Church of Scotland General Assembly agrees to cut minister numbers by a quarter and cap posts in each area

The Church of Scotland’s General Assembly has approved plans to cut minister numbers by a quarter over the next four years.

The number of minister posts will be reduced from around 800 to 600, with an allowance of 60 vacancies to allow movement within the system.

And the Assembly agreed an area-by-area allocation of the posts, which includes a reduction from 133 to 84 in Glasgow and from 78 to 48 in Edinburgh by 2025.

Weightings have been applied to take account of factors such as population, population density and priority areas.

The Assembly is being held mainly online with only a few present in the hall. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

The Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, convener of the Assembly Trustees, said the Kirk needed to “work smarter” in its parishes, sharing ministers and developing local ties with churches of other denominations.

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He said: "This is not just about the number of ministries we can afford going forward, it is also based on well-grounded projections of the age profile of our current ministry which shows quite clearly we will do well, without some significant turnaround in recruitment which we need, to maintain this level of parish staffing.

“The savings we have already made of more than £6 million in the national work of the church will be for nothing if we do not also bring the budget for ministry under control.”

The Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, convener of the Assembly Trustees

He said only 44 per cent of local churches met the full cost of ministry and the subsidy involved in supporting the other 56 per cent was “in the now foreseeable future” unsustainable.

"A church with over 300 vacancies has neglected the business of proper planning for too long. Now is the time to act with realism, but to do so with hope.”

The Assembly voted 463:58 to accept the 600 figure and went on to agree the allocations to presbyteries, despite a call to look again at the financial effect they may have.

The Rev Scott Rennie from Aberdeen said the Assembly needed to know that the “necessary pain” involved in the plans would achieve the goal of a “sustainable financial future for our church”.

The Assembly is meeting mainly online with very few present in the hall

And he wanted the Faith Nurture Forum, which had drawn up the allocations, to model alternative distributions of the cuts, taking into account the impact they would have in reducing the number of congregations and the likely consequent loss of income.

But church statistician the Rev Dr Fiona Tweedie said: “We could model anything you like, but we do not know what will happen, we cannot say in individual congregations if income will increase or decrease.”

And the Rev Rosemary Frew, convener of the Faith Nurture Forum, said any modelling would not result in greatly different numbers in each area. She said: "We could spend months tinkering away, trying to look at different ways of divvying things up but it wouldn’t make very much difference at all.”

Mr Rennie’s call for more modelling was rejected by 374:163.

The Assembly has heard how congregations saw income drop by around 20 per cent in 2020, with many having to break into reserves to find their contribution to the Kirk’s central fund for paying ministers and other costs. Giving by members fell by only around 10 per cent, but there was a 67 per cent drop in other income, most notably letting of premises.

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