© Robert Alexander Anderson 2005
The right of Robert Alexander Anderson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patients Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission in writing from the author.
ISBN 9529488 2 6
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue of this book is available from the British Library.
Printed by The Jedburgh Press
"We played the flute for you
and you did not dance,
we sang a dirge and you did not cry." Luke 7:32
This book is a result of concern about the direction of the Church of Scotland. It is part of the struggle for the soul of the Church.
There are two competing movements in the Church of Scotland. The establishment ‘top down’ and the grass roots membership movement. The former has for many years sought to impose various forms of hierarchy on the whole Church. This took the form of repeated attempts to introduce bishops as in the Scottish Churches Initiative For Union (SCIFU) Report, so resoundingly rejected by the General Assembly of 2003. It has now metamorphosed into a successful introduction of a bureaucratic hierarchy, centred at 121 George Street in the form of the Council of Assembly which has taken to itself many of the rights, responsibilities and decision-making powers of the General Assembly. It can claim legitimacy for this due to the compliance of the 2004 General Assembly.
The membership is disparate but it represents a growing and widespread sense of grievance brought on by the ever-widening separation between the bureaucracy and the people and by increasingly punitive legislation in the areas of finance, freedom of call and the movement of ministers. This is reinforced by a palpable sense of the weakness of and betrayal by the public representatives of the Church of Scotland in terms of the identity and
purpose of Christianity in contemporary Scotland and its communicated content as expressed by the Church of Scotland.
This study leave project attempts to give a voice to the grass roots membership. The Council of Assembly and the professional bureaucrats of 121 George Street do not need defending. They are in the positions of decision making power. The main issue is the relationship between the kind of imposed authority that is now in place and the spiritual freedom which Christians may expect and desire in the Reformed Church context. Do these really need be sacrificed amid the exigencies of the day? Is there a better way forward?
These issues strike at the heart of the existence of Christ's Church on earth. Is the Church primarily a community in which everyone is equal? Can a national Church be organised in a way that protects and fosters such equality? Or - is the Church to become its hierarchy? And - if it has not had one, officially, is it now to have one? Were members consulted?
ls there a connection between the attempted management of the Church of Scotland and its seemingly inexorable decline? ls the way to turn things around to liberate the faithful who form the Body of Christ from the processes of management that have grown exponentially over the last decades?
This research project was undertaken to offer some insight into the thinking of the Church membership. In order to find this out directly, a Survey Questionnaire with the same title as this book was placed in the May 2005 edition of Life & Work magazine. What appears below is a summarised account of the replies with my own commentary including some examples of personal experience which highlight some of the problems which must be addressed if the Church of Scotland is to continue, survive, reform and revive for future generations.
I wish to express my grateful thanks to everyone who responded by completing and returning the survey questionnaire. I also thank those who offered comments on the project itself and on the questions thoughtfully and sometimes at length. I dedicate this publication to them. I am also grateful to the Board of Ministry (as it was) for this time of study leave. My project has been a rewarding and refreshing experience.
At present it has only been possible to select main themes and trends for discussion. I hope that this research will contribute to the future well being of a Church of Scotland in which faithful members are given a greater role, more representation and less unnecessary top-down management.
Rev Dr Robert Anderson
Blackburn & Seafield Church
THE PURPOSE OF THE SURVEY
The single most important reforming issue for the Church of Scotland in the early 21st century is to restructure its decision-making processes in favour of and to include the membership of the Church.
However, in spite of lip service to the importance of the membership, actual power has been taken further and further to the centre and into fewer and fewer hands. Church Without Walls has been funded well but kept at the level and status of entertainment. Simultaneously, the ramparts of 121 George Street have grown higher and thicker. Bureaucracy with impenetrable walls contradicts the public relations spin that somehow the Church of Scotland is freeing up its eighteenth century rigidities.
Members of the Church of Scotland are not usually asked for their opinions on matters affecting their Church. From one generation to the next they are not consulted about changes that are proposed by committees and agreed to by General Assemblies. The Scottish Executive has in place an extensive consultation process. There have been more than 900 consultations since 1999. The Church of Scotland imposes new regulations on congregations largely without consulting them. The Church is in democratic deficit. It is behind the times. It is institutionally conservative and reactionary. It is not offering any significant freedoms to its faithful and is in no position to be lecturing others about justice and fairness.
What has any of this to do with 'spiritual freedom'? The issues go to the very heart and essence of what Reformed Christianity is meant to be. The mainspring and basic intention of the Reformation was to diffuse spiritual authority from personal hierarchies to local ministers and congregational members. Collective authority was to find expression in courts (Kirk Session, Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly) with working committees at all levels. It is this sense of collective calling that has been broken. The spiritual identity of the Church of Scotland began with a sense of strategic obedience to the loose structures of the New Testament churches and an over-riding understanding of being part of the historic journey of the People of God from the life of Abraham forward to the 16th century.
The diffusion of spiritual authority was a dynamic process and in keeping with the principle of ongoing reform (Ecclesia Semper Reformanda) was intended to develop and change over the years, decades and centuries. The direction of this change, if it was to be true to the original intention of the Reformers, would necessarily continue towards the membership of the Church. This should have been all the more so given the large improvements in the education, multifarious capabilities and effective Christian calling of many lay members of the Church of Scotland. What has happened in the late 20th century is that the direction of change has gone in the opposite direction. A putative distinction
between 'professional' full-time administrators and 'amateur' occasional Commissioners to General Assemblies has grown into existence. Members of congregations have come to feel that they have neither influence or importance in the current decision-making processes and that what they are asked for is their time, faithfulness and money without much in the way of returned respect, communication and shared authority.
The lack of a personal pastoral dimension in all of this makes matters worse. The Roman Catholic Pope may be distant from most of the members of his Church but he is a human being with a face, a personality and perhaps a charisma. He can communicate directly with with his extensive flock with intelligent use of the media. Orthodox and Anglican bishops offer personalised continuity of pastoral profile. Some may be authoritarian but many use their positions lightly and consensually. They may offer open discussion rather than concluded arguments to the public, distinguishing themselves from the Roman practice. The Church of Scotland Moderator changes every year. The message remains anodyne. There is little or nothing to distinguish the Christian challenge to Scottish society in the practice of annual designation of charisma-life people. Spiritually speaking, the presence of a large bureaucracy looms over the collective soul of the Church. Bureaucracies are the same everywhere. The European Community bureaucracy is typical. They are self-perpetuating and self-aggrandising. Their officers end up talking only to one another. They become severed from the people they are meant to serve. In democracies, they can be held to account indirectly as happened in the French and Dutch referenda on the latest European Constitution. The Church of Scotland people have no such opportunity. They have less position, status and authority now than at any time since the Reformation.
Thus the members of the congregations of the Church of Scotland are in spiritual chains. The effect of this is counter-productive to the declared mission statement of the Church of Scotland. Unless and until the people are set free, the Church of Scotland will continue to decline. The sources of money will slowly retrench because people need to feel part of the expenditure of their own funding. Lack of local ownership of congregations has bred a new serfdom. There is therefore a direct connection between the possibility of a future for the Church of Scotland and the need to resolve the confinement of its membership by a bureaucracy which has succeeded only in multiplying its own influence at the cost of the long-term health of the whole Church.
The Church of Scotland does not articulate a clear sense of calling today. It does not practise it either in its institutions. And so, this humble survey at least offers members of the Church of Scotland the opportunity to share their views and opinions on their Church. It cannot therefore be dismissed and ignored. It is a spiritual exercise. Its intention is to greet and recognise the members of the Church of Scotland. To listen to them. To collate and summarise their views and to share them with everyone. The utmost respect must be paid to those who completed the survey questionnaire. They cannot be described as people with axes to grind since no-one knows who they are. Anonymity allows protection and promotes unity. Their opinions matter. Their integrity must not be questioned.
That is not to say that everyone must agree with everyone else. Not one reply was identical. Many offered comments and qualifications and insights and visions alongside their answers. Question 14 brought a myriad of suggestions for the future. There is faith and depth, commitment, interest and concern among those who returned the questionnaire. There is a multiplicity of talent and spiritual life and energy reflected in their answers. They have not given knee-jerk replies. Where they did not understand the questions, they said so. If they did not have an answer, they said so. When, therefore, they did respond explicitly, that was their considered view and is important and valuable to the Church of Scotland.
Life & Work readers represent a fraction of the readership of the Church of Scotland. Questionnaire respondents represent a fraction of Life & Work readers. However those who read Life & Work magazine may be described as having a real interest in the Church of Scotland beyond their own congregation. Those who took the time to complete the questionnaire may be described as caring even more. And since there was no Caribbean holiday prize draw and each had to pay for the stamp to post their return, since it was not possible to provide a business reply service facility, those who replied should be acknowledged to be the sort of committed, concerned, caring, thoughtful and responsible members that the Church of Jesus Christ requires if it is to fulfil its vocation in the world. Opinion polls function on what are described as scientifically selected types of people. By any standards the questionnaire offers credible insight into what people in pews actually think.
It is a matter of great concern that the Editor of Life & Work, Lynne McNeil chose not to publish an article summarising the results of this research project. Her given reason was that it was not saying anything new. This was an indefensible judgement. The members of the Church of Scotland have never been consulted in this manner before and they have never been asked these particular questions directly before. If the views of 1200 of the readership of Life & Work are of no interest to the editor of Life & Work, then questions must be asked about her understanding of her position. The strength of opinion expressed in the answers in the questionnaire should be of serious interest to everyone, and especially to those in the Councils and at 121 George Street. The dichotomy between the presentation of policies and the wishes of the membership is startling and concerning. Is it the case that the real reason for Life & Work not publishing the results of
this survey of its own readership, is that these are unsettling and challenging to 121 George Street? Has Life & Work become what Robert Kernohan said it should not-become, “a mouthpiece for officials and committees” rather than "the journal of the whole Kirk" (Life & Work, August 2005)?
Is it a case of Life & Work hiding behind the walls of 121 George Street? Perhaps Life & Work should be based in Stirling or Perth, closer to the people. Indeed, some respondents to this survey want all of 121 George Street to be dispersed from Edinburgh.
The commercial strategy to market Life & Work as a kind of semi-Christian coffee table glossy is mistaken. Life & Work should be the main discussion forum for the Church membership. This would give it many more potential sales. Why do we have to read so many of the thoughts of regular contributors such as Ron Ferguson, Muriel Armstrong, Lorna Hill and Alan Taylor whose articles have appeared for years?
Alan Taylor's case is doubly questionable. Jesus told a wonderful parable about an unjust steward who fostered good relations with his master's business associates so that he might gain employment with them when he lost his current job. Rosemary Goring, former editor of Life & Work left to work for The Herald. Former interim editor Harry Reid writes for The Herald. Ron Ferguson publishes in The Herald every week. Lynne McNeil worked for The Herald. Alan Taylor is associate editor of The Sunday Herald. It is a bit too coincidental and cosy!
Yet my relevant and topical article summarising Life & Work readers' views in this research project could not be published by Life & Work. Neither would the Saint Andrew Press even consider publishing a book based on this research. Yet I am equally a member of this Church which I serve as an ordained Minister. I wrote to Ann Crawford, Head of Publishing, Saint Andrew Press on 16th August 2005 requesting her to tell me how many copies of books by James Maitland, Margaret Forrester, James Whyte and David Steel
Steel had been sold. She replied by email on 9th September saying, "the information that you request is commercially sensitive and, therefore I am expected to keep sales figures confidential”. Many people think that the Church of Scotland only publishes from the liberal and political wing of the Church. It may be worse than that. Refusal to release sales figures suggests that only those and such as those are published by Saint Andrew Press regardless of commercial merit. Others, like myself, are rejected outright. This is part of the whole culture of favouritism and protectionism that exists at 121 George Street. It is corrupt and unacceptable and should be abolished forthwith.
Greater than the Church of Scotland's historical and institutional importance is the Person of Jesus Christ and the Good News of Christian love and salvation. In order to set that message free, the import of this research project should be taken seriously and acted upon.
GENERAL REACTIONS TO THE PROJECT AND TO THE QUESTIONNAIRE
There were 1,200 Survey Questionnaire returns. There were 13,952 answers to questions 1 to 13. There were 1,110 answers to question 14. The total number of answers was 15,062. Comments on question 14 extended to 25,000 words. This represents a substantial body of opinion by any standards. Some respondents added general opinions on the project itself and on the questionnaire. Some were supportive and encouraging and others were critical and disparaging.
Among The positive thoughts were:
"A survey like this should have been done years ago by 121 George Street".
"I thank you for the opportunity to express the views of an ordinary Church Member".
"You are to be congratulated for this sensible and timely study".
"Hopefully the results of this survey will be fairly represented in Life & Work and acted upon".
"I found your Survey most interesting and thought provoking and I hope you will be publishing the result of your study in due course".
"May God guide you in this work that you have been called to do".
Among The most critical views expressed were:
(There are) "Some very "loaded" questions".
"This is an extremely biased questionnaire badly drawn up".
"Should study leave for ministers be discontinued? Yes".
“I fear your study will mean nothing at all, as the distribution of your leaflet is not being monitored and people with an axe to grind will make sure they send in plenty of easily duplicated forms".
"I am disappointed that "study leave" is spent on such a project".
"This is a waste of time! No ordinary member knows enough to answer
"An end to knee-jerk, self-important surveys like this which do nothing
more than splinter the church further".
Further comments reflected additional opinions, qualifications on the ''yes" or “no” respondents had given or explanations why neither a “yes” or a “no” was ticked for that specific question. Indeed, many offered such amplified responses for many and in some cases all of the questions.
Numbers of ''yes" and ''no" were calculated strictly on the basis of completed boxes on the questionnaire form.
It is very encouraging that a number of respondents spoke highly of the project. It is also helpful that others write very critically because this makes the results of the survey authentic. It is surprising however, that some people could show such lack of charity, outright contempt and even suspicion that the project would be misused. There has been no duplication of replies. Of the many combinations possible for a survey with 14 direct questions, none were identical.
Thus there is little reason not to take this survey seriously and not to accept that it offers an indication of thinking throughout the Church of Scotland at the present time.
Do you Think That more decision-making powers are centralised in 121 George Street Committees than they were 25 years ago?
Yes -842 -83.7°/o
No - 164 - 16.3°/o
83.7% replied in the affirmative.
Some respondents asked how ordinary members of the Church of Scotland could answer this question and others expressed no knowledge of how 121 George Street operates. One person expressed concern "that power is in the hands of the Church of Scotland curia, the Nominations Committee", while another believed that "The Church of Scotland is in the end a collection of members - yet 95% of these have no voice in the Church".
It was acknowledged that the Council of Assembly had increased the centralisation process. A few wrote in favour of this. Pious hope was reflected in one request for prayer to be at the centre of administrative decision-making activity.
The people in the pews recognise, know and understand that power has travelled from Congregations and Presbyteries, not to General Assemblies but to 121 George Street. The perceived task of the bureaucracy has become not to serve or service the Church but to manage the Church. In addition the Council of Assembly has moved further from reactive management to proactive management and the assumption of an executive role. This was initiated by 121 people and spun through various General Assemblies over the years culminating in the emasculating of the General Assembly itself beginning in 2004.
The main issue however was not managing congregations, but managing 121 George Street. This, in turn, was caused by the growth in 121 George Street. That management is required is beyond doubt. Respondents themselves suggested the appointment of a chief executive officer to streamline 121 George Street and make it properly efficient. However it is disingenuous for the Council of Assembly to suggest that everything it does is subject to the will of the General Assembly since no Commissioner has the expertise to disagree with what it decides it wants to do.
Some examples of its 'executive' power are clearly indicated in the Supplementary Volume 11 of 2005 General Assembly Reports.
"To monitor, evaluate and co-ordinate the work of the Agencies of the General Assembly as formulated by the Assembly Council and approved by the General Assembly of 2004..
"To receive reports from, offer guidance and issue instructions to Agencies of the General Assembly as required from time to time on matters of management, organisation and administration..
"To consider and decide on proposals from Agencies of the General Assembly to purchase heritable property..
"To determine staffing and resourcing requirements of Agencies of the General Assembly. .
"To attend to the general interests of the Church in matters which are not covered by the remit of any other Agency."
The Church of Scotland does not operate with a pastoral hierarchy. Its Moderator is elected annually. Its pubic relations unit is unsuccessful. Thus the persona of the Church of Scotland has become that of a business. This is self-defeating and counter-productive. It will hasten the decline of the Church and prevent its spiritual renewal.
The formation of Councils to replace Boards and Committees was heralded as some sort of achievement. Helen McLeod, Convener of the Council of Assembly has written “It is hoped that the number of redundancies will not exceed fifteen”(Life & Work, July 2005). No information is given about the seniority of such redundancies. Members, on the other hand, want to see much larger scale down-sizing of the bureaucracy. Their perception of 121 George Street is very different from the sanitised versions cobbled together for presentation at annual General Assemblies. Some comments submitted in answer to Question 14 'What single thing would most help the Church of Scotland?' provide evidence for this.
"As an ex 121 employee cut executive staff and give members of congregations more control. 121 is top heavy".
"Less bureaucracy from 121 George Street".
"Some people there do not live in the real world''.
"Less wasting of money and resources".
"Redundancies at 121. Less money spent on postages and unwanted
"The Kirk is corrupt from fop to bottom with financial matters being too secretive at present. The Church is not an institution to give ministers a job for life and an endless source of income, where they are wholly unaccountable to anyone within the Church".
"Apparent lack of business accountability and direction with 121 staff trying to fill their own Assembly remit rather than working corporately to a three or five year plan. A third of each year is infertile in that staff are devoted to preparations associated with the Assembly. There is little continuity with different personnel at General Assemblies. This must result either in stagnation, little dynamic development or central control by the people who attend every Assembly".
"Scrap the national plan. Cut the budget to 121 by 50% (over, say, 2 years). Any congregation which is able to pay a minister and meet all the appropriate commitments should be given the right to call a minister without restriction".
"Remove all ministers from 121 back to parishes".
"Complete transparency" (is required).
“More information about why decisions are being made in simple language so that more members can understand the reasoning behind any changes being made".
"Cut out red tape. Get back to basics. Stop making new laws and regulations".
"There is a feeling that these committees sometimes wield their power without full consultation".
(121 should be) "more open and honest with congregations".
"Sell 121 George Street. The General Assembly should not be static in Edinburgh but travel the country".
"A planned programme for decentralisation of principal blocks of Church of Scotland administration to regional conurbations, to be followed by the sale of 121 George Street. Put the 'Church' back among the Church''.
Can the people be so wrong? Or, are they right? There has been much mock offence taken over the years by those challenged to account for their stewardships. It is the people's money sanctified and dedicated to Jesus Christ and that matters a great deal. Bureaucracies the world over become self-perpetuating and self-serving. They become disconnected from the people. In order to justify their salaries and positions they produce documents. These multiply. The European Union bureaucracy is a large scale example of this. Bureaucracies become arrogant and bossy and appropriate to themselves powers and influence that they do not deserve. 121 George Street conforms to the worst excesses of bureaucracies.
"Take ministers out of silly jobs in 121 like deciding on colours to paint churches etc and put them back in the pulpit".
"There are too many non-jobs in 121 George Street''.
Some respondents suggested the necessity for an exclusively non-ministerial work force at 121 George Street and others want to see the appointment of a non-ministerial chief executive. There is an apprehension that many ministers work at 121 George Street. That may not in fact be true but that does not mean that there are still not too many ministers working there at present. And it is certainly true that overall, staffing at 121 George Street is disproportionately high for a Church membership of a little over 500,000. What do they all do?
Why, for example, is it necessary to have so many working in the Principal Clerk's office? When the Church of Scotland had three times the membership, it functioned with less staff. Complication and legalisation of regulations has resulted. The Church should be able to function simply. But power is gathered by those who have the ability to complicate and legalise. They become dominant instead of being simplifiers, facilitators and servants of the membership of the Church.
There has been gross appropriation of power to 121 George Street in the last 25 years. The spiritual freedom of the members of the Church of Scotland has been compromised. The long term effects of this will prove negative and counter-productive to the confidence, purpose and mission of the Church. The main problems with the Church of Scotland are not to be found primarily with the faithful but with the disproportionate bureaucracy which has sucked freedom away from the membership, this destroying the Church as a voluntary association of called Christian people.
A Principal clerk should put the interests of the whole membership of the Church first. There are no whistle-blowers at 121 George Street. Why? The answer is simple. The salaries are so high for those who work as ministers that it is not in their interest to rock the boat. The people are betrayed and the Church suffers as a result. The Chinese have a technique of exposure for incompetence and failure called 'public criticism'. Would one courageous Moderator of the General Assembly conduct such an occasion? No. Moderators are chosen by those seeking to defend their own interests in the status quo. Who else might? Lone voices are ostracised and degraded at General Assemblies if they try to ask relevant questions. Moderators never take their part. Why?
Replies to question 14 reflect membership views that the main problem the Church of Scotland has to deal with is 121 George Street itself. There is no point in ignoring or dismissing this. Until this is admitted, no matter what other hoops everyone is made to jump through, the Church will continue to decline. This is a spiritual issue which treats of the very basic questions about what being a Christian is to one another in the Church of Scotland. The dismantling of the authority structure that has grown exponentially will act as a liberating influence for the whole Church.
Independent churches flourish in other parts of the world. People who are asked to give more and more generously must have more say in the use of their gifts. Giving for transparently accountable purposes is easier than giving to support a distant bureaucracy. Local ownership matters to Christians in the Reformed and Protestant tradition. The extent to which this has been taken away is the extent of decline. Christians will form local churches independently of Church of Scotland parishes in future decades of this century, unless this issue is addressed and resolved. Members of the Church of Scotland are not daft. They are not fooled by the glittery Stewardship money-seeking advertisements in Life & Work.
(There must be the) "removal of institutionalism as perpetrated by 121 George Street''.
"Pull down the temple (121 ) and clear away and start again with a full rebuild. Full time ministerial appointments (with one or two essential exceptions) should be for a maximum of 5 years. Thereafter, return to parish ministry should be mandatory".
"121 George street is dominated by ministers who in all aspects of the church want
to be in control and object to democratic choice or views".
(There should be) "Less dependence on 121 and a clean-up of bureaucracy there by a reduction of committees and needless meetings which do not reach clear conclusions".
"Church Without Walls: sell church properties: use local schools: rent manses;
release ministers from 121 to. lead vacant charges: sell Assembly Hall: rent if once a
year: use the money for teaching, outreach and charitable work".
The down-grading of Presbyteries has not gone unnoticed.
"121. George Street has no authority that I would recognise.. The directorate in a
Presbyterian Church rests constitutionally in the Presbytery : 121 are merely secretaries and service managers".
Centralization has been counter-productive. Narrowing the base for decision-making has alienated the membership. It has created cynicism, disappointment, frustration and apathy. No amount of defensive and self-deceiving spinning can or will deny this.
The Church of Scotland should adopt a new slogan:
121 Without Walls.
Should decision-making powers be redistributed back To Congregations, Kirk Sessions and Presbyteries?
Yes – 946 – 85.9%
No – 155 - 14 . 1%
85.9% of respondents want to see authority and responsibility returned to Congregations, Kirk Sessions and Presbyteries.
One prophetic response was:
“The future of the Church lies in autonomous congregations charged with running their affairs in a business-like manner and accountable to an appraisal through returns and an in-depth three year appraisal”
Respondents suggested the following "that decisions should be made at the lowest possible level".
"the Church should be as decentralised as possible''.
"Kirk Sessions and members should be the driving force of the Church and they need to accept more responsibilities. They should be informed and consulted before committee pronouncements are made”.
Members should have a greater say in the life of the Church of Scotland and that this might help morale''.
One radical suggestion was that:
"decisions by Congregations and Kirk Sessions should not be able to be vetoed by any other body in the Church”
Some suggested that:
"decentralising could bring chaos,''
"Supervisions is required to Preserve unity and that difficult tasks could be side-stepped".
One cryptic comment was that:
"command is essential and the Church is like the army on occasions'',
Some cynics replied to this question in such terms as:
"you must be joking"
and "Heavens no!".
In reply to Question 14 there were many who want decision-making powers devolved and returned to Congregations, Kirk Sessions and Congregational Boards. For example:
“Remove the Council of Assembly from the structure and return authority
"Decentralisation from Edinburgh and more powers devolved to grass
"Dispersal of information to Congregations".
"Greater emphasis should be made on the importance of the local church".
"Democracy in its dealing both local and nationally involving most of the
congregations not just the elite".
"If those who make policy at 121 would get out into areas away from the central belt and middle class and listen to the people, we may design a church which people want and which they would attend and support".
"Congregations should be fully autonomous - the centre simply a union to assist strategy and support".
"Decentralisation. Mission is where we are at - in our own congregations. The new large Councils know very little about conditions in our congregations".
"There is a need for democratic leadership''.
"Make every local church more autonomous end less fettered by outmoded practices and outdated language. Less hampered by Presbyteries that are controlled by stagnant Churches'''.
"Get back to basic church government, true Presbytery control with Synods”
The entire system of organisation and government requires to be re-aligned giving much more autonomy and responsibility to members of congregations. The central administration has become disproportionately strong as much as it has become separated and alienated from the people of the Church who worship throughout Scotland and beyond on a weekly basis. This must change. This is spiritually disastrous and contradicts the raison d'etre of the Church of Scotland. There is no significant alternative spiritual theology to elevate the Church collectively or members individually.
The attempted management of decline is inconsistent with the New Testament. Lack of true Christian understanding leads to trust in human rational solutions. These are bound to fail in the long term in Scotland. Lack of faith leads to realism and pessimism. The decline of the Church of Scotland is being hastened from its administrative head quarters. People recognise what is happening even if they feel powerless to alter anything. They do want to move forward to a more collegiate and congenial relationship between Congregations, Kirk Sessions, Presbyteries, General Assemblies and 121 George Street.
There is insufficient faith and trust for 121 George Street to give up its appropriation of power. There is a fear that ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika’ would lead to fragmentation.
Here - there are two visions of the Church within the Church of Scotland. The establishment wants to organise and control the Church from the centre. Congregations both of evangelical and liberal persuasion want to be trusted to order their affairs and remain within the fellowship of the whole Church of Scotland. This can only happen when the relationship between Congregations and the central administration changes from subservience to maturity and equality. Living Christian Faith shared and understood would be the cement of such a new empowering relationship. That is surely what the Church of Scotland should aspire to. It is also the logical progress required by The Reformation. The Church of Scotland today has many well educated, intelligent and successful people as members. A quantum leap in recognition is required. This would truly be a Church Without Walls. The establishment is happy to have Church Without Walls functioning at the level of circus performers. Serious decentralising however is not practised. Indeed, paradoxically, the Council of Assembly has taken even more power away from the membership of the Church and from the General Assembly itself. Church Without Walls was a wonderful camouflage for this appropriation of the spiritual freedoms of the membership of the Church of Scotland.
Spiritual renewal will follow spiritual freedom. There is a direct connection between the impoverishment of the historic freedoms of Reformed Christianity and the decline of the Church of Scotland. Power is being centralised more and more in fewer and fewer hands. So often the Church of Scotland seems to ape the methods of politics, instead of seeking to structure itself along the freedoms of Christian egalitarianism. It is not fundamentalism to suggest that the Church of Scotland could and should aspire to the simplest possible organisational structure as seen in the New Testament. There is no scriptural warrant for disproportionate bureaucracy. There is no scriptural warrant for excessive secrecy. There is no scriptural warrant for theft of spiritual liberty.
Wholesale reform of local responsibility is also advocated by some respondents:
"I think that eldership should not be for life, but for renewable ten years period".
"Elders should no longer be elected on a lifetime basis, perhaps for a period of five years. Regrettably the appointment of elders is given much less consideration now - and nepotism and cronyism exist to a much greater extent. In our congregation, no opportunity is given to the membership to nominate elders and surely this is wrong. Ordinary members who attend Sunday by Sunday feel they have no voice”.
“Being more democratic and listening to the beliefs of its members (would help)".
“When all members see themselves as being the Church - they will have the confidence to include others. Help them to see that everyone is Church unconditionally''.
"A more committed eldership" (is necessary).
"Greater zeal among elders" (is needed).
(We should be),"keeping up with the times more and not so much power and laying the law down by Kirk Sessions and Congregational Board members, especially some Session Clerks".
"Congregational involvement" (is necessary).
"Having elders serve for 3 years at a time. The number serving at any one time (should be) determined by the size of the congregation. 1000 members - Session of 15 elders rotating by 5 each year based on the successful USA system. This would overcome the problem with a majority of Session members being already retired. The Church moves forward with a proper balance of age levels and fresh approach''.
“Let the members become more a part of the service instead of someone in a pulpit ‘looking down’ on the congregation".
“Freeing and encouraging the membership to lead, worship and conduct business meetings after appropriate training".
(There needs to be) "universal support and encouragement from the members for those trying to act responsibly in positions of responsibility given to them by the Church; keen-people who give of their best in humble situations without seeking advancement or reward''.
"Do away with Board and Session and move into the 21st century''.
"More active attempts to seek participation of pew members in management of forward direction".
In fairness, it must be said that the Church of Scotland today has declared that the membership must be encouraged to participate more in all aspects of the life of the Church. However the problem is that this cannot be possible unless there is institutional devolution. Paternalism, maternalism and authoritarianism still predominate. There's a lot of talking down to people. Rules, edicts and legislation proliferate. The management of a near £100,000,000 a year operation needs to be succinct, crisp and positive. The Church of Scotland's management is none of these. Neither is it sufficiently transparent. It is not fundamentally a business either. A new consensual relationship is required which places the membership on a more equal footing with the historic courts of the Church of Scotland and with the relatively new but increasingly powerful bureaucratic administration at 121 George Street. The people want it and it must be done.
Should Freedom of Call be maintained for Congregations and for ministers?
Yes - 1050 - 92.5°/o
No - 85 – 7.5%
92.5 of respondents want Freedom of Call to be maintained for congregations and for Ministers.
Across theological differences, a higher percentage of people responded to this question affirmatively than to any other, saying, for example,
Some respondents were realistic enough to link freedom of call with the necessity to take financial responsibility for the cosr of ministry. Others recognised that
"practicalities and specific needs have to be managed''.
One suggested that,
“a website with the curricula vitae of ministers willing to receive a call might be established to help''.
In reply to Question 14, comments were offered about this specific issue as being necessary for the betterment of the Church of Scotland.
"Every church should be given freedom to call a minister unrestricted if they wish thereby, preventing compulsory church closures which always result in considerable membership loss”
“Abandoning the assumption (held by most Presbyteries) that readjustment of congregations provides benefits. Most corporate takeovers destroy economic value and I suspect most unions weaken rather than strengthen spirituality”
“Does 121 realise how many members are being lost because their Church is being closed and the one chosen for them is too far away?”
"Do not have flexible tenure and do not have area team ministries. This would put more people off the Church and to allow Presbyteries to appoint ministers is not on".
These are significant findings. This is not just a historic right. It reflects members’ understanding of their Christian identity and purpose. They are the Church. Various strategies to deprive congregations and ministers of right of call should be scrapped immediately. There is a good case for reversing and indeed abandoning plans to restrict freedom of call. The sense of being a Protestant Christian in the Reformed tradition relies on the reality of a one to one relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Freedom of call exists at the heart of this consciousness. Freedom of Call extends back at least as far as the Presbyterian Settlement of 1690 and it was a major factor in The Disruption of 1843.
The 1560 Scots Confession says explicitly that no-one may minister the Word and Sacraments unless ‘lawfully called by some Kirk’. (Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology p 119). It is an act of faith to continue with freedom of call. It is to live within the risk of providence. It is to look for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There is too much patronage already in the Church of Scotland to depart further from this hard won right. Members of the Councils are to be hand-picked and establishment friendly. Extending this dubious and nefarious practice to the allocation of parish ministers would be insidious indeed. Why take these spiritual freedoms away? This is a kind of ‘Big Brother’ mentality – a kind of ecclesiastical reality television show (a significant oxymoron) -and the opposite of Christian liberty - the desire for power and control from and by the centre.
It is true of course, that other denominations (larger and more influential in the world) function in different ways and do so successfully. That is not the point. It is whether the Church of Scotland has lost its sense of being and calling to witness to real and personal faith without personalised hierarchy. There are some in the Church who want to change it into a Church with a personal hierarchy. The people themselves do not want this. Freedom of call is important because it is a motif of a people’s sense of calling as a people of God and as a Church of Jesus Christ. It is an experiment in the depending upon and leading by the Holy Spirit in a situation of existential struggle and witness. It is key to survival and revival.
Rationalisation of ministries is necessary in Scotland with its history of proliferation of denominations. This however, should not be a national rationalisation in which congregations must fit a grid determined by looking at a map. Freedom of Call is a hard won privilege in Scottish Church history. The Church of Scotland should not be narrowing the bases of election of ministers to parishes. Neither should ministers require to
be appointed by a central committee. This is a deeply untrustworthy strategy. Given the continuing lack of transparency and the restrictions in representation to Councils which are now in practice, returning to patronage will limit and curtail one of the greatest spiritual freedoms members of the human community have ever had. Everything should be done to continue this historic right throughout the twenty-first century. It can still be a light to the nations and a model for governments to practise.
It is hypocritical to mouth pleasantries about the priesthood of all believers and to pretend to value the laity call of the Church if, at the same times, right of call is abolished for many parish churches throughout the land. It is spiritual freedom within the institution of the Church that is at stake. Reformed Christianity diminished absolute ecclesiastical control. After 445 years, it is returning. Rather, it is being foisted on an unwilling grass roots Church by an unrepresentative minority with a negative agenda.
What about the churches which cannot get a minister? The problem is the inflexibility of the ministerial structure. There are many people willing and able to work in parishes as missionaries, evangelists, deacons and pastors. Appropriate ministry in rural areas is what is needed. But there is no imagination or courage to offer a relevant type of pastoral alternative for the areas of shortage. This represents almost unforgivable neglect. Instead of congregations finding their own level and surviving, changing, and growing again they are being left to wither and die.
And where people want to remain the Church, they are being forced to accept patterns of ministry that are unproved against the historic success of the parish and minister system. What is and who are the Church? In the Roman Church, it is the hierarchy - the institutionalised apostolate. In the Church of Scotland it is not meant to be the bureaucratic committees that meet at 121 George Street. Not listening to the voice of the people in this matter will prove counter-productive. It is not sufficiently credible to suggest that members of the Church of Scotland are old fashioned and living in the past. It is their place in the spiritual firmament that matters to them and that place is being taken from them by present top-down policies.
For example, the National Plan mooted in 2004 by the then Board of National Mission advocates the rationing of ministers on the basis of maintaining a system of parish ministry in Scotland.
“The most straightforward way to have prepared a national plan would have been to distribute available ministers on a simple basis of population… (this) would have resulted in wide disparities, including, for example a sharp decline in the number of ministers in rural areas and a large increase in areas of population growth in East Central Scotland. For these reasons the Committee decided that such a radical change in deployment would be unacceptable and resolved not to offer the General Assembly a Plan based on a simple population basis." (Supplementary General Assembly Reports 2004 Volume II 38/62).
What is troubling here are the assumptions of absolute power and authority over the allocation and movement of ministers. From where did these come? From the membership of the Church? The people do not want national plans. This strategy of centralised deployment is likely to weaken the Church of Scotland where it is strongest and thereby hasten the Church's decline. It is an imposition on the membership. It deprives them of a voice and the franchise of being believers in and followers of Jesus Christ.
It is not that rural areas should be forgotten. The strategy should be to make it possible for them to have appropriate pastoral staffing in the form of Readers, Auxiliary Ministers, Parish Assistants, Full-time Missionaries, Deacons, Part-time Ministers and Full-time Ministers where freely called and freely inducted. One respondent found that during a vacancy,
"a church can survive without a full-time minister''.
As some respondents suggested in broader and more spiritual terms:
(We should be) "returning to our reformed Protestant roots and living them out for today instead of trying to control and manage the work of the Holy Spirit".
(We need to) "be led by the Holy Spirit and not by man".
"To listen to the voice and guidance of God''.
"Going forward in faith rather than in crisis management strategies''.
“In a word 'Spiritual Revival' a humbling of ourselves in repentance before God that we may know His presence in power and mercy impacting on all our lives in Church and State".
These thoughts should not be dismissed as impractical. They reflect a different level of consciousness from centralised deployment management strategies. This is why congregations need to be liberated. In the years 1980 - 2005 more and more constraints have been placed on the People of God. The future of the Church depends on these being lifted.
In structural terms, some respondents suggested simplification and quickening up out of date procedures:
“More unions of congregations to reduce the amount of money spent on buildings and make stronger congregations".
"Review of parish boundaries to take account of new centres of population".
"Abolish parish boundaries".
"Remove all parish boundaries prevalent in the Highlands''.
"Fewer church buildings" (are needed).
One was in favour of what is currently beginning to happen.
"Disband the parish system. It is already almost unsustainable and the situation will worsen over the next 5 years. More direct central management is now required to ensure the best use of dwindling resources".
Who knows what members could accomplish if given the freedom to follow the impulses and inspirations of their living faith! If humble believers are all that will be left in the great shaking-out that is taking place, then they should be given dignity and respect at this point in time while they may still be instrumental in saving the Christian presence wherever they may be. There needs to be a complete change in the relationship of the court and committee hierarchy to the people. It is outmoded. For the next century the courts and committees should become the servants of the people. In a Christian fellowship they should have discretionary and facilitating roles only. This will encourage spiritual freedom and release spiritual energy, commitment, interest and productivity. It is the key to the future of the Church of Scotland.
Should a new Annual One Day Forum for Representalives of Congregalions be established?
Yes -663 -64.4%
No -366 -35.6%
The response to the suggestion of organising an Annual One Day Forum for congregations was surprisingly positive, 64.4% for and 35.6% against the idea.
A few respondents suggested that an Annual One Day Forum
"would simply be another costly talking shop",
and some doubted whether there was much appetite for such an innovation. Others however thought it was an excellent idea,
"especially if it could be well organised and have authority".
Positive suggestions were that
"it could be organised af Presbytery level and could meet in different areas of the country offsetting the control and monopolizing of General Assemblies and admitting "ordinary" members to participation in the decision-making process".
One of many additional comments was helpful.
"That the Forum Conferences should be chaired by members rather than full-time paid employees of the Church".
There is a need for a forum in which the views of members of the Church of Scotland can be heard, a forum which might become influential and even powerful in asserting the rights of such members. This would be a balancing point for the powers that have been centralised in 121 George Street over the decades. It would allow the formulation of policy at and from congregational level. Someone suggested electronic communication and conferencing in this day and age.
Opponents of this idea will cry ''Congregationalism!''. But this will be the same opposition which has changed the meaning of Presbyterian from governance by a series of courts to governance by Presbyters. Therefore, if the Annual One Day Forum is organised and managed by Presbyters, it will have every bit as much validity as the present courts of the Church. Indeed, it will have more since its intention will be to stand for the historic freedoms of the people of the Church of Scotland. The Forum would require significant participation by members who are not elders. It would therefore extend the Reformation principle of diffusion of ecclesiastical authority beyond its present confines. This would enlarge and democratise the policy making bases of the Church of Scotland. At some stage in the future the status of the Forum would need to be discussed. It might be possible to integrate the Forum into the governance structures which exist at present. It could then graduate from simply being a policy-making Forum to become a policy and decision-making Forum. This would be new thinking and would be opposed by the current powers-that-be. There is sufficient interest in the idea for it to be taken seriously. Initiative will require to come from members of the Church. They are not used to exercising leadership and will need encouragement and support. It is in the longer term interests of the Church of Scotland that this Forum should be established.
The doctrine of encouraging the untapped potential of the membership of the Church would be taken seriously and acted upon with the introduction of an Annual One Day Forum for Representatives of Congregations. The people are likely to respond to this. It must be organised and led by the membership and not by the ministry. Above all, the Principal clerks and the Support and Services Council should not participate in its creation, lest it be moulded in the image of the present establishment and become a tame parody of proper representation. What would it do? How would it fit in to` the present structures?
Respondents have strong views on the need to change the role and status of the membership and of congregations. In answer to Question 14 some respondents replied as follows:
"Before edicts appear in the press, congregations should be consulted; they are the Church and they should decide".
"Proposals by Kirk Sessions should be submitted to 121 and listened to".
"Improvement in communication generally (is required) both from congregations > Presbyteries > 121 George Street and the other way around''.
"Dispersal of information to congregations" (needs to be improved).
"Deregulation. More critical assessment of ministers and congregations which are obviously failing".
"Compassion and moderation - especially from 121 ".
One of the problems of the Church of Scotland today is the over complicated and tortuous legalistic language in everything that emanates from the Principal Clerks' offices and from committees concerned with formulating practice and procedure. For example, does the following quotation from the 2005 General Assembly Reports 'Blue Book' (page 1 /11 qualify for a brickbat from the Plain English Society?
"Act Ill 2000 section 6 is hereby amended by the deletion of paragraphs (c) and (d) and their substitution as follows: " (c) The three most recent past Moderators who are (i) willing to attend the General Assembly, (ii) 'eligible to receive a Commission and (iii) not otherwise members ‘ex officiis’, shall be members of the General Assembly. Their Presbyteries shall not include them in the number of their Commissions; but shall be entitled to give Commissions from amongst their allocations in terms of section 2 above to any other former Moderators eligible to be commissioned".
This sort of language divides the church between those who specialise in such obfuscation and those who are understandable confided by it. Being able to interpret this unbiblical form of speaking in tongues contains power within a very few hands. Like lawyers they will always be able to say that their own interpretation is the right one. Discussion about such obscurities marginalizes and ostracises the huge majority population of the membership of the Church. A large body corporate of such ecclesiastical gobbledegook has been built up to which only the bureaucratic Pharisees hold the keys. This replaces the human face and pastoral demeanour of bishops in Episcopal, Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches in the minds of the membership of the Church. It is oppressive, inhibiting, unnecessary and destructive of Christian equality. It can and should be dispensed with. Instead of having classes for people to understand this obscurantism as are now being planned, it would be better for others to spend a few years simplifying all the language and procedures of the Church. It is unjustifiable to continue as a quasi-juridical structure. There is no case for it in the twenty-first century. It demands immediate reform. New organisation for the Church of Scotland is needed.
(There is a need to be) "more open and honest with congregations''.
(The Church) "must spend less time and energy on its own institutional structures and processes and more on what it is called to do".
"Less pomposity" is needed.
"Greater emphasis should be made of the importance of the local Church".
"Increased devolution of decision-making. Decisions should be made as near as possible to the proposed point of action. Remote theorists lack credibility and often wisdom".
"A much less authoritarian approach by George Street and. Presbyteries where personal and political views frequently colour and dictate policies (is needed) and far too often these policies are petty and do not reflect Christian charity and understanding".
"A much mere positive attitude towards the future of the Church (is required). At the moment most of the proposals seem to be negative, preparing for down sizing - (there is) no expectation of increased membership. Where is the strong faith from our leaders? People within and without the Church ask these questions".
(There is a need for) "a much clearer and better thought out theological understanding, and less comment from academics and church administrators who have little or no first experience of the parish ministry".
How would an Annual One Day Forum for Representatives of Congregations actually work? It could be held in October or November in different areas of Scotland thereby having distinction from General Assemblies held in Edinburgh. Each representative would be a member who is not a minister and not necessarily an elder. It could elect its own officers on a voluntary basis. But it could receive running expenses from the Church. It would set its own agenda. It could prepare policies and form resolutions for the better ordering of the Church. It could communicate these to Congregations, Presbyteries, General Assemblies and to the Support and Services Council. It could form delegations to discuss ideas, requests and policies with relevant people. Its role would be advisory and perhaps it might remain that way unless it found that its views were not being taken seriously. It then could evolve to become a decision-making body and becoming integrated within a truly reformed and reforming Church of Scotland structure.
Are financial and properly control regulations too severe on Congregations?
Yes – 747 – 68.3%
No - 346 - 31.7%
68.3 of respondents think that financial and property control regulations are too severe on congregations. 31,7% of respondents do not.
Respondents from rural areas, from poorer congregations and from unions of congregations answered with strong affirmatives. There were particularly articulate complaints from others in relation to
"strictures on listed buildings by the artistic matters committee, restrictions on use of property income, prevention of use of funds in hand, the high interest charges on loans for property repairs and the practice of having to submit invoices to validate fabric expenditure before interest payment from the consolidate fabric fund can be released".
Others expressed anger
"at lack of consultation, the overall severity of financial regulations and their arbitrary and inconsistent nature".
A few comments recognised financial regulations
"as a pestilential necessity"
and one reminded us that
"we are stepping on holy ground".
Among replies to Question 14 the following comments were sent:
"Decentralise finance totally to allow congregations (and require them) to pay their own way and decide whom and what to support out with their own needs. Only this will put responsibility squarely with local churches and give security as long as they can support themselves - no threat of closure".
(There should be) "financial transparency with devolved powers".
(There should be) "maximum devolution of financial responsibility''.
"More freedom (is required) for individual churches; initiatives. are lost when 121 has to be consulted because they take ages to reply and usually say 'No' e:g., we'd like to get rid of the pulpit since no-one uses it and it takes up a lot of space''.
"It is high time that Edinburgh stopped dictating to congregations throughout Scotland. Anyone would think. we are still living in the dark ages when if comes to what we can spend on decorating our own Church instead of having to wait for approval from 121 ".
"Give congregations the freedom to add professional staff e.g., associate minister, youth worker etc., and deduct this cost from the amounts sent to 121. Return power for financial controls to those congregations who are truly making changes to reach out and evangelise their local parishes. Without clear change to become relevant to the local parishes there is-little hope for the local parish".
(We want) "freedom to make local decisions re - buildings and changes to structure".
"At this time of increasing financial demands on congregations, there is no evidence of any financial restraints being made at 121 George St reef evidenced by the fiasco at Tiberias and its white elephant of a hotel".
The last point is not wholly accurate. According to Helen McLeod, Convener of the Council of Assembly, writing in the July 2005 Life & Work, the new Council arrangements will save £100,000 in committee meeting expenses. Overall estimated cost savings, she says, are likely to be around £500,000. This is welcome but an opportunity to significantly downsize the bureaucracy has not been taken. I wonder why? It is a failure to admit that the real problem with the Church of Scotland is 121 George Street itself. The views returned accompanying question 4 and replying to question to 14 (in respect of finance and property matter) reflect widespread discontent throughout the congregations of the Church of Scotland. This should be a warning to the policy-makers at 121 George Street. You can only squeeze people so far. Emancipation of the membership in financial and properly matters is crucial to the survival and renewal of the Church as a whole institution. Fine words about recognising the gifts and talents of the laity and about the priesthood of all believers are repeated at every General Assembly. The bluff needs to be called. A new alignment needs to take place in the relationship which determines financial and properly matters in the Church of Scotland. The old parent/child, boss/worker, teacher/pupil culture must go. A mature relationship between equals is required immediately. The money that is raised during weekly offerings is given generously by people and is prayed over and dedicated to Jesus Christ. Members should have a greater say in how the money is used and spent, both locally, nationally and beyond.
Mayer Anselm Rothschild said., " Permit me to issue and control the money of a nation and and I care not who makes its laws”. 121 George Street operates with this mentality. Control of money and properly is total control. This inhibits spiritual freedom. Many congregations no longer possess their own title deeds to their own properties. Even if they wished to leave the Church of Scotland, they cannot go with the security of their local church, hall and manse buildings. And so spiritual and theological freedom is diminished and encapsulated. And there is a direct correlation between this and the decline of the Church itself. Whoever loses financial power will regain it and whoever gains financial power will lose it. Freeing up the controls will liberate congregations and enable them to be more active in witness and in growth and development. In turn, the entire Church will benefit
Do you Think That salaries of 121 George Street employees should be made known to the membership of The Church?
Yes – 910 – 80.3%
No – 233 – 19.7%
80.3% of respondents want to know what salaries are paid to employees of 121George Street and only 19.7% say that they do not. The same Church people could have a say in how many people work at 121 George Street and how much they are paid. These comments never find expressions at General Assemblies. Some replies were as follows.
"nothing should be hidden",
"all expenditure should be transparent",
"full transparency for all charities",
"you pay -you should know",
"should be part of annual accounts"
"annual accounts should be published in the national press'',
"we should be fold how many people are employed there",
"and the roles they perform".
"Ministers who work af 121 George Street should be on the minimum
stipend plus a housing allowance and on contracts of 5 years only. Ministers at 121 are paid too much and have no weekend / Sunday commitment".
Some sought to make a distinction between senior and executive staff and clerical staff for salary disclosure arguing that no-one is interested in what clerical workers are paid. How many so-called executives have their own secretaries and personal assistants might be of interest, however. Another suggestion was that salary bands rather than individual salaries could be published. A few offered comments objecting to the idea as "petty" and of "no concern of congregations".
One criticised the inclusion of this question in the survey.
“Please explain the relevance of Q6 to the study in question. If seems to identify a problem with the author and it is a disgrace that this study has been financed by 121 (The) author should concentrate on his own lack of spirituality".
There were few supporters of staff at 121 George Street.
"The worker is worthy of his/her hire".
Beyond the actual amounts, the issue is also a spiritual one. Is the Church one? Is it a fellowship of believers? ls one part of the Church allowed to act independently of another, secretly and without giving full and transparent account? How can it have happened that a large bureaucracy should have mushroomed and that many of its officers should have comparatively large salaries? When was the policy of advertising posts at 121 George Street in Life & Work dispensed with? Why? There is a sense that only like-minded people can be employed at 121 George Street. General advertising might throw up gifted and able people with fresh approaches and ideas about the Church.
No-one knows what the Principal Clerk is paid or why in a Church that has shrunk numerically, his office has a full-time Deputy and more people working in it than at any time in history. No-one knows what the General Secretaries of the new Councils are to be paid. No-one knows what salaries are paid to various important sounding posts which the Church could easily function without. Company shareholders know the salaries and benefits of their executives. Jesus' Church is supposed to be egalitarian. In a society such as the Church of Scotland which purports to be Christian, voluntary disclosure of all executive level salaries at 121 George Street should begin immediately. The people want it. It is morally right. It fulfils the implicit corollary in the spiritual dedication of offerings at Sunday worship. There is no excuse for the practice that has pertained.
I tried to find out the current salaries of various posts at 121 George Street. lain Grimmond, the General Treasurer, replied that he could not give me such information because of the Data Protection Act. I hazard some indications as follows.
Principal Clerk -£45,000 - £49500 General Secretaries of Councils £40000 - £45000
Deputy Secretaries and equivalent grades - £35000 - £40000
Assistant Secretaries and equivalent grades -£30,000 -£35000
There are too many people at 1 21 George Street with these high salaries paid by the weekly Christian offerings of members of the Church. The General Secretary of the Social Care Council receives a much higher salary based on secular work scales, reflecting government funding.
Should Presbyteries be allowed to nominate representatives on a rota basis to the new Councils?
Yes - 9 2 9 – 88.5%
No - 121 - 11.5%
88.5°/o of respondents want Presbyteries to be able to nominate representatives to the new Councils.
A number of people had never heard of the new Councils.
"Congregations views need to be communicated to Councils".
"Centralising appointments is very dangerous''.
"The whole system is far too self-selecting".
But one respondent thought that
"expertise was more important than geographical representation".
In one of the most brazen usurpations of diffused spiritual authority, the Council of Assembly took the opportunity to end the practice of Presbyteries sending representatives when the new Councils took the place of the Boards. The weasel words that justified this were i) the Councils need experts and people who can make a real contribution ii) there are more Presbyteries than places on the new Councils iii) Presbyterian government means government by Presbyters not by courts.
The effect of this new practice is however i) to give the Nomination Committee full control over appointments to the Councils (Who nominates people to the Nomination Committee?) ii) to create a division in the Church by excluding Presbyteries from direct representation iii) to contradict the practice of Presbyteries and general Assemblies which receive nominations from Kirk Sessions and Presbyteries iv) to give the impression of a culture of establishment manipulation v) to narrow the basis of decision-making in the Councils vi) to increase the centralisation of decision-making powers vii) to close the door on accountability and transparency.
The general point at issue here is the narrowing of the basis of authority in the Church of Scotland. The excuse, rationale and explanation given is that it is Presbyterian in the sense that it is managed by Presbyters. But this is to defy the spirit and intention of The Reformation which was to broaden participation in decision-making power and include many rather than work with a pyramidal structure as in the Roman Catholic (continuing) Church. Hand-picking establishment-friendly faces for the new councils is a reversal of reformation polity. Denying the refreshing input of new blood from all over the country is a significant reduction in spiritual freedom. Why is this being done? It is not in the interests of the Church.
It could be that there is another agenda. The main policy of being able to choose membership of the new Councils will ensure that the establishment remains in control of the Church. The more it is likely that members with different Christian interpretations may appear at Council level, the more the establishment will draw in the wagons and keep power and control. Evangelicals will require to be house-trained before they can gain entry.
The new Councils are trying to repair the damage done by inviting some Presbytery Representatives to attend initial Council meetings. It suggests a guilty conscience. This arrangement is informal and ‘ad hoc’, representing the worst aspects of personal patronage. The right of representation has gone. No-one who asks any penetrating questions will be invited back. This theft of the right and practice of representation should be returned at the earliest possible General Assembly. Presbyteries must overture the General Assembly to this effect.
Do you Think Moderatorial appointments reflect The whole membership of the Church of Scotland?
Yes – 289 – 26.7%
No – 793 - 73.3 %
Only 26.7% of respondents think that Moderatorial appointments reflect the whole membership of the Church. 73.7% do not.
Many respondents added comments such as,
"How could they?"
and others suggested that it was
"well nigh impossible".
However some felt
"that too many liberals and too few evangelicals or radicals are ever chosen"
and others that
"the proportion of women was not reflected".
One respondent thought that
"moderators are often too academically inclined to communicate successfully with ordinary life"
and another that
"moderators reflect committee opinions rather than parish ministry".
Some were satisfied however with present circumstances. Other respondents,said that this was not the issue since the Moderator was chosen to chair the Assembly. Those who choose the Moderator should take note of the dissatisfaction that this response indicates. The position of Moderator has changed so that he/she becomes the public face of the Church of Scotland for a year. The Moderator has the opportunity to communicate Christianity through the media. The Moderator represents the Church of Scotland abroad and visits Presbyteries and Congregations at home. The Moderator has a full-time job for 15 months, preparing for and being Moderator. Either then, the Moderator should simply chair the Assembly and return to his or her work immediately, or, the Moderator should reflect the whole membership of the Church.
Over the last 25 years, the preponderance of Moderatorial appointments has been from the liberal establishment of the Church of Scotland. Respondents show that they are not satisfied with the often bland and inconclusive nature of Moderatorial pronouncements. While no-one is looking for censorious and judgemental preaching to the nation, the distinct nature, calling, graces and responsibilities of Christianity need to be communicated by the Moderator as a pastoral duly to the membership to strengthen the flock (Luke 22:32) and as a challenge to others.
Answering question 14, many respondents expressed concern about the poor performance of Moderators of the General Assembly in terms of media profile and the communication of the Christian alternative. Not a few suggested that
"the term of office of the Moderator should be extended so that he or she might become more familiar to the media''.
The problem however is more complex than that. If an uncharismatic person is elected Moderator, the length of the term of office will make no difference to a low public profile. The office of Moderator does have a high register value in the media. It is the incumbents who do not offer the sort of public alternatives that Christian leaders should.
There are very strong feelings that the faith and commitment of the people of the Church of Scotland are not reflected in the public persona of the Church of Scotland. The outright failings of the public relations operation at 121 George Street were highlighted by Harry Reid in his book “Outside Verdict”. “The Kirk must decide two things and soon. Does it want to speak with one clear voice? And if it does, who is to articulate that voice?" (p81 )
The problem could be solved simply by electing Moderators with personalities and with gifts of communication. For example, respondents suggested
(We need) “a leader who can stand up and be counted and lake a stand for what is good for the Church instead of sitting on the fence and taking everything to a committee".
"A charismatic spokesperson in a long standing position'' (is required).
(The Church) "seems to be mired in accommodation with the world. Christians have to PROTEST! The Holy Spirit will do the rest". Go back to basics. ie., preaching the
Gospel. Stop trying to be politically correct. Christ was hot politically correct''.
"Re-look at the need for an annually changing Moderator. Strive for more continuity in the longer term. We need a louder voice to impinge on the community and the world".
“Moderators of the General Assembly should be appointed for a term no less than 2 years and no more than 5 years. The Church of Scotland needs a public figure who is recognised by the public at large".
"Reappoint for further years a strong and successful Moderator".
"Moderators should be allowed to speak for the Kirk to the media".
"Lead the Church instead of being trendy".
(The Church needs) "to speak with one voice and stop sending out mixed messages".
"The Church of Scotland lacks an authoritative head to those who do not move in Church circles"
"Moderators (need to) fake a higher profile on matters that affect the Kirk. At present there is a silence which does not endear if to the man or woman in the street who is looking to the Church for guidance and information".
Balance is brought to these enthusiasms by one respondent who highlighted a specific recent problem.
"Having a Moderator who speaks for the Church and being in office much longer than one year and being aware of being in the position of speaking for the Church not as individuals as has happened (e.g., nuclear weapons protests)".
There are sufficient broad distinctions in the Christian message in today's secular and de-Christianised society that it should be possible for every Moderator to say things which all members of the Church of Scotland could and should support. From the survey it is clear that the choice of Moderators does not reflect the membership of the Church. The Moderator is chosen to chair the General Assembly. But thereafter, the Moderator becomes a figure of national importance. It should not be beyond the providence of God to gift the Church of Scotland with people who can successfully combine these two roles. The people want to be supported and encouraged in their faith and witness by someone who will speak out in the name of Jesus Christ to the nation. This desire is summed up in one contribution in particular.
"The Moderator should be prophetic not representative''.
Should Moderators be elected by the Church members?
Yes – 534 – 47.9%
No - 581 - 52.1%
47.9°/% of respondents would like to be able to elect the Moderator and 52.1°% would not.
More additional comments accompanied answers to this question than any others suggesting a live interest in the choosing of moderators. Comments such as
“a good idea",
"an interesting idea'',
"could be dangerous too"
were balanced by practical considerations such as that it could be a
Many comments sought to solve this problem.
"Elections could be done via Presbyteries"
(as one said the Irish Presbyterian Church does) "acting as a voting forum with shortlists being circulated to congregations''.
"Short biographies, mission statements and photographs of suitable candidates would help".
Some respondents suggested in their answers to question 14 that
"Moderators might be chosen for longer than one year".
Elections, therefore, might not be held annually offering more practicability. Another compromise suggested was
"to enlarge the committee which present chooses the Moderator and for it to canvass more publicly and widely before settling on a short list, not like the secret society at Present".
Someone suggested that "the election committee should itself be elected''.
A pilot trial was recommended. However, some thought that
"the election of a Moderator could be costly and contentious".
and one respondent concluded that "neither the Church of Scotland nor the Kingdom of Heaven is democratic".
Some recognised that whoever is chosen is Moderator of the General Assembly and not of the whole Church. One of the many helpful suggestions added by one respondent wasthat election by the membership copuld be from a short leet.
There are inherent dangers in an elective process. Would there be campaigning? Another suggestion was that election could be on the basis of published curricula vitae in Life & Work. There would be media interest. That is always a double-edged sword. But it could be helpful.
The election of the Moderator by the membership would help to offset the centralisation of authority which has taken place. There would be every chance that someone with independent mind would be elected. That would cause problems for the establishment and would be the main reason why its members would not encourage popular franchise.
Of course, electing a Moderator would be a departure from the understanding of the role in Church of Scotland history. It could lead to a kind of personality cult, not in keeping with the confined egalitarianism of the position. It could itself drain power from the people to a titular 'head' of the Church, replacing Jesus Christ, at least in the eyes of the media and public. It could undermine the sharing of responsibilities in the Councils and Committees since the Moderator would be expected to speak ‘for the Church’. It could change the very nature of Presbyterianism in which ministers are servants of the people and of one another in theory if not always in practice.
The election of a Moderator might be helpful to the Church of Scotland. Bearing in mind that the office might be extended for, say, two or three year terms, an election process would be possible and viable. The Church itself is suffering and some would say that it is dying. Visible leadership might be advantageous in this situation. The Church of Scotland lacks a pastoral face in the public domain. A process of election would be public in nature and by the time of election, there is the likelihood that the elected Moderator would be already known through media reporting.
Spiritual and theological divisions between evangelicals and liberals might well be exposed. It would come down to numbers and organisational and campaigning skills. (These already exist - but -secretly) . Whoever was elected would have a popular mandate and everyone would be bound to accept him or her. Unfortunately, given the history of the Church of Scotland to the very present day, there is no guarantee that even if there was a process to elect the Moderator, it would be conducted with any greater fairness and transparency than the in-house choices which have continually resulted in middle of the road, liberal establishment people who have greatly underwhelmed the Church and the nation. Elections would give greater scope for bias and corruption unless they were miraculously conducted with transparent and selfless fairness.
Are General Assemblies managed fairly for Commissioners?
Yes - 58 – 26.7 %
No – 56 – 5.
Not Always - 651 - 67.5%
Some respondents wrote that they did not know enough to answer this question. Some acknowledged that they had never been a Commissioner to any General Assembly and therefore could not judge and some respondents confessed that they had no knowledge of the General Assembly. However, only 26.7% of those who answered were able to say that General Assemblies are managed fairly for Commissioners. This is a devastating finding and should cause the present Moderator, past Moderators and Principal Clerks and the various Conveners of Assembly Business Committees over the years much reflection. 5.8% gave an outright 'No' to this question. There is, perhaps, experience and pain behind this absolute answer. The large majority of 67.5% fairly and responsibly replied that General Assemblies are not always managed fairly for Commissioners. They were recognising that on occasions, several and perhaps even numerous over the years, they have detected strategic unfairness in the management of General Assemblies. One view was that General Assemblies have little or no effect on the day to day life of congregations. However the majority of comments included the following:
"Assemblies are more emotive than practical thus open to manipulation",
"very rarely do boards and councils not get their own way",
"there is a bias to the central view",
"half the Commissioners are swayable by demagogues",
"especially for non-ministerial Commissioners" (they are unfair).
"the Assembly is dominated by Ministers and wee cleeks",
"some issues and Commissioners seem to get the brush (off) from the playpen”
"the membership is often treated as ignorant by authority".
Representing those content with the present conduct of General Assemblies were the following comments.
"how could it be with 1000 Commissioners changing each year with little sense of continuing issues?"
No-one will be surprised by these findings, least of all those responsible over the years for the conduct of General Assemblies. What forms of unfairness may be indicated? i) the Moderator never rebukes any Convener of a reporting committee or instructs him or her to answer a question properly, respectfully and fairly ii) an adversarial situation is managed with the Moderator and the reporting Convener on one side and the questioning Commissioner on the other iii) the Clerks intervene in debates from their own point of view but this has an inhibiting effect on debate and discussion iv) theological politics are used to ensure that difficult issues are not fully debated v) defensiveness is perpetrated vi) the culture of mediaeval courtliness is used to alienate honest but determined questioners vii) past Moderators hog the limelight and exert disproportionate influence viii) deals are done with the agenda to obviate difficulties even before the day's business has begun ix) disproportionate time and opportunity are given to some reports while others are quickly seen through x) vague, generalised and ‘spun’ documents are led through while the real agendas and policies are withheld. And so the Council of Assembly was able at a stroke to manipulate the General Assembly of 2004 into giving it such executive authority that has never existed in the history of the Church of Scotland, thereby emasculating all future General Assemblies as the final court of authority in the Church of Scotland.
I must here offer a personal testimony. I was a Commissioner at the 2003 General Assembly. Before the Assembly began I had lodged an addendum with the Clerks to be spoken to in response to the Report of the Board of Communication on Tuesday 20th May. The issue reflected an unsavoury incident concerning Life & Work in November 2001 only brought to light in the national press in 2002. My addendum requested the General Assembly to
"Reaffirm the editorial independence of Life & Work".
The Church of Scotland's position affirming the editorial freedom of Life & Work is stated annually in the Church of Scotland Year Book (Board of Communication Section). Rosemary Goring, then editor of Life & Work had included an article by John Lloyd on Prince Charles in the November 2001 edition. This article had already appeared in the New Statesman and had not apparently caused any great fuss. I now quote from Ron Ferguson's (Glasgow) Herald article, ‘God save us from Holy Newspeak’ on 26th September 2002. "..this is a grubby, low-life tale of inflated power, intrigue, virtual censorship, spin-doctoring, waste of money; and cover-up; and all at the highest levels of the church.. "Lloyd's piece is insightful, witty and, indeed, understanding of the
"Rosemary Goring, the then editor of Life & Work, felt if would be a good piece to use. I agree with her judgement."
Ron Ferguson commented., "The desire not to cause even the slightest offence to the great and the good showed the Kirk at its sycophantic worst. Pressure was applied to drop the offending article. There were hints that if it appeared, church headquarters would have to disassociate itself from it."
The editor caved in and 50,000 copies of Life & Work were pulped at a cost estimated variously between £10,500 and £17,000. Ron Ferguson continued, “the pulping was hushed up. Not a word of this was reported to the (2002) balls achingly boring, carefully managed General Assembly in May. It is scandalous that the church should at in this craven and secret manner."
The tale does not end there. Ron Ferguson objected to the Church of Scotland's duplicitous response to the publication of this story. "All this is bad enough. The rest. is worse..the consequent nauseous church spin-doctoring was worthy of New Labour at its most obnoxious. Of course Ms Goring hadn't been pressured. No, no, the principal clerk's office would not seek to influence the contents' of Life & Work."
"The truth is that Rosemary Goring_-now, understandably former editor - was subjected to what she called "uncomfortable and fierce” pressures and was told that she might be ‘ostracised’ at 121 George Street. Charming. She added that the pressure was ".a revealing example of the fearful flexing of the church's. corporate muscle. The decision to pul the magazine was nothing less than censorship.
Rev Mariory A MacLean, acting principal clerk to the General Assembly replied to Ron Ferguson, calling his contribution
"A lazily-written article, ignorant of the Church and gratuitously snide about individuals who cannot easily defend themselves. (No turning the other cheek there, then!).
"John Lloyd's piece portrayed the Church of Scotland as if if were something straight out of the deepest depressed corners of Robbie Burns or Lewis Grassic Gibbon. If effectively warned readers of the Church's own magazine that their weekly worship was bad for their emotional and spiritual health - citing Prince Charles as a quite undeserving illustration."
"Yes, I did reluctantly indicate that I would have to disassociate my department from the thing: and so yes, that would put Rosemary Goring under frightful pressure because, yes, she really did have to make the decision herself as editor."
"Yes, It's. odd..that no-one objected enough to have it brought up in the General Assembly; which is the only authority with power to instruct the editor against her will."
I bought a back copy of the New Statesman and read John Lloyd's article about Prince Charles. I found it unremarkable. I could not understand what the fuss was all about. Why did Marjory MacLean react in they way she had done? One can only guess at different possible reasons. i) she had let the power of her temporary office go to her head ii) there was an issue of who was to be queen of 121 George Street, herself or Rosemary Goring, the high profile editor of Life & Work iii) her personal ambition necessitated seeking to ingratiate with members of the Royal Family. Readers of Life & Work would have been well able to decide for themselves the quality and value of John Lloyd's article. They were not allowed to. This was hardly spiritual freedom and it belittled the membership of the Church of Scotland.
Life & Work itself published a letter from Reverend Ainslie Walton in December 2002. He wrote,
"I have been unfairly treated as a commissioner to the 2002 General Assembly. I expect to be given all relevant information. This did not happen. The decision to pulp the entire edition of Life & Work for November. 200I was not reported to the Assembly. The honesty with which we handle our business is very much our responsibility."
Mariory MacLean, writing in the same issue said,
"Basing my judgement on the interest of the Church, not the appetites of the media, I took the line then by which I utterly stand by now"
Marjory MacLean had every right to form a personal opinion on John Lloyd's article. But she should have expressed that opinion after publication and not before publication. She had no locus in seeking to determine the content of Life & Work. I myself commented in the January 2003 Ministers' Forum, "The Genera Assembly's position on the editorial independence of Life & Work has been undermined by Marjory MacLean, employed in an office which is supposed to guarantee proper procedure. We do not know the full truth c;rid it is unlikely that we ever will."
And so, after Ron Ferguson's September 2002 article, I endeavoured have the full details of this matter raised at the 2003 General Assembly placing my addendum in the hands of the Clerks before the Assembly gave the Convener of the Board of Communication, Jean Montgomery the opportunity to decide how to reply well in advance. The custom has always been that a motion or addendum printed in the daily papers gives the right to speak. It can be the case that the Commissioner agrees not to speak if the Convener accepts the motion or addendum. Tactics for and experience of General Assemblies matter much. Most Commissioners feel at great disadvantage in speaking. If a Commissioner is taking a different line from what is being proposed by a Board or Committee, it can be doubly difficult. If there is any sense of penetrating 121 George Street by raising difficult issues, then that is trebly difficult. Commissioners quickly learns that they are not in a sympathetic environment. They sense that the odds are stocked against them. They are inhibited. They see others' good intentions foundering on procedural blocking. They do not want to be embarrassed or made to look foolish.
A debate on baptism went on and on and on. The Moderator, Right Reverend Professor lain Torrance left the chair and former Moderator Very Reverend John Cairns took over temporarily. It seemed most unfortunate for me and my addendum that this should have been arranged. John Cairns is a sort of Billy Bunter with attitude. He has been an influential and dominant figure at General Assemblies for years. There is no reason why former Moderators should attend every Assembly After being Moderator. They are disproportionately influential. This inhibits Commissioners, especially those attending for the first time.
The Report of the Board of Communication was being passed through with undue haste. First, I asked a question related to the pulping of the November 2001 edition of Life & Work and the cover-up at the 2002 General Assembly. Jean Montgomery's prepared reply was general and did not answer the purpose of the detail of the question. I therefore moved my addendum. John Cairns noting that the Convener had accepted it and that it was lunchtime asked the Assembly if it wanted to move on without my speaking to my addendum. There was an informal vote and he decided that the Assembly showed that I should not speak. I protested that there were substantial issues-to be raised which the Assembly required to hear. This plea was ignored. I said "This is disgraceful" "Spoken with your usual charity”, John Cairns replied as he left the Chair.
I felt angry and humiliated. It all seemed so well orchestrated. A legitimate discussion of a serious matter was bullied out of court. I met the Principal Clerk, Very Reverend Doctor Finlay McDonald in the foyer immediately afterwards and said to him “Among many disgraceful incidents that have happened to me in my life in the Church of Scotland that as one of the worst”. Commissioners expressed sympathy but I replied that they needed to stand up and help me, not offer me sympathy. I went home, like many before me, broken by th brutality of the conduct of General Assemblies.
Are General Assemblies managed fairly for Commissioners?
I don't think so.
That is not the end of the story. Unknown to me, Ron Ferguson had watched this altercation. In the July 2003 Ministers' Forum he wrote a savage criticism of my being silenced at the General Assembly, entitled ‘A Shameful Moment At A Good Assembly’.
"..the treatment of Dr Anderson was unfair. He justifiably raised a question about the infamous pulping of a complete issue of Life & Work. The Assembly was given a sanitised version of events ..
"There were people in the Assembly Hall who wanted to discuss these matters. However, John Cairns, who look over the Moderatorial chair for the debate, said that since the Convener was prepared to accept the motion that Dr Anderson had tabled – he would not need to speak. When Dr Anderson reasonably protested that there were issues of principle which needed to be discussed by the Assembly and that this important matter shouldn't be covered up for a second year running, John Cairns simply put the matter to the Assembly without allowing Dr. Anderson to speak to his own motion..
"On this critical matter, the only view which was heard was the official one.. What I found dispiriting was that I had been told privately what the strategy was going to be half an hour before the debate. The script was followed, step by -step..
"For some reason John Cairns allowed himself to play the part of the ecclesiastical thug. His parting shot at Dr Anderson left an unpleasant taste, and diminished both John and the General Assembly. It was a shameful moment.
“this manoeuvre was as cynical as it gets. The participants could conceal neither their relief nor their glee. I am saddened but not surprised...This whole vexed case says a great deal about power and powerlessness at the heart of the Kirk.. Those responsible for what happened have won a battle, but the long-term war for the health of our Church remains to be fought.”
When I read this article I thought that it must either be libellous or true. To allege that there was a plan to subvert the procedures of the General Assembly in order to prevent fair discussion was serious. I therefore wrote the Principal Clerk on 1st October 2003 asking him to investigate the reasons why I was not allowed to speak to my Assembly motion. He replied on 21 November telling me that the Board of Practice and Procedure had unanimously decided not to accede to my request for an investigation. I wrote protesting further and this was dismissed.
I next tried to find a way forward through West Lothian Presbytery and raised the matter with its Business Committee. The members were sympathetic to me but not to Ron Ferguson. After much discussion they indicated that if Ron Ferguson would substantiate the allegations in the July 2003 Ministers’ Forum article, they would consider taking the matter forward. I wrote to Ron Ferguson and he replied on 2 January 2004,
"For reasons of confidentiality, I can't reveal, or even hint at, the source of information about strategy. It would be interesting to know the circumstances which led to Iain Torrance stepping down from the chair for the report, and then appearing at the end to thank Jean Montgomery."
All that I could do was to pursue my own lonely vigil. I wrote to the Convener of the Board of Practice and Procedure, Reverend David Lacy on 17th February. (He had taken on the burden of replying on 13th February 2004 to a further letter to the Principal Clerk which I has sent on 17th December 2003.) I put 15 questions to David Lacy which I list below.
1) Is Johnston Mackay right in saying that General Assemblies have become subject to the management of the agenda in order to minimise controversy rather than fulfilling its proper role as an open court of accountability?
2) Why have the General Assemblies of 2002 and of 2003 not been allowed to discuss the issues surrounding the pulping of the November 2001 issue of Life & Work and the resignation of the then editor, Rosemary Goring?
3) Since you had written in defence of Marjory MacLean in Ministers' Forum in February 2003, why did you conduct an inquiry into the issues raised in my letters rather than appoint someone independent of the people involved?
4) Why and how was it arranged that John Cairns should step in to act as Moderator for only the 15 minutes or so for part of the Report of the Board of Communication at the 2003 General Assembly and yet leave before the conclusion so that lain Torrance could return to thank the Convener for her service?
5) Why did John Cairns raise the issue of ''lunchtime" when so little time had been given to consideration of the Board of Communication's Report (15 minutes)?
6) Why was I refused permission to speak to my Motion, submitted in writing and appearing in the daily papers when Standing Orders do not presume such refusal?
7) Why were the long recognised rules which assume that a Commissioner will speak to a Motion and which give discretion to the Moderator only on the order of motions and not as to whether they will be spoken to (Cox VI (b) Motions p 592 and Standing Orders p 106) ignored by John Cairns?
8) Why were Cox VI p 592 and Standing Orders 88 p 106 "any Member (Commissioner) may take part in the subsequent debate'' ignored by John Cairns?
9) Why was my request as a Commissioner to speak to my Motion on matters of principle ignored by John Cairns since it is the intention of our Church that a Motion will be spoken to if the Commissioner declares the right to do so?
10) Do you not accept that the result of my not being allowed to speak was that no General Assembly has ever learned why Marjory MacLean defied published Church of Scotland policy on the editorial independence of Life & Work and why Rosemary Goring resigned as Editor?
11) ls it not one of the main functions of the General Assembly to seek accountability of, by and from its officers?
12) Since allegations of a pre-arranged strategy to stop me raising these issues weree published by Ron Ferguson in July 2003 Ministers’ Forum, why were these not independently investigated?
13) Who was it who gave Ron Ferguson the information on which he based his article in July Ministers' Forum?
14) If Ron Ferguson is wrong, why has he not been disciplined for making public such allegations?
15) Is it not the case that disallowing me to speak to my Motion has exacerbated the impression of a ‘cover up’ unworthy of the highest and best traditions of the General Assembly?
I ended the letter thus:
"I think that if you are willing to provide answers to these questions, we will be able to make progress. I await your reply with interest".
I am still waiting. David Lacy never replied to this letter. In October 2004 he was elected Moderator-designate for the 2005 General Assembly and became Moderator in May 2005. I also wrote to lain Torrance to ask what part he had played in my not being allowed to speak. He replied on 11th May 2004 saying, "During the Board of Communication I left the Chair briefly to have a coffee and go to the loo. ..Please may I assure you that there was no conspiracy or pre-set strategy.
" Lastly, I wrote to John Cairns, who, after receiving a reminding letter from me replied as follows:
"in taking the Chair at the General Assembly one is answerable only to the Assembly for the conduct of business and has no duty of justifying or explaining ones decisions in the course of doing so. However...I will deal with the issues you raise as the implications in them are untrue and misleading.
"I was not party to any plan to stop you speaking, nor would I have been.
"The actual timing. of the hand over of the Chair to a substitute is entirely in the hands of the Moderator. This is neither the business of, nor within the control of, the principal clerk or any other Assembly official.
"I cannot speak for Ron Ferguson or his report, but I can say that I had no script either literally or figuratively speaking and further I was not party to any strategy; plan or conspiracy either with the people you mention or anyone else.
"I believed that in the light of the time taken up by the long debate on baptism and the considerable public debate that had already been held on the matter you were raising, that the Assembly might wish to move on and so if proved."
The replies of lain Torrance and John Cairns make Ron Ferguson's article out to be untrue and leave unanswered the issue of journalistic sources. Should Ron Ferguson publish on matters which he will not substantiate? He claims that he requires that protection in order to publicise issues as they arise. However, this is unsatisfactory. Ron Ferguson should have provided the evidence necessary for justice in the Church of Jesus Christ.
John Cairns took his decision not to allow me to speak in the light (he said) of the considerable public debate that had already been held on the matter I raised. He had no right to do so. It is difficult to accept that he made this as a spontaneous 'on the hoof' decision during the 15 minutes of the Board of Communication's Report, rather than that he took this consciousness with him when he took the Chair. Had he mentioned this to anyone? Was this Ron Ferguson's source? The General Assembly was the only competent body to discuss the matter properly. That is the salient point and a good Moderator would have recognised it. John Cairns, as acting Moderator, should have taken the view that the General Assembly must debate the matter i) on principle according to the rules ii) because a Commissioner had placed a Motion in writing and wanted to speak iii) because the Convener had not answered any of the issues which had been raised in the public debate iv) the matter had indeed been subject to public debate and the Assembly had to form a view on it v) the public debate had reflected badly on the Church of Scotland vi) there had been public allegations of bad practice and vii) clearly, there had been interference with the editing of Life & Work magazine in November 2001 contrary to the General Assembly's policy.
John Cairns acted in contradiction of Cox's rules on the conduct of General Assemblies. He betrayed the purpose of general Assemblies. He overstepped his authority. His conduct was a disgrace to the office of Moderator. The Principal Clerk who was present did not protest. Marjory MacLean was protected. An investigation into some nefarious deeds at 121 George Street was prevented. That was a suitable accompaniment.
No past Moderator stood up to ensure proper procedure.
Are General Assemblies managed fairly for Commissioners?
Do the Church’s public statements reflect your own faith and belief?
Yes - 156 - 13.7%
No - 64 - 5.6 %
Sometimes - 808 - 70.8%
Seldom - 113 - 9.9%
The issue of public communication of the Church's message concerned in respondents. 13.7% think that their own faith and belief is reflected in Church of Scotland's public statements; 5.6% do not and a further 9.9% think that the Church seldom articulates their own faith and belief. The large majority 70.8% answer to this question forms what one respondent described as “the only possible answer” i.e., that the Church's public statements sometimes reflect their own faith and belief. Some said,
"I can't remember when I was last aware of one (public statement by the Church of Scotland)",
"do we have public statements?'',
"the Church is notably silent on nearly everything",
"better and more guidance on the problems of the day (are required)
"rarely stated at all, alas'',
"too woolly or liberal/politically correct'',
"the greater number of these are political",
"Moderators differ in their views''.
At a certain level this could be criticised as a facile question. What public statements are meant? Who makes them? But there is a general impression formed from any organisation's public statements. The media are very quick to characterise a Christian leader as conservative, orthodox, traditional, informal or radical. The public identity of the Church of Scotland comes from its public statements. Generally speaking these come Moderators of the General Assembly and the Principal Clerks. Who knows any of them?
Depending on how one would interpret the responses, one could argue that only 13.7% of respondents are happy with the Church's public statements. Most fairly, the large majority have said that sometimes they are. However, a football supporter is not happy to say that "sometimes his/her team wins". An employer is not happy if an employee attends work "sometimes". The Church itself cannot survive if members attend and give only "sometimes''. On the other hand, it would be surprising if the Church's public statements pleased everyone all of the time. That is not possible. The balance of opinion however seeks a more positive and helpful public communications practice. The sense is of distance and even of alienation between public statements and the membership. Any business sounding out customer satisfaction would have to respond creatively and definitively to such findings. There is a well paid public relations office which is not held in any high respect by media professionals. It exists anonymously. The Church of Scotland cuts little ice in the public issues and debates of the day. In Christian communication terms, the Church of Scotland fails lamentably to punch its weight. Its own people know that. According to the 2001 census, 2,146,251 Scots claimed connections with the Church of Scotland. It is time for something significant to be done.
In answering Question 14 many respondents highlighted the failure of the Church of Scotland’s public relations / public communications operation. This matter they want addressed forthwith. Many connected the basic problem with the annual election of the Moderator. That has been discussed above. Here it is helpful to acknowledge the broader issues of the nature and quality of any public statements that are made by anyone in the church.
(I wish) "that the Church of Scotland would stand for something anything”
Members of the Church want a much stronger lead to be given to the nation from their Church. They want to hear a much more positive message. They want its place in Scottish history to be affirmed.
"We lack a coherent voice to answer questions regarding our faith".
“The Church (should be) taking a proper moral stance and providing real leadership and stop majoring on - minor side issues".
(The Church needs) "to give clear Bible teaching on issues of today, instead of sitting on the fence so that no-one would be hurt''.
“Increased liberalism has stepped in and threatens to dilute the message of the Gospel".
(The Church Should not be) “afraid to teach the values and way of life required by Jesus Christ with His compassion''.
"We do not project Christian leadership and example just a wishy washy dumbed down lot of mumbo jumbo. Result a valueless national church, meaningless to the masses, irrelevant in 2005''.
(We need to) "voice concern over apathy; greed and violence which is becoming more the norm and give greater voice of leadership against greedy politicians etc."
(There should be) "more positive and intelligent publicity in the press with encouragement for the lapsed and apathetic by way of information regarding many of our vibrant and life enhancing hymns/songs/services that happen in various parts of Scotland''.
(We need) “much more positive publicity about the good things in the Church of Scotland. All we seemto hear about is loss of members, closure of churches etc.
(There should be) "a campaigning voice against consumerism".
(The Church. should have). "a stronger and more regular presence on radio, television and national and local newspapers discussing issues which are important e.g., abortion, euthanasia, crime (youth), drink and drugs. We need a spokesperson debating the issues of today. I want the Church of Scotland to be heard''.
(The Church should be) "standing up for the erosion of Christianity in this country. We are a Christian country and should not lose sight of this in today’s multicultural political correctness. If I go to India I do not expect them to remove all their Hindu symbols for fear of offending me.
(We need) “a vigorous, direct, honest world-class theologian with rock-solid faith, compelling powers of communication and oratory, warmth and humour (in short a Dr William Barclay) at the helm – for at least 3 years. By this I mean not influenced by political correctness and present day fantasies".
It will surprise many to know that there is a Media Relations Unit at 121 George Street. No doubt it has had to work under the restraints imposed by the erstwhile Board system. It does not have a waiting list of interesting, challenging and charismatic personalities queueing up to have their words of wisdom publicised. But there seems to be a kind of minimalist policy in relation to public comment which does the Church of Scotland no favours. Members realise that their own faith is articulated by the Roman Catholic Press Office more than by their own Church's. This is unsupportable and must change. The phrase Church of Scotland Media Relations' seems to be an oxymoron at best and a ghostly disincarnation at worst.
Do you think that the Church of Scotland offers a fair balance between personal freedom and institutional authority?
Yes - 737 - 70.6%
No – 307- 29.4%
Many considered that this question applied more to personal Christian life and faith in the Church of Scotland context. 70.6% of respondents are content with the balance of personal freedom and institutional authority, while 29.4% are not. The positive majority answers to this question were reflected in additional comments such as,
"fairer than some other denominations"
“I have total personal freedom under God and the Church of Scotland has no institutional authority over me''.
However, doubts were also expressed such as
"personal freedom is too great",
"anyone who disagrees with the Ministers or Presbytery is an outcast - this
from the biggest failing work force in Scotland",
"Yes for Ministers, no for Congregations",
"everything is filtered through the Minister and/or Kirk Session",
"its perceived authority is far greater than its actual authority",
"I've still to hear of a member being excommunicated'',
"it no longer searches for the truth",
"if has become too liberal and weak'',
"institutional protection seems to be increasing",
"the balance is out of killer in favour of the institution",
"too many rules from 121
Reformed Christianity has always stressed the individual's direct relationship with God through Jesus Christ. In previous centuries there may have been strict oversight of personal lifestyles by Kirk Sessions, but these days are long gone. Today, it seems to be the case that few elders feel any strong sense of entitlement to point a finger at anyone on personal moral issues. Kirk Sessions have rights to debar from Holy Communion, but few ever exercise them. The parish system succeeds and fails by placing Christianity at the centre of communities while blurring the distinctions between being a Christian and not being one.
Mainstream churches offer more personal freedom both to clergy and laity than churches to the left or right of the ecclesiastical spectrum. Even if western society lifestyle codes have become lax among all Christian communities, the impression remains that the Roman Catholic Church requires moral and spiritual discipline among its priests and piety from its members. Independent evangelical congregations require propriety in all things from their pastors and expect those who profess faith in Jesus Christ to live up to such profession.
The soft centre churches on the other hand have no such strictures or restraints on personal behaviour, other than immediate community reprobation. If that does not apply, then there really can be little or nothing to prevent anyone living as they wish while claiming membership and even office in these Churches. In its own dour and low key way, the Church of Scotland seems to fall into this category. The issue for the Church is whether there is a public scandal. As long as there is not, no-one pursues anyone else in the spirit of the Gospel of Saint Matthew 7:1-2. "Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, 'you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you".
The professional ministry is based on trust. Conngregations know whether their minister is serving them well. The five yearly Presbytery visit is meant to encourage rather than find fault. Presbyteries very rarely act even where there are concerns. Ministers are unwilling to point the finger at colleagues lest they find themselves at the wrong end of outstretched digits.
One significant change to this pattern is beginning to occur, however. 121 George Street, the bureaucracy and the Committees which meet there, are seeking to become employers of ministers with powers to appoint, dismiss and relocate. This is a historic departure from freedom of call for congregations and freedom of movement for ministers. The two main reasons for this happening are i) the desire to unite congregations and ii) the wish to provide parish cover in rural areas. These, in turn, have become issues to be addressed due to shortage in the number of ministers. Instead of adopting a radical policy of flexible and appropriate ministry, the central administration has begun already the movement of ministers to and from congregations.
This leaves ministers and congregations at the mercy of a still unstructured process, in which familiarity with those wielding the power will matter more than a sense of personal call or collective invitation. Like many things, this system can work in moderation. Problems will become more serious if further and further attempts are made to manage ministers. Here I wish to offer some personal testimony to illustrate the point.
On Monday 17th November 2003 I received a telephone call at about 5 00pm from the Reverend Doctor Martin Scott. At that time he rejoiced in the title Senior Vocational Guidance officer, Harassment Officer, Board of Ministry, 121 George Street. It transpired that a letter had been posted to me in error. Martin Scott apologised for this mistake. He also asked me not to open the letter and to destroy it. I said that I was unlikely to do that. When I opened Martin Scott’s letter next morning, I found what amounted to low farce. It began, On Friday 14th November you sent an e-mail to the editor of the Church of Scotland website, Ms Lynsae Tulloch”. This e-mail read as follows:
"Thank you for your very exciting information about the exciting new competition for children. It will be quite exciting for me to pass this exciting news on to our leaders of young people who I am sure will be very excited about it and will no doubt tell the children how exciting it is so that they will get excited about taking part in this exciting new competition. Well done! It is so exciting”.
Martin Scott went on,
“Whatever your reasons for sending this, you should be aware that your behaviour is not only childish and unacceptable in a minister of the Church of Scotland, but also constitutes an act of harassment of an employee of the Church. The Church of Scotland's policy on harassment contains the following definition:
“Bullying: bullying is a particular form of personal harassment. It is insulting behaviour that may be an abuse of power, position or knowledge. It may arise when criticism is destructive not constructive, humiliates rather than corrects and results in a person feeling threatened. Some examples of bullying are: Shouting and sarcasm; derogatory or belittling remarks regarding work or personal attributes; picking on people and unreasonably criticising their performance”.
"It may be that you think. your comments were amusing or clever. Let me assure you they are neither, and I find it quite shameful that I should have to write to a colleague in ministry to bring this to your attention”.
And then Martin Scott referred to a letter from me which had been published in The Scotsman a few days previously criticising the new requirement for congregations to pay the full amount of a minister’s salary to 121 George Street, even when the charge is vacant and they have no minister in place.
''While you may consider it your legitimate right to attack the administrative function of the Church in the public press, you have no right whatsoever to bully members of its staff. Your conduct is unbecoming of a minister of the Church and as such I have copied this letter to the Presbytery Clerk of West Lothian for his consideration."
I had not sent the e-mail.
It was sent by someone else with a similar name. They had discovered the mistake after the letter had been posted. I received an e-mailed apology from Pat Holdgate, Head of Media Relations. "I know that the Reverend Doctor Martin Scott has spoken to you about a
letter that was sent to you in error. My purpose in writing to you is to make it clear that Dr Scott acted in good faith and that I made the initial error concluding that an e-mail received from another party was, in fact, from you. Please accept my unreserved apology for my error." I then received a further letter from Martin Scott, confirming Pat Holdgate's explanation. Martin Scott went on: "I did ask that, having been informed of this mistake before receiving the envelope, you would disregard the letter completely and destroy it without opening it. You indicated that you were unlikely to choose to take this course of action, despite my request to de so. I would went to be clear that, if you have opened the letter, you be aware that the contents should not be disclosed to any other party."
I found this letter to be extraordinary. The letter of 17th November was intended for me, correctly titled and correctly addressed. The problem was that I had not sent the e-mail in question. Someone else had. What was worse, the language of Martin Scott to me in that letter was full of judgement. He had also quite wrongly brought in a quite separate issue of a letter in The Scotsman about a wholly different matter. No wonder he did not want me to read it. I found his letter of 18th November even more suspect. He tried to intimidate me not to divulge anything about this affair to anyone by writing "you be aware that the contents should not be disclosed to any other party. " I was troubled by this over-stepping of authority. I decided that while I would accept the apologies for the mistakes, I would not simply forget the underlying issues. I therefore replied to Martin Scott in the following terms.
"While if would be unchristian of me not to accept your apologies there are some factors that require further consideration.
1 ) The e-mail to Lynsae Tulloch does not, in my view, or in law, constitute harassment. No industrial court or tribunal would sustain a charge of harassment for such an e-mail.
2) Ms Tulloch should have replied in terms such as "Thank you for your exciting e-mail. If you have anything constructive to say, I will gladly consider it”. That should have been the end of the matter.
3) The exaggeration of an absurd e-mail into an issue of harassment constitutes an act of harassment.
4) The wrong identification of the writer with me may not have been a simple mistake only but also as a result of other factors towards me in the mind of Pat Holdgate.
5) In your first letter you yourself make a connection with my writing in the public press. This demonstrates that I was the intended recipient. If also suggests a form of retaliation towards me. These were two quite separate issues and you had no right to connect them.
6) You have gone well beyond your authority in saying to me in your second letter dated 18th November 2003 “...if you have opened the letter, you be aware that the contents should not be disclosed to any other party."
7) The Law of Confidence does not apply to your first letter or your second.
8) I have the right of freedom of speech within the law.
9) I have the right to refer this matter to the Presbytery of West Lothian Pastoral Committee, to its Superintendence Committee, to its Business Committee and to speak to the matter on the floor of Presbytery. I have the right to raise the matter with the Board of Ministry and at a future General Assembly.
10) I regard the pressure you have applied to keep silence as a clear example of bullying."
I never received any reply to this letter.
The impression held by members of the Church of Scotland (and supported by the results of this survey) of those who work at 121 George Street is not positive. Their views can be easily dismissed as uninformed. But here is clear evidence of bad practice. These people are given salaries of between £30,00 - £40,000. If they conduct their general business similarly, then this explains much about 121 George Street.
I also wrote to the Principal clerk on 21st November 2003 and asked him to refer the issues involved for investigation "to whomsoever you think may competently do so. Finlay Macdonald replied on 26 November 2003 saying that it had been a matter of mistaken identity and he hoped it would rest there. I wrote again to him on 17th December 2003 indicating that I thought he was not taking the matter seriously.
"There is an issue about the role of law officers at 121 George Street. They should, in giving_ advice, also be helpful to those of us who diligently serve this Church. Partial and opportunistic advice should never be given.
"I know that you have no interest in helping me. Indeed you are part of the whole process against which I have been struggling. I cannot say how painful it is to work in a Church in which people in positions of influence act so unfairly. I do believe, however, that justice will come to light. I will continue to struggle for matters of principle."
I never received any reply to this letter.
"Low farce" indeed. The silly e-mail was inconsequential. Pat Holdgate thought she could get at me for being a troublesome minister. Then I was harassed by 121 George Street's harassment officer. Have these people nothing better to do? Note however, the protectionism. No criticism of staff at 121 George Street is to be acceptable. Martin Scott assumed a position of authority over me which he did not have. He is now General Secretary to the new Ministries Council.
One further note of explanation is required. Pat Holdgate was part of a group called by Marjory MacLean with the intention of seeking to discipline me for an article written by me which had appeared in The Scotsman in May 2001. I exposed this in Ministers' Forum in January 2003.
"Marjory MacLean stated in the December Ministers’ Forum that she has never made a formal complaint about any minister. That is not the whole truth. Dr Harry Reid, former Interim Editor of Life & Work, has given me the following statement with permission to use it."
"I was called to a meeting in 121 George Street convened by Miss Marjory MacLean and attended by Dr Finlay Macdonald (Principal Clerk) Mrs. Pat Holdgate (Head of Media Relations), Mrs. Jeanette Wilson (Solicitor of the Church) and myself at which Miss MacLean raised the possibility of raising disciplinary procedures against Dr Anderson in respect of his Article in a recent edition of The Scotsman. In the course of the discussion I suggested that this approach would turn Dr Anderson into a martyr. My recollection is that the discussion regarding Dr Anderson was wide-ranging and inconclusive."
This is evidence of what was once famously described as being 'economical with the truth'. But that no doubt will be a qualification for a future appointment as Moderator. The spaces and freedoms that existed in the Presbyterian system of Church organisation have been colonised by people who have assumed status and power. The system has become tense and rigid, introverted and defensive. The only possible solution is to decolonise the system and set it free. To accept a new association not based on administrative hierarchy in which the membership of the Church is equal in responsibility and authority. The refusal to answer letters is itself a symptom of aggrandisement and unacceptable strategic arrogance.
Do you think that the Church of Scotland has lost its way spiritually and theologically in the last 25 years?
Yes – 627 – 59.3%
No - 431 - 40.7%
Evidence of the fair-mindedness and spiritual maturity of respondents to all the questions in he survey is found in the closer ratio of 59.3% of respondents who think that the Church of Scotland has lost its way spiritually and theologically in the last 25 years and the 40.7% who do not. Many respondents offered support to the Church of Scotland in answering this question although there was also much strong criticism. One comment said that
"this is the most important question in the questionnaire''.
Others replied in the following ways.
"I do not think that the Kirk has lost its own way, but that it is western liberal bourgeois society that has lost the idea of the Almighty and his Kirk".
"The Church has changed position and society has changed in every quarter century".
"In the five years I have been a member it has meandered along".
"Trying to cope with modern thinking is difficult".
Briefer comments were
"no more than other denominations",
"not totally, so let's be positive",
"people apathy is not the fault of the Church",
"there are definite signs of improvement",
"the Church of Scotland is diverse so if is not possible to answer" (this question).
(The Church of Scotland) "has always been a broad Church".
"there are definite signs of improvement''.
Critical comments were extensive, reflecting the percentage of respondents who have great concerns about the general direction of the Church of Scotland. There were a number of brief opinions such as
Beyond these respondents were of the regrettable view that the Church of Scotland
"has become an institution not a living organism",
"the Church of Scotland is slowly disintegrating and dying and simply does not realise it",
"it has strayed info a few doubtful paths to modernise",
(It) "panders too much to popular opinion'',
"the Colleges have a lot to answer for'',
"the Church is failing to connect spiritually and theologically with many (of its own) members",
"what is different about the last 25 years?",
"she has been losing her way for many years",
"it never had much direction 25 years ago",
"less than 10 years ago but 25 years ago it was worse",
"like many big organisations it struggles and has lost the plot from time to time not just in the last 25 years",
"spiritually not necessarily theologically'',
"spiritually there are changes beginning, theologically; it has changed a great deal",
"if has been regaining an evangelical element which is good''.
The significant majority of respondents are unhappy with the direction that the Church of Scotland has taken over the period in question. It must be the case that a good number of respondents are happy with their congregational life and witness. Some suggest that evangelicals, for example, are gaining a foothold in the corridors of power and welcome that. Others are clearly disappointed that the Church of Scotland is no longer the force that it once was in Scotland and that the nation seems to be the lesser for it.
That the response to question 13 is markedly different from the response to question 11 suggests a sophisticated distinction being made by the respondents between public image and congregational reality. The Church is still strong even if it does not make the news much. The Christian Gospel is still being lived and preached, even if this is by fewer people. And generally, there is much faith and hope in spite of the Church itself not optimising its calling nor offering a clear and credible explanation for its purpose in the world of today. That seems to be something that could be corrected.
Many respondents to question 14 offered views on the larger history and contemporary place of the Church. Again, this is an important matter because the Church of Scotland has not been able to define itself for the 21st century. These suggestions were offered.
(There should be an) "examination of the core beliefs of our religion so that young people are not repelled by needless difficulties of virgin birth and resurrection of the body".
"Do something about the use of the world Protestant as this raises aspects of bigotry. Can Presbyterian not be used on official forms (e.g., hospitals etc.).
"To live in the 21st century and not remain as if John Knox was the only Christian with an opinion".
"Be true to its Presbyterian principles".
"The recovery of Reformation theology with its understanding of the nature of Biblical inspiration. The priesthood of all believers is not compatible with a ruling caste".
"Modernisation (is required). Take (the Church) into the 21 sf century and out of the 18th century. In conversation recently, the Church of Scotland was described as 'nice'. Surely nice is not what we are. We should be dynamic - leading the way to Christ from the front not the back pews. 'Nice' to me indicates a safety blanket. We need to set free the light".
(We should not) "forget our own religion in order not to upset different faiths”.
"Throw out all the dead wood from the top of the tree''.
"End populism - strike a better balance between tradition and modernism".
"A widening of vision that sees a more holistic view of the Sovereign Lordship of Christ over all creation and enables the Church to develop along with other fruits of the Spirit a humility that makes her a more sharing, caring, listening and compassionate witness to the whole community''.
There is no doubt in my own mind that the Church of Scotland has lost its way, spiritually and theologically in the last 25 years. As late as the nineteen sixties and seventies some of the great ministerial characters of the previous generations were still respected and bore some influence, for example, James S. Stewart, Archie Craig, Leonard Small and George McLeod. Professor William Barclay was single-handedly communicating Christianity to a still willing to listen Scotland. D. P. Thomson, Tom Allan and the ‘Tell Scotland’ evangelical movement had been influential and The Iona Community was representing a kind of establishment friendly politics which became the public image of the Church of Scotland via the Church and Nation Committee and continued into the 21st century. The evangelicals, while gaining in strength and importance within the Church were marginalized in terms of ecclesiastical power. Out of the past 40 Moderators, only 5 might be said to be evangelical. The politicisation of the Church of Scotland by the Iona Community was one of the factors in the Church of Scotland's loss of direction.
What happened was that instead of the main message of the Church going out to society and nation being one of a call to Christianity, personal and social, various applications of Christian political neighbourliness were communicated as being all that Christianity was. It is not that this emphasis was wrong in itself only that it overshadowed the evangelical call for people to become Christians. This was perhaps the most significant cause of the Church of Scotland's faltering negotiation of the last 25 years. The Iona Community moved further and further away from centralist Church of Scotland Reformed orthodoxy and practice. It moved the Church to the left and redefined the centre ground, spiritually and theologically. Always media friendly, its political tokenism became a substitute for serious Christian outreach and challenge.
The evangelicals lacked cohesion, media savvy and power at 121 George Street. They are still trying to play 'catch-up'. The formation of the new Councils has moved the goalposts again, decreasing member representation, centralizing more decision-making power and gripping the Church's finances even more tightly.
Outside the Church, the main issue has been to make the intellectual case for Christianity. It is harder and harder to explain the contents of Christianity in a way that convinces the present sceptical, materially minded and scientifically influenced generation. The theological colleges seem to have lost their nerve. Many ministers go to pulpits with uncertain minds. The liberal Church of Scotland is seen to accommodate this post-modernity. Those whose lives have included claimed knowledge and experience of their Creator through Jesus Christ have largely become characterised as 'fundamentalists'. A Church divided cannot stand. It has a committed, prayerful, generous quotient, largely disenfranchised from ecclesiastical power and unrepresented in the public statements of the Church.
lt is the very question of whether human life has a spiritual dimension that is up for discussion. Thereafter it is a question of how the brain, as the main organ of the body, mediates and channels this spirituality (if it exists). The supra-physical, supernatural, spiritual dimension of Christianity is its cross to bear at this point in human social history. Christianity primarily deals with truths that are not scientifically demonstrable in a laboratory – unless we call the world a laboratory and take a broad historical view of its
experiments and the conclusions.
Even allowing for more than a material / visible dimension to life, it is a long way to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And here at least, there is some hope for the Church of Scotland. The Church is identified, whatever its internal spiritual and theological differences, with this larger claim about Jesus Christ. Both in its evangelical and pragmatic expressions, it can make the case for Christianity.
As if it were not enough to have to fight the great battle for credibility, Christianity has to wrestle with the claims of other faiths and with the political strategy of equalizing all religious claims. Clearly, the best can only suffer in such a political culture. Down-sizing Christianity has been an aspect of Scottish Labour Party policy for well over a century. Islam has a much higher profile in the media than has Christianity, even if it is far from good news.
Christianity has not defined itself distinctly in public at all, neither in Scotland nor in England. This is a very serious matter to which the Church of Scotland can and should be giving much attention. The silence is deafening. Without such clarification of the person of Jesus Christ the titular head of the Church of Scotland, there can be no recovery of the loss of identity, presence and proportion that has befallen the Church of Scotland in the last 25 years.
The implication in a large number of answers to question 14 is that the Church of Scotland is no longer thoroughly grounded in and connected to the central Christian message of the last 2000 years. At the very least, it does not say as much. And so the following suggestions were made to return the Church to the way from which it is perceived to have strayed.
(There needs to be a) “return to Gd, rediscovery of the Reformed heritage and clarity about beliefs''.
"Return to Biblical preaching from Bible-based ministers - preaching the pure Gospel with love and reasoning".
It is hard to think that any of the Reformers would have objected to this suggestion. This was the practice of the larger part of the Church of Scotland throughout most of its 445 years. Today this suggestion may be characterised as 'fundamentalism' and considered with suspicion and fear. Some respondents said that they regret the growing strength of the conservative evangelical movement within the Church of Scotland. Others regard it as something to be curtailed. (How that can be done, I do not know!). Certainly, if the appeal is to the Bible, as the supreme authority without question or debate, then that is problematic. The use of reason to explain what the Bible says in the light of current knowledge should, however, be acceptable to anyone in the Reformed tradition.
The sense of drift from the Christian centre occupied by many growing and expanding churches throughout the world is emphasised by the desire expressed by many respondents for 'revival'. This seems to mean for most people something accomplished not by the gifts, skills, management and organisation of members of the Church and certainly not by 121 George Street, but by a work of God through the Holy Spirit acting upon people almost in spite of themselves.
A great desire for spiritual discipline through personal and collective prayer (and even fasting) is in evidence in the responses. It would be surprising to find that this was unwelcome in the Church of Scotland. Cynics in the corridors of power might say that as long as the money keeps coming in, they can pray as much as they want, as long as we keep control of the funds. If the public image of the Church reflected what appears to be sincere Christian piety, would this be a help to the Church of Scotland? Would the media be understanding, sympathetic or helpful? It is doubtful. Church of Scotland taken over by fundamentalists might be occasional headlines, accompanied by the helpful embellishment, ''Insiders at the Church of Scotland fear that fundamentalism has now gained power and influence at the centre of the Church of Scotland". It would appear as a negative story.
And yet the evidence is that the Church of Scotland is dying of lack of faith, confidence, belief and purpose. A Church based on living preaching to others will surely die if it has nothing to say or fears saying it. Respondents talk of recovering confidence and speaking positively.
(What is required is) "true Christian faith that would help the whole world not just the Church of Scotland".
"Prayer and a national day of prayer and Bible study (is needed). Preaching the Gospel. A statement from every pulpit that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday; today and forever. The one transcendent God can guide the church through the present secular crisis but we need confident united leadership based on scholarly Bible teaching".
“Back to the basics of belief and a greater social conscience displayed and advertised to local congregations and to the Scottish public".
"To seek the Lord in prayer for his purpose in Scotland in this critical and insecure age in which we live".
"Evangelism to awaken the secular outsiders to what their eternal future will be unless they begin to experience and practise true belief in God through Jesus as Saviour and Lord (with) more regular Holy Communion for members to keep them in mind of what Jesus has done for us all".
The Church of Scotland does not give out the message that such sentiments are central to its life and work. Basic confidence in the 'beyond this human life' eternal dimension seems to be lacking and is virtually non-existent in such public statements that emanate from 121 George Street. It is said that some of the staff there are not even Christian.
"Revival by the Holy Spirit bringing conviction of sin, pointing to Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord, producing a membership born again, believing and obedient to the Word of God. This would revitalise worship and service, evangelism and giving. We would permeate society as Jesus commanded with benefits in industry; community; politics, education, etc., to the glory of God".
Is such spiritual zeal welcome in the Church of Scotland? Maybe as long as it stays north of Perth. But could such vision actually inform the central administration of the Church of Scotland, including the choice of Moderator? It seems most unlikely at present.
"To concentrate on serving the people of Scotland especially pensioners, widows and widowers instead of free-bee trips and self-indulgent parties by the Church hierarchy and Moderators who are self-serving . Our family and congregation are leaving the Church to join the Society of Friends and Salvation Army to whom we are bequeathing our legacies".
Ouch! No legacies! Now that is serious. The scale of grass roots disillusion is expressed by these words and actions. It is not acceptable to dismiss such losses. We cannot quantify how many such disaffected there are throughout the land. The Church should seek to re-engage the committed by properly representing them in the central corridors of power.
"We have to get back to what Jesus told us "Go and tell of me". The Church of Scotland is interested in and worried about money and listed buildings and has lost its way".
"As it is obvious today that evangelical churches are increasing in their congregations so we should learn something from this and not just rely on our traditions".
"By spending more time on missionary work within Scotland to get the message of Christ's love to the vast majority of the population who have either lost their way or are in total ignorance of 'The Way; the Truth and the Life”
There is sufficient indication of the relational and spiritual dimension of these and similar thoughts to be able to deny that this is some kind of cold, hard fundamentalism.
'To take seriously Christ's. command to go out and a) preach the Gospel b) heal the sick and c) proclaim the Kingdom. On the whole the Church has opted to do a) and c) and almost completely ignores b). The New Testament says that the Word was confirmed by 'signs fo1lowing' (St Mark 16:20)".
"Maybe communion could be held monthly and in a less formal and more relaxed atmosphere. Presently if is cold and clinical. It lacks warmth and sincerity because if is so formal and inflexible".
"Abandon rationalism and become more spiritual".
"Modernize through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit".
(The Church needs) "to be led by the Holy Spirit and not by man".
"Less law and more grace".
"An increase in Christian love and tolerance and a decrease in critical introspection".
".To open up to the Holy Spirit and the fruits of the Spirit. Be humble and learn
from other Christians and from Jesus Christ".
"Faith, prayer and example, less 'sour' faces".
"Prayer fully seeking the will of God".
"Prayer first and foremost. The New Testament Church was a praying Church".
These are testimonies of the best kind of Christian Church member. But are they respected or feared by the liberal / political establishment? When will their faithfulness to the Church of Scotland be recognised and rewarded? When will the Church's public image reflect their openness and piety?
What single Thing would most help The Church of Scotland?
Question 14 offered each respondent the opportunity to suggest one thing that would help the Church of Scotland. A wealth of ideas were forthcoming. clearly, just one thing alone would not help. But a number of ideas taken together would.
1110 answers, comments and letters adding to more than 25,000 words.
Reducing the Power of 121 George Street - 147
Clear Communication of the Christian message from the top - 122
Responsibilities of Laity (including worship, community service and increase in membership) - 119
Education and Conduct of Ministry - 109
Prayer - 103 (including inwardness, spiritual seeking, fasting, personal faith)
Youth Priority – 83
The Bible - 69
Evangelism – 56
Modernizing (including worship, buildings, parishes) – 53
Revival – 51
Centrality of Jesus Christ – 33
Dependence on The Holy Spirit – 27
Lengthening the Term of the Moderator - 13
Return to God - 12
Ecumenical Issues - 11
Christian Education in Schools - 11
Church Without Walls - 8
Other Ideas (including the importance of Christian marriage, loving one's neighbour, unity in the Church, earlier retiral of Presbyters, enthusiasm, joy, passion, don't knows) - 83
Many answers to question 14 were lengthy. It was necessary to take the first main theme in each answer for the purposes of this research at this point in time. It has been possible to take some of the many suggestions offered in answer to question 14 in conjunction with questions 1 - 13 insofar as the subject matter was compatible.
Among the other ideas there were also single suggestions for the help of the Church of Scotland. For example:
"Take more cognizance and lead from the ethos, worship principles and work of the Iona Community".
"An end to all this sport and. supermarkets open all day on Sundays. About 11 years (of age.) children have too many organised activities which keep them and their parents away from morning church and this breaks the habit at a vital stage.
"Responsibility for church buildings to be taken over by the Scottish Executive In recognition of their importance to Scotland".
"A miraculous change in the minds of the population to Christianity".
"An appropriate miracle"
Significant reduction of the power of the bureaucracy at 121 George Street was the numerically largest suggestion. Poor communication from the top of the Church of Scotland was second. Question 11 dealt with this issue. The responsibilities of the laity exercised many as did concern about the training, conduct and style of the ministry. Prayer and personal faith and devotion were very important and if taken together with other categories (God, Jesus Christ, The Holy Spirit, Evangelism, Revival, the Bible) represent deep-seated living Faith. Strict use of respondents' language necessitated separate categories as indicators, for not everyone was saying exactly the same thing.
The People's Responsibilities
One of the most heartening findings of the survey was the extent of members' willingness to take responsibility for the life and future life of the Church of Scotland. There is a widespread willingness to change. There is a consciousness that the Christian Church locally must contribute to the life of the community as well as offer public worship and the sacraments. Members accept that they are the Church and it is their commitment and generosity that matters more than anything. It must be encouraging that this is so clearly articulated in a survey of this kind. The people do want more freedom to witness and work locally. They accept that elders must do more than the basic formalities and that congregations must learn to accept their pastoral contributions.
"The more dedicated lay people that a church can get involved to work with the ministry and bring their everyday talents as housewives, in business, in other organisations to bear to produce a church with modern but still spiritual outlook that people are looking for away from the shallow (TV life / political) lives on offer elsewhere".
"Using and developing the gifts and talents of its people combined with a real and meaningful shift in parish responsibilities. Ministers have to realise that they are not always the most talented or able person for the job. Ministers should minister".
"Community action increasing awareness of the Church in the community; that is, faith and deeds (is needed) - extending the Church Without Walls".
Practical help for the homeless and jobless within our own country - councils and social work departments are not achieving this - putting our money where our mouths are would show that the Church cares".
"Talking about responsibilities -stop saying things and not doing them".
"Freedom from the one church one minister syndrome moving to much team ministry including gifted members focussed on Christ's work in the communities of Scotland. Working with a common set of development values (based on the Gospel, of course)".
An age old problem in Scottish Christianity has been the lack of fluency and articulacy of members of Churches. This is recognised as a hindrance to contemporary communication.
"Ordinary members need to have a deeper theological understanding knowing what they believe and why and being able to discuss it".
"For its members to speak of and act out the incarnate crucified and risen Christ".
"I’d be asking about occasions for local dialogue, getting out of the Church of Scotland box, reclaiming the participation of laity as equal participants in theological dialogue".
Appreciating the central purpose of the existence of the church mattered
"The Church needs to be less focussed on itself. In Christ we die to self and live for others risen with Christ. We need to focus on the lost and scattered sheep. We must pray and obey the Word. We must tithe all, who know the Word and tithing should be preached in all churches and those who hear will obey. This must be prayed for. The Holy Spirit must be allowed to work. This requires autonomy within the Church".
"Members should realise that the Church is now a movement of the 21st century and not an historical institution to be maintained without change".
(There needs to be) "a revitalisation of faith to bring back lapsed and encourage new members. There. should also be a national, open and public celebration of Easter and its message should be organised annually".
Respondents to question 14 considered the training and conduct of ministry to be major factors for the betterment of the Church of Scotland. One suggested that
"part of ministerial training should be taken abroad so that future ministers could learn from the world-wide church".
The need for a dedicated church college was raised. There was a very strong sense that Christian ministers should be convinced of the basic Christian truths. "If ministers believed and preached the faith of their ordination vows".
(There should be).."an increase in personal prayer and Bible reading among ministers".
“A departure from ministries which are driven by informality, novelty and jocularity and a focus on pleasing Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit".
"A return to a clear presentation of the Gospel from pulpits week by week presenting a clear challenge for decision to those in the pews”.
(The Church needs) “more ministers of high calibre who see ‘love’ as a central tenet of the Church and so not see ‘power’, ‘establishment’ and ‘authority’ as important”.
(The Church needs) "a higher calibre of minister".
"Ministers with a genuine call from God to be both pastor and preacher".
"Ministers who are Christians" (is a telling request).
Familiar personifications of authority and value are hard to find in communities. Teachers tend to live in different towns from where they teach. Doctors also now live away from their local surgeries. There are hardly any police to be seen on local streets at any time. The minister almost has the field to herself/himself. There is hardly anyone in a caring position left in any community who is actually available.
Yet, it seems, that the ministry is in danger of following other professions down the absent and invisible route. Ministry can become a managerial task rather than a pastoral role. Professionalisation and even unionisation may also affect the sense of vocation. Members want
"A return to frequent personal visitation to the elderly; infirm and to sick members. In recent years this seems to be dwindling''.
"Ministers who are prepared to do pastoral visiting and not delegate too much to elders - they should lead by example".
"For ministers to be shepherds of the Church and its parishes".
(There should be) "more personal contact through visitation between ministers and parishioners. This might bring more people to Church and therefore help offerings. The reason for this omission appears that the wider work of the Church is being done, but nevertheless we are ignoring the needs of members who in actual fact are supporters of the Church".
Clearly too, some have had some strange and unfortunate experiences with ministers.
"Special training is needed so that new ministers do not think they are 'God' and own the church where they are ministers. They are there to minister to congregations, not own them".
"For ministers to make a far greater effort in respect to delegation and working with their congregations and to get away from 'only a minister can' mindset especially regarding sacraments. Let's face it -many ministers wont even delegate funerals".
(We need) "more forward looking ministers inspiring congregations".
"One problem is authoritarian ministers".
"That the Church Law be altered to reduce the power of the ordained minister so that Church Without Walls would be facilitated. At present the minister can ignore Church Without Walls and run his charge as he chooses. This has the effect of imprisoning the church instead of setting if free to follow Jesus. The ordained minister should be the individual who gives guidance to the Kirk Session on theological matters etc. He should have no powers to manipulate or coerce that body; nor need he be moderator. He should be an enabler to get the best from the Kirk Session and the congregation so that they are empowered as ministers in the priesthood of all believers. At present many members of congregations are reduced to sermon tasters and pew warmers, in effect they are unemployed because the power in the church is in few hands if not just one hand, that of the ordained minister. Until the resources of the Kirk Session and congregation are used the church will continue to decline''.
Someone wrote that the Church should:
"Relax the criteria for applications wishing to study for the ministry. I personally know of two candidates who would make excellent ministers pan have been refused entry and are new thinking of trying for the Methodist Church which is not really what they were trying to achieve".
There were also requests for some of the most basic and obvious aspects of ministry skill such as
"Refresher courses for ministers with a particular emphasis on preaching".
(To) "teach ministers to chair meetings''.
"A radical review of the number of ministers lost to congregations through working at 121 George Street and in jobs not congregation related''.
"Ministers (should be) better trained to be parish ministers".
"Allow people 50 years and over to train and become ministers. i.e., those taking early retirement who can receive an occupational pension once they reach 50".
"Talented and experienced Readers should be ordained to be auxiliary ministers where there are drastic numbers of vacant congregations".
Some respondents also expressed the wish for an expansion of the auxiliary ministry, for abandoning the need to cover all parishes in the nation, for fixed term tenures of 7 years for ministers and for more systematic and definite appraisal of early and continuing ministry.
Prayer and Spiritual Seeking
Underlying nearly all of the responses was a sense of strong personal faith. This should not be surprising because the context of the research project is a Church. The public image of the Church of Scotland does not reflect the personal faith of its members.
“There is no one panacea. The Church of Scotland has made great strides in approaching the formidable challenge of our time to belief, social concern and world issues. We can only be seen to be true to-our faith”
Others, however, are less sanguine.
(There needs to be) "emphasis on evangelism and discipleship and on Work and Sacrifice rather than Word and Sacrament".
"The Priority (must be given) to vision rather than finance".
The point here is that within the Church of Scotland there are many who actually think and believe that it is possible for the Church to be revived. Is this a 'fundamentalist' rump? Or are these people the salt of the Church of Scotland, the leaven in the ecclesiastical body? Are they the light of the Church whose message needs to be set on the hill of public presentation? One respondent asked for
"An outpouring of the Holy Spirit in revival power throughout our Church and land''.
"A nationally inaugurated evangelical revival campaign".
Can the Church of Scotland possibly accommodate such requests as it is presently ordered? Is this vision commensurate with its history? Or is this a kind of church within a church at best and an uncharacteristic minority report at worst. The answers may lie in further questions. Are these prayers, wishes and sentiments consistent with the Bible? Do they conform in particular to the New Testament Church faith and practice? Are they commensurate with the theology of the Scottish Reformers? Has the Church of Scotland departed in its understanding of Christianity from the New Testament and from the theology of the Reformation, notwithstanding the huge expanse in human knowledge, learning and information that has developed over the last 200 years? It does not seem that respondents are lacking in minds or intelligence. On the contrary, they appear to be educated and well informed. But as practising Christians they say they want
"All (the Church's) members to go where the Holy Spirit leads, to serve and love
(There should be) "An annual day of humility",
"A revival in the love of Christ and his teachings".
"Greater personal commitment to Jesus Christ".
Is there any other way forward?
There was a very strong concern for young people in the responses to the survey. This is neither new nor surprising. The Church of Scotland has had many youth programmes and projects for many years. The place of Christianity in the education system is a key factor as is Christianity's relationship to the other faiths taught in what pale representations of religious education survive in the state education sector. The extent of the Church's own responsibility for this situation is an issue worthy of study.
"Taking a vow in public may be a step too far for young people keen to join with others to help the less well off than themselves - but whose beliefs are not yet fully developed".
“Employ more youth workers to encourage more young people to take an interest in the Church".
"Emphasis (should be placed) on youth mission and becoming a missionary Church once again, national and abroad".
"Plan for the future with the young and get rid of Victorian protocols".
"Breaking with traditional worship more to encourage young worshippers".
"Constant provision of meaningful activities for children and young adults".
"A serious evangelistic campaign aimed at young people".
"The Church has to become like the early Church. It is far too legalistic. Exactly what Jesus challenged the Pharisees with".
"The Church established a school in every parish and now, because of political correctness religious instruction is not taught in non-denominational schools except for the festivals of the different religions. This means that many, many young people never hear the Church’s message''.
“Why are the local Catholic and Baptist churches more successful at keeping young families? Whatever they do we need to be considering".
"Our children are not taught very much at Sunday School".
"A spiritual awakening to encourage two lost generations towards attendance and support for their local church" (is needed).
"Disproportionate budget to be spent on recruiting and training under 40's and teenagers and thereafter retaining them”.
(The Church should) "encourage the Scottish Executive to re-introduce daily and weekly religious assemblies from primary schools".
(There should be a) “return of the Christian (and the Church of Scotland) ethic into education".
(We should be) "showing much more strength of leadership. Not being afraid to stand up and be counted e.g., in the question of Christian Assemblies in schools. Are we so afraid that we may offend some ethnic groups that at the first suggestion we are abandoning our Scottish Christian heritage?"
"Probably (there should be) less teaching in primary schools about other religions – children are muddled”
(Church of Scotland ministers need) "influence in schools as much as Roman Catholic priests have in their denominational schools".
On;y a few replies to question 14 wrote in favour of ecumenism, putting years of costly establishment bureaucratic promotion into perspective”.
"To continue working together with other churches and A.C.T.S for greater Christian unity".
"The encouragement and freedom for each congregation to BE part of the Body of Christ in its parish in conjunction with other local churches''.
Church Without Walls
Church Without Walls was important to a surprisingly small number of respondents.
"Church without Walls is a good thing. Plugging away at this may eventually bring in others including young people".
But not everyone agreed.
"Tear up Church Without Walls".
There is great faith and commitment among members of the Church of Scotland. The Church can be renewed and revived. However, it can only do so if and when and wholly different strategy for authority and organisation is put in place. An entirely new deal must be offered to the faithful whose presence, efforts, prayer, worship, service and financial generosity constitute the actual Church of Jesus Christ.
May this book help towards that Christian purpose.