Rev. John Collard (our Interim Moderator)

Time for Radical Action

In May 2018 the Council of Assembly, the body with responsibility for resources, staffing and finance for the whole church, brought a Strategic Plan to the General Assembly for approval.  But the Commissioners at last year’s General Assembly were unimpressed and in dramatic fashion the Strategic Plan was rejected. It didn’t go far enough and failed to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation facing the church. Instead the Council of Assembly were instructed to return to the 2019 General Assembly with a more radical plan. This Radical Action Plan has now been published and you can find the full text online. The full Blue Book - all the reports to the General Assembly - is at https://ga.churchofscotland.org.uk/publications/blue-book
and the Council of Assembly report is Section 7 on page 59.

It begins by reaffirming the principal calling of the church, in the words of Jesus, to ‘follow me’. This is a deliberate echo of the 2001 Church without Walls report. CWW influenced a generation of people to place mission at the heart of all that we do. But it also contained proposals for structural change and re-alignment of resources that were never fully implemented. The Radical Action Plan of 2019 is an attempt to correct that imbalance.

The challenges the Church of Scotland faces are not unique to our denomination and they are well known and obvious to anyone familiar with church life: declining and aging membership, shortage of ministers, the challenge of maintaining unsuitable buildings, failure to engage effectively with younger generations, and so on. The reasons for these challenges are complex and simplistic solutions will not be effective, but it would be a major failure of leadership to ignore them, so the Council of Assembly should be commended for the work they have done over the last two years.

Amongst the proposals of the Radical Action Plan that will come before this year’s General Assembly this month are some eye-catching ideas: a Growth Fund of £20m - £25m over 5 years to supplement and increase the work supported by the Go For It Fund; legislation to enable and encourage hubs, networks, and other new forms of local church; finding fresh ways of supporting congregations in long term vacancies; a determination to establish, by 2024, twelve Presbyteries rather than the current 43 in Scotland; initiatives specifically aimed at engaging people aged 40 and under; increased regional support in the areas of buildings, safeguarding, financial accounting and local staff employment.

Each of these ideas includes details of how the objectives should be achieved and what the timescale for implementation. The report also proposes a monitoring process requiring an annual assessment of progress towards achieving its aims.
It would be easy to be cynical about all this, and the report itself helpfully acknowledges that lasting change will only be achieved when accompanied by a deep commitment to prayer: “Whilst plans (and strategies) are important to set the tone, to give direction and to remove key impediments to effective mission, any real change must be rooted in prayer and in listening, humbly, to the Spirit of God.”

This feels like an important moment in the life of our national church, so please remember to pray for all involved in General Assembly as it meets in Edinburgh from 18th to 24th May.

John Collard
Interim Moderator