2010. május 14., péntek

Church of Scotland plans to cut ministers by up to 100

Church of Scotland plans to cut ministers by up to 100
Cash shortfall option could spark parish revolt


Craig Brown
25 April 2010

THE Church of Scotland faces a parish revolt over plans to cut ministers by up to 100 over the next four years to stave off a financial crisis.

The proposal comes in a report from the Kirk's Ministries Council expected to provoke heated opposition at the General Assembly next month.

The report also suggests that ministers should consider job-shares and that trained but unpaid ordained staff should be employed to take up any shortfalls.

The Church has a budget deficit of £5.7 million. Describing the situation as "completely unsustainable," the Rev Dr Martin Scott, head of the Ministries Council, insisted action must be taken to reduce minister numbers or the church would eventually run out of cash to pay its staff.

"We've been saying since 2005 that we need a change in the shape of ministry, not just because it would be good for us and the way we go about ministry, but we simply can't afford to go on doing what we are doing."

He added that the job cuts would be made though "natural wastage" as ministers retired, as well as a cap on numbers joining the church from other denominations.

The Kirk employs 1,234 parish staff, including ministers and presbytery workers, but wants to reduce the number to 1,000. This would include a reduction in full-time ministers from 975 to around 870.

Some senior Church figures warned the proposal will face resistance from congregations used to having their own parish minister and that "hard questions" would be asked of the council at the Assembly.

However, Scott said that the use of unpaid support staff was a common practice in English churches.

"What we are trying to say, as a reformed church, is that we've always maintained that we believed in the ministry of all God's people. Ministry was not something limited to people ordained for that purpose. We're trying to live up to that now in a different way."

The council's plans are symptomatic of the financial strictures that the Kirk faces, having been hit hard by the economic downturn. Earlier this year, ministers had their salaries frozen at an average of £20,000, with £10,000 in benefits.

But some parishes are expected to fight the proposal to cut minister numbers.

The Rev Peter Johnston, minister of Blantyre St Andrew's Parish Church in the Presbytery of Hamilton, said:

"I have heard of smaller presbyteries who are absolutely up in arms and refusing to go along with it," he said. "Our one has taken it very seriously, placing a hold on any vacancies until after the General Assembly, so no decisions are made that we have to turn back after it."

And the Rev Hugh Smith, clerk of the Presbytery of Moray, said:

"I think there will be a lot of hard questions asked at the Assembly. I would think it would be true to say that the older ministers would not be in favour of it."

The Rev Steven Reid, minister for Crossford and Kirkfieldbank church in Lanarkshire, added: "I wonder if all the avenues have really been explored to deal with the financial situation."

Scott acknowledged there was likely to be resistance to the plans at the Assembly

"I hope I see sufficient realism among people," he said. "If they are not going to accept the proposals exactly as the Ministries Council has put them forward, they'd better have a better plan because we run out of money in eight years' time. The church will have to exercise ministry without paying people altogether, that's the option."

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