These do not form the final plan, but are recommended options provided by the Implementation Committee for us to discuss and to come back to the committee with a view on them.
There is no doubt that the decisions that will be made over these next months and years will help to determine the way the Church of Scotland is represented in our community for the next generation as a minimum. That responsibility is a serious weight to carry as the discussions continue.
I do not intend to say much on this at the present, though I am sure I will in the future, but suffice to say that there is an opportunity here for local congregations to build a new community of faith, a new body of Christ in our community by coming together to share our resources. I am reminded of the words of Luke as he describes the earliest stages of the Christian Church saying:
And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.
I hope all the above information is helpful to you, and I apologise for the length of this post.
Please continue to keep praying for the Spirit of God to guide all of us in seeing the way forward so that what results from these discussions is a church that is better able to serve our Lord Jesus Christ in our community and world.
UPDATE on 13 April 2011:
Many thanks to Morton Speirs for his comment below. The detals of the financial restriction that had been intimated to have been placed on Blantyre Old have been uncovered and refer to an undertaking by presbytery to the General Trustees of the Church of Scotland at the time of the major works to the Blantyre Old building that under the presbytery plan this building would remain a part of the plan in the medium to long-term. This assurance was given at the time.
UPDATE 2 on 02 May 2011:
To try to further clarify matters, I heard today that there is indeed a grant with conditions attached from Historic Scotland made to Blantyre Old Parish Church, but predating by some years the work undergone in the renewal of the building. The conditions of this grant were that the building remain a place of worship for a period of 25 years. This grant was received in 1994.
Morton Speirs said: