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Digital Subscriptions > Life and Work > July 2019 > A radical week

A radical week

Thomas Baldwin reports from this year’s General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

RADICAL ACTION AGREED

The General Assembly of 2019 opened with a reminder from the Convener of the Council of Assembly that its decisions could ‘shape the future of the Church for years to come’; and closed with the Lord High Commissioner, the Duke of Buccleuch, saying someone had described it as the most significant Assembly since 1929.

Only time will tell whether either of those statements are true, but what can be said is that the General Assembly accepted three reports that between them have the potential to radically reshape the Church of Scotland.

First to be agreed were the recommendations of the Special Commission on Structural Reform. These included the setting up of a new body of trustees to replace the Council of Assembly, which will be responsible for overseeing the work of the central charity and its finances, and ensuring all parts of the organisation are working in accordance with the strategic priorities of the Church.

That group is tasked with delivering a reduction in the cost of the central organisation of about 20-30%, the merging of four Councils into two and discussions with CrossReach (the Church’s Social Care operation) aimed at making it a more financially sustainable organisation.

The convener of the Special Commission proposing the reform, the Rev Professor David Fergusson, told the Assembly that the changes were necessary to create ‘organisational structures capable of responding with sufficient speed and flexibility to the enormous challenges we face’ – declining membership and income, a shortage of ministers, and an operating deficit of £4.5m this year.

Prof Fergusson emphasised that not all the savings would come from staff costs, but he did note that staffing levels have ‘risen steadily in recent years’, even while Church membership has fallen.

The reorganisation of the Councils will see the Ministries and Mission and Discipleship Councils combined into one ‘inward-facing’ body, while the World Mission and Church and Society Councils will merge into an ‘outward-facing’ group. This is expected to take effect on January 1 2020.

Other changes include the appointment of a Chief Officer to oversee staff and budgets at the central church; the Assembly Arrangements Committee to be replaced by a new Assembly Business Committee; the discharging of the Panel on Review and Reform; and the establishment of a new research facility to inform the development of policy across the Church.

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About Life and Work

IN THIS ISSUE HOLIDAY CLUB MISSION The churches engaging with children during school holidays 'GOD'S GIFT TO THIS BEAUTIFUL, DAMAGED WORLD' Interview with Eco-Congregations Chaplain, the Rev David Coleman ASSEMBLY 2019 The week in words and pictures ...and much more