I'm sure that one way or another you will have heard that the Church of Scotland is facing big challenges. Part of the response to all that is happening is that at the General Assembly, the Church passed a new Presbytery Mission Plan Act which in effect seeks to cut the number of ministry posts to 600, carrying 60 vacancies at any one time, thus a total of 660, by the year 2025. This is basically finance driven, i.e., that's all we can afford, and it's also related to the fact that over 35% of ministers will retire in the next 5 years, me included.
All this will mean a reduction in the numbers of ministries that every Presbytery has and so Glasgow which at present has about 130, will be reduced to 84. Now when "ministries" is mentioned, that's not just a reference to ministers like me, i.e., full time ministers of Word and Sacrament, but also to all the centrally paid for ministries in Glasgow's churches such as Deacons and parish workers of different kinds.
Newton Mearns being part of the Glasgow Presbytery will, no doubt, be affected by the new numbers which have to be incorporated into a Plan by September 2022 and fully approved by the National Church by December 2022. So in the course of the next year and a bit, Glasgow Presbytery will be deciding how it allocates its 84 ministries and how many ministries places like Newton Mearns will have.
Alongside the reduction in ministries is a strong drive to cut down the number of buildings that the Church has. Basically there are far too many and a lot of them are in the wrong places. Also, as we know, congregational numbers in some of them are pretty low! Buildings then will also have to be approved under the new Mission Plan and combining the reduction in both ministries and buildings we will see congregations coming together under a shared ministry and building.
As the church plans its way ahead there is an underlying principle which will determine the shape of the Church of Scotland, which obviously relates to life at the congregational level. The principle is one of Mission. This means that the emerging church will have mission at its heart and in doing so congregations will be encouraged to shape their life around the 5 Marks of Mission. These are :
• To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
• To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.
• To respond to human need by loving service.
• To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind, and pursue peace and reconciliation.
• To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
There's a lot there and each congregation will have to unpack it in relation to its own context.
In light of all that's coming our way, Presbytery is encouraging us to discuss how we see the future and to offer our own thoughts about it. So, on Sunday 19th of September after church, our BIG CHAT will begin and you are invited to take part in it. Numbers might be limited due to any "covid restrictions" but submissions can be made by way of email, letter or however you want to communicate. This is only the first of our times to consider the way ahead and we will be transparent all the way along.
There will be, at particular times, no answers to our questions due to the information that we will not be able to obtain from the Big Church as they themselves are trying to work things out. The thing is though, it's better to have some ideas to present to the Presbytery rather than just sit and wait to be told. In due course our CHAT will get wider as we talk with the other churches in Mearns about how they see things and as we look for points of connection.
I believe that there's a lot to do in respect of the change that is coming, and of course all that in the midst of the ongoing life of Mearns Kirk. Much prayer and grace will be needed. The big question that we should be asking is, what is God wanting for the Church in Newton Mearns?
May God lead and guide us; may we have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying, and hearts to respond to the call of Jesus.