The Kirk’s military chaplains are feeling “marginalised and that their ministry is undervalued” by now having to undergo assessments identifying “skills sets and knowledge” they may lack when wanting to return to civilian parish ministry.
The issue, raised yesterday on the traditional “Chaplains’ Day” at the 2018 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh, has emerged as a highly contentious issue following the implementation of the Registration of Ministries Act in January this year.
The Act has also introduced an unpopular “Category E” status for chaplains, standing for “employed” - meaning they have a contract of employment with as outside agency, in their case the Ministry of Defence.
The new legislation means chaplains have to demonstrate certain competencies showing they are up-to-date with subjects such as the safeguarding of vulnerable people and Kirk legislation in a range of areas before they can be appointed to a ministry. If lacking these skills they will need to undergo further training.
In contrast, Kirk ministers with parishes are answerable to their individual presbytery.
Presbyteries operate in different ways and do not have timescales for ministers proving they have a working knowledge of relevant changes. Gordon Craig, convener of the committee on chaplains to HM forces, a chaplain to Scotland’s oil and gas industry, said the move had left many chaplains feeling disheartened.
“This year they attend the General Assembly, for what is perhaps the first time, with mixed feelings...They hear the phrase ‘when you return to the Church’, but in their eyes they have never left. Military chaplains go where their people go and minister to them in all sorts of situations.
“They are still very wary of the repercussions of this Act, but evidence to engage is evident.
“Therefore, I’m confident that the Registration of Ministries Act will be seen as a positive move as opposed to a test to their competency to proceed as a minister.”
Rev Adam J Dillon, presbytery clerk, Annandale and Eskdale, said the Act had inadvertently given the impression that military chaplains were “outsiders.”
“We have a dropped stitch in the tapestry of who we are as a church ,not caused by the Registration of Ministries Act but by the perception of it.
“We need to remind the Church of Scotland that the chaplains are our people. They are our own folk.”
However, the Rev Michael Goss, of the presbytery of Angus, said that many professions, such as teachers, face on-going training and assessment and the Act was a way of ensuring the ministry was properly equipped and prepared.
“We haven’t done anything like this before. It was never meant to diminish them.”
Rev Neil Dougall, convener of the Registration of Ministries Committee, and minister of St Andrew Blackadder Church in North Berwick , East Lothian, said: “I think the chaplains feeling marginalised is the unintended consequence of something meant to be a practical way they could make a good transition.”