Archive for the “Church of Scotland” Category

This isn’t working! There, I’ve said it. I feel better already. I’ve been meaning to say it for a long time – in fact I can’t remember a time in the last 30 years when I haven’t thought it. Oh – it’s the Church I’m talking about, by the way.

‘The Emporer’s New Church’ by Stewart Cutler in Inside Verdict, 2003

It’s ten years since I wrote those words. Inside Verdict was a book that was supposed to tell a hopeful story about the state of the Church of Scotland as a response to Outside Verdict by Harry Reid. I remember being asked to write about the good things happening in adult education at the time. The problem was that there wasn’t much happening.

Instead of making something up I wrote about my concerns. I haven’t read that chapter for years so I picked it up this morning to see what I was worried about then. I wasn’t surprised to see that the issues I was concerned about then are the same issues we were still talking about last night. A disconnection with 3 or 4 generations, the lack of spiritual practices, a reticence to say what we stand for and the inability of people to escape structures that inhibit and just to get on and make change.

It’s funny how self interest sharpens focus.

The generation gap in churches has been evident for years. I remember my sister and I being the youngest people in our church at 15 and 18 years of age. The next youngest was my mother and father and then there was another 10 year gap. That wasn’t in any way unusual. At a succession of Youth Assemblies young people would consistently say that they were the only people of their age in their church.

This has become a big issue for churches now because people aren’t going forward for training for ministry. Peter Johnston has blogged about this and about the various characteristics of the generations; the builders, boomers, Xers and Yers.

It would seem that Builders (65-80) were committed to rebuilding the post-war world and the church was at the heart of their institutional world.

Boomers (48-65) grew up in that post-war landscape with huge prosperity and opportunity. They have also known massive change in almost every area of life.

Gen X (30-45) is also known as the lost generation. They see the commitment their Builder and Boomer parents had to work and how their parents’ relationships suffered because of that. They are less likely to commit to leadership roles and value their own relationships much more highly. X-ers expect support structures and like team working.

Generation Y (Under 30s) are the children of Boomers so have experienced support and security. They look for meaningful interaction and fulfilment and expect to be able to question.

The wake up call around a lack of ministers makes me want to scream! Sociological analysis of the changing generations has been around for years and yet the church only gets interested because those changes threaten the organisational structure of an institution which caters primarily for Builders and Boomers.

One of the traits of Builders and Boomers was a need to work hard and provide a better life for their children. The impact of that was for Builders and Boomers to keep hold of responsibility and create institutions based on their perceptions of what their children would need, security, structure and consistency. However, those are the very things that Gen X and Gen Y kick against.

I’ve written about Bored Adults before. My theory is that we are still reasonably good at working with children and young people but that church is almost completely opposite to the active and engaging world of children’s and youth work.

This chart is based on Honey & Mumford’s work on learning styles.

It illustrates my belief that there is a significant difference between the things we do with children and young people which lean heavily towards the activist and the things we do in church where we lean the other way towards the theorist.

If learning styles are an indication of the kinds of activities people are likely to prefer to engage with then it doesn’t seem at all surprising that so few young people make the jump from youth work to church?

Activists learn best when:

  • involved in new experiences, problems and opportunities
  • working with others in team tasks or role-playing
  • being thrown in the deep end with a difficult task
  • chairing meetings, leading discussions

Activists learn less when:

  • listening to lectures or long explanations
  • reading, writing or thinking on their own
  • absorbing and understanding data
  • following precise instruction to the letter

Theorists learn best when:

  • put in complex situations where they have to use their skills and knowledge
  • they are in structured situations with clear purpose
  • they are offered interesting ideas or concepts even though they are not immediately relevant
  • they have the chance to question and probe ideas

Theorists learn less when:

  • they have to participate in situations which emphasise emotion and feelings
  • the activity is unstructured or briefing is poor
  • they have to do things without knowing the principles or concepts involved
  • they feel they’re out of tune with the other participants, for example people with different learning styles

Chalk and Cheese.

Of course these are preferences and people can work in both preferences as well as Pragmatist and Reflector. We each have elements of all four preferences but the leanings towards opposite ends concerns me.

But I think this confronts us with a fundamental question: what is the church for?

The different generations might answer this question differently and that’s the source of the problem. The Builders and Boomers got there first, so we have a church built in their image.

Gen X and Gen Y are not interested in hanging about until things change. They are much more likely to go off in search of something that fits better, start something else or just walk away completely.

So, I’m left with some big core questions:

  • about the balance of what we do as church and the real possibility of change while Builders and Boomers hold the reigns
  • about how the things we do and how we do them says so much about who we are, and who we are not, who we are for and who we are not for
  • why would people engage with something so far from their needs, wants, preferences and comfort zone

So, that’s the context as I see it.

Does it ring true in your experience? Am I asking the right questions or are there other more important ones?

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Roddy Hamilton has moved church to Bearsden: New Kilpatrick recently so his invaluable Chocolate Teapots and bits and pieces of inspired words for worship, Mucky Paws, are now housed at Listening to the Stones.  Always worth a visit.


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The final day of the General Assembly is always the least well attended.  It tends to be the pensions, trustees and stewardship type committees.  Short reports and few decisions.

But not today.

The Ministries Council report was remaindered yesterday and so mid-morning the discussion about Ordained Local Ministry began again.  Eventually Assembly voted 200-190 in favour of the Council’s proposals to begin to train people to perform certain ministry functions, including sacraments.

Delv 8. Approve the introduction of an Ordained Local Ministry as outlined in the Report and instruct the Council to bring forward further details of the training process and appropriate legislation to the General Assembly 2012. (Section 1.8.2 – 1.8.5)


Concept of OLM: OLM is conceived as a nonstipendiary form of the ministry of Word and Sacrament, aimed at engaging those with an appropriately tested sense of call towards ordination, but who wish to serve
primarily in a localised ministry. This would often, though not exclusively, be in support of those working in leadership roles as Parish Ministers (whether full-time or part-time). The normal expectation would be that OLMs would offer around 10 hours per week in an unpaid role, though it is recognised that some may find themselves in situations where they are able and willing to offer more time. It is also likely that in some circumstances
OLMs will be appointed to work in other roles specifically designated by Presbyteries, for some of which they may receive payment (eg as a Locum).

I’m all for this development.  I think the reservation of sacraments is much more about power than about praise and I’m glad that the Church of Scotland has taken this positive step.

It raises lots of questions about the role and responsibilities of ministers of word and sacrament but I think that particular discussion is way overdue and one for another post.

It was a shame to see such an empty Assembly Hall making such an important decision.  I wonder when the Assembly will start to register voting like Parliament so you can see who voted and who was absent.

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Today was another fascinating day at the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly.

I’d love to be able to write about the discussion about Israel / Palestine but I was out and so didn’t see what was by all accounts an excellent discussion.

I did see the Panel on Review and Reform have their plan for renewing presbyteries rejected.  It was a strange discussion during which the convener never really made the case for the changes they were proposing.

The Panel had proposed:

7. Affirm the need for a mechanism of devolved authority to reform the present presbyteries so that they may become the regional areas of proclamation, support and oversight as envisaged in the report.
A Model for Change
8. Affirm that Local Area Groupings and Presbytery Assemblies would present the Church with an exciting opportunity to develop and strengthen its capacity to celebrate and collaborate.
9. Agree the principle of the creation of Local Area Groupings, Presbyteries, Presbytery Assemblies and Presbytery Councils.
10. Welcome the formation of Local Area Groupings as the place where presbyteries encourage, support and resource missional initiatives of congregations and promote the core commitment contained in the Church of Scotland’s Vision Statement.
11. Call upon Presbyteries to become the primary levers of change for their own re-formation.
12. Instruct Presbyteries to establish dialogue groups as set out in Appendix 7 to facilitate the implementation of the proposed presbytery structure.

Resources Necessary to Facilitate and Sustain Such Change
13. Welcome the commitment of the Ministries Council to devolve a ministries budget2 to a reduced number of betterresourced presbyteries and note the intention of the Council of Assembly and the Ministries Council to develop pilot schemes for this purpose.
14. Note with approval that the Panel on Review and Reform and Ministries Council will work in partnership to facilitate and monitor all aspects of the process of transition towards a reformed presbytery structure through the creation of an Implementation Management Group, chaired by a member of the Panel.

Instead a conter motion won on a fairly close vote.

Replace Sections 7 to 17 with a new 7:

7(a) Affirm the 3 key functions of Presbytery:
— proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through worship; witness, nurture and service;
— encouraging, strengthening and supprting the people of God;
— supervision of the work of the Church within its bounds including appropriate oversight of congregations and ministries
7(b) Encourage Presbyteries to engage imaginatively with their neighbours to develop and strengthen the life and work of Presbytery, supported by the Councils of the Church.
7(c) Thank the Panel on Review and Reform for their work

The question that leaves is ‘what now?’.

There was no argument that presbyteries don’t work as places that encourage mission and fellowship but people wondered if that was more about the attitude than the structure.

I’ll watch with interest to see what happens next…

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Just a link for anyone looking for information about Suicide First Aid Training as recommended by the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly today.

Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) is intended as ‘suicide first-aid’ training. ASIST aims to enable helpers (anyone in a position of trust) to become more willing, ready and able to recognise and intervene effectively to help persons at risk of suicide.

safeTALK is intended as “suicide alertness” training. safeTALK teaches community members to recognise persons with thoughts of suicide and to connect them to suicide intervention resources. It is designed for communities or organisations that already have ASIST trained helpers in place to maximise intervention as the main suicide prevention focus.

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One of the things that happened in yesterday’s General Assembly debate on the report of the Special Commission on Same-Sex Relationships and Ministry was some new labels.

‘traditionalists’ and ‘revisionists’ now seem to be the labels of choice.

These are interesting labels for a number of reasons.

I wonder how they make sense in a church whose ‘motto’ is ‘always reforming’?  Which ‘traditions’ and ‘revisions’ are we talking about?  The traditions of the reformation?  The traditions of the Old or New Testament?  The traditions of a denomination?

As a denomination the Church of Scotland has moved away from a number of ‘traditional’ views.  Slavery, the role of women, the enforcement of the Sabbath, stools at the front of churches used to ridicule ‘sinners’, music in church, access to communion…  I wonder how many people would agree or disagree with each of those?  And what label would we apply?

I think we need to be very careful about which labels we embrace and about what claims those label make for different points of view.  The use of labels creates difference.  It forces people to take sides.

I noticed today in Assembly a ‘traditionalist’ and a ‘revisionist’ agreeing wholeheartedly with each other about climate change.

Labels at the very least simplistic and at worst divisive in an area that doesn’t need any help to cause division.  The reality of the debate around sexuality is that opinion exists on a spectrum and I suspect that there are many more people in the middle that at the ends.

I’ve already said that I’m not fluent in Greek and Hebrew.  We rely on others to help us interpret, to understand and to explore.  There are a variety of views on, and understandings of, scripture.  Is it the role of our ministers to tell us what they think?  Or is it their role to help us to understand the range of opinion?

The thing that concerns me most in this and any other theological discussion is the degree of certainty exhibited.  Jesus said things that those closest to him didn’t understand.  God continues to reveal His purpose for the world.  We claim to seek the will of God.  In many ways this discussion reminds me of the crusaders who would make a point and assert ‘God wills it!’.  It’s hard to argue with God.  But of course that’s not what is happening now… is it?

Surely our understanding of God is at the very least provisional as it has been throughout history (as shown in the Bible).  I wonder if ‘always reforming’ is the ‘tradition’ we are talking about?

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Today was an interesting day at the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly.  As I’ve outlined below, today was all about the Special Commission on Same-Sex Relationships and Ministry.

The debate was long and to be honest we didn’t hear an awful lot that hasn’t already been said in the discussion already.  What was most interesting was that I got the impression the discussion seemed to be dominated by ‘traditionalist’ voices but that the votes, although close, went the other way.

I spent the day wondering why the Kirk couldn’t just get on with deciding.  There was lots of talk about agreeing to differ, about the need for unity above all else and even about the need for the Church of Scotland to ‘set an example’.  The choice looked like which variety of fudge you preferred but as the debate went on it became obvious that their was neither the appetite for a fight nor a form of words available that would precipitate one.

So, where does today’s decision leave the Church of Scotland?

Well, not really anywhere different but perhaps on an interesting ‘trajectory’.  By agreeing:

(b) Resolve to consider further the lifting of the moratorium on the acceptance for training and ordination of persons in a same-sex relationship, and to that end instruct the Theological Commission to prepare a report for the General Assembly of 2013 containing:
(i) a theological discussion of issues around same-sex relationships, civil partnerships and marriage;
(ii) an examination of whether, if the Church were to allow its ministers freedom of conscience in deciding whether to bless same-sex relationships involving life-long commitments, the recognition of such lifelong relationships should take the form of a blessing of a civil partnership or should involve a liturgy to recognise and celebrate commitments which the parties enter into in a Church service in addition to the
civil partnership, and if so to recommend liturgy therefor;
(iii) an examination of whether persons, who have entered into a civil partnership and have made lifelong commitments in a Church ceremony, should be eligible for admission for training, ordination and induction as ministers of Word and Sacrament or deacons in the context that no member of Presbytery will be required to take part in such ordination or induction against his or her conscience; and to report to the General Assembly of 2013.

the Assembly has set the tone for the next phase of discussion on a more permissive path.

Part of today’s problem was one I’ve mentioned before and one that is prominent in the deliverance, Civil Partnerships.  By failing to accept Civil Partnerships the Kirk finds itself in a place where it can’t really discipline its ministers in a fair and equitable way.  Without recognising partnerships there is no equivalent to marriage, and that’s going to continue to be problematic.

So, we’ll see where this goes but the BBC are reporting that the Kirk has lifted its ban on gay ministers.  That’s at best simplistic and at worst going to inflame the discussion when calm is what the church wanted more than anything.

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