Posts Tagged “Church of Scotland”

I was invited by the good people of Angus Presbytery to come and talk about the stuff I’ve written about Missing Generations last weekend and they kindly filmed all the seminars.  So, here’s my seminar…

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I’ve been one for 20 years.

It began around 1989 when I completed the Boys’ Brigade’s King George IV officer cadet training and became a BB officer.

I’ve worked with young people and the adults who work with them for all of my adult life.  Most of this work has been in a church context and for most of that time I have been employed to work for a denomination.

I am a trained community worker with knowledge and skills in community building, group work, informal learning, social research and reflective practice.

I lead worship almost every Sunday in a variety of churches.

I teach ministers in training and in service and I lecture on a Youth And Community Work with Applied Theology degree.

No one has ever called me one.

In fact just the opposite.  People often ask me when I will become a proper one.  A minister.

They mean a Minister of Word and Sacrament.  A dog collar wearing, robed up preacher who is allowed to preside at Communion, conduct weddings and baptise people.

I don’t blame people for this.  That’s the only kind of ‘minister’ they know.  And that’s the problem.

That view of ministry creates a hierarchy of ministry with the Ministers of Word and Sacrament at the top and it doesn’t leave any space for the ministries that others perform.  That means that we don’t value those ministries.  In fact we don’t even talk about them in terms of ministry.

When was the last time you heard a Sunday school teacher talk about their ministry?  Or someone serving soup in a lunch club talk about their ministry?

Our understanding of ‘Ministry’ is killing the church.

Ministers (the word & sacrament kind) aren’t killing the church.  They are as much the victim of this as anyone else.

As soon as you elevate one position above others you create a hierarchy.  We ‘set ministers apart’.  Set apart from what?  Life?  Responsibility?  Other people?  Sadly, it’s the later.  We tell ministers that they are special, different, called to something by God, and then we complain when they act like it.

I think the job of ‘minister’ is important.  I think that it is good for communities to have someone who is enabled to spend their time working to build and sustain the community, to inspire and lead, to equip and enable.

But that’s not what we train ministers to do.

We train them to do our theology for us.  That’s dangerous.  Not because they aren’t good at it but because it means we, the mere mortals in the pews, don’t have to bother.

I’ve worked as a youth worker.  People employ youth workers partly for their skills but also partly so they don’t have to do youth work.  Someone else will do it on their behalf.  I heard a phone in on the radio the other day about litter.  The resounding opinion of the callers was ‘I’m not picking up someone else’s litter.  That’s someone else’s job.’  And that’s how it is with ministry.

Often Ministers fall into the trap and play along.  And complain that people leave everything to them.  Congregations fall into the trap and play along.  They leave everything to the minister and complain that they don’t get to do anything.

We have a system that de-skills people, including Ministers.  For example, training in practical theology doesn’t make you a marriage or bereavement counsellor and yet we expect ministers to do these jobs, and with no professional supervision.  The good ones know their limitations and pass people on to those who can deal with these issues but too many think their theological training means they can deal with difficult situations.

At the same time we may have people in our congregations with these skills who feel unable to offer them because pastoral care is the Minister’s job.

We have a system that means we value 1 hour a week more than the other 167.  The sad think is we actually expect very little of people in that 1 hour.  Their role is to sing, shut their eyes, listen and put money in the plate.

This just won’t do.

In an organisation like this Builders will try to maintain what is.  Boomers will hijack any power that’s going (look around a kirk session, elder’s meeting or parish council and tell me that’s not true!).

Xers and Yers on the other hand will just go off and find places that their contribution is sought and valued, where their opinion is expected and their thoughts encouraged and developed.

Church needs to start to value the spiritual gifts of everyone equally.  The Sunday school teacher’s ministry is just as, if not more important than the Minister’s.  The person who makes the soup for the lunch club’s ministry is just as, if not more important than the Minister’s.  Growing faith and feeding people.  When did they become something less?

If we are going to persist with Ministers of Word and Sacrament their role needs to be much more about being the teaching elder they are meant to be.  Their role has to be about enabling, encouraging and assisting than entertaining and imparting knowledge using big words.

Their job is about making sure people feel that their spiritual insights are valued, helping people to discover and maintain spiritual practices (more on those later) that will sustain them and give them deeper insight and they must be about growing and developing community.

That means having different set of skills in addition to some theological training.

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OneKirk conference

What Kind of Church


  • What are the issues facing the church today?
  • What kind of church are we?
  • What kind of church do we seek to build?

OneKirk is hosting a conference that offers a space for open and honest discussion about these questions for everyone in the church.

What kind of church?
Speaker: Rev Peter Macdonald (The Iona Community)


“What kind of Community?”
How we relate to our world today

led by Rev David McLachlan (Langside Parish Church)

“What kind of Book?”
Making sense of the Bible today

led by Rev Fiona Bennett (Augustine United Church)

Download Event Poster to publicise this event with your congregation or group.


Saturday 29 October 2011

10:30 a.m.—3:45 p.m.
(registration and refreshments from 10 a.m.)

Broughton St Mary’s Parish Church
12 Bellevue Crescent, Edinburgh, EH3 6NE.


Cost is £8 (including lunch, payable on the door with cheques made out to “OneKirk”)

We would greatly appreciate prior registration to assist with planning catering needs. Please email admin [at] onekirk [dot] org or phone 01698 327958 with your name, address, phone number and email adress. Many thanks.

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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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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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