In what has become known as “Chaplains’ Day” – when around three dozen armed services chaplains attend proceedings – the 2019 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland considered a report from Rev Dr Marjory MacLean, convener to Her Majesty’s Forces Committee, addressing the issue of providing chaplains to the UK’s armed forces.
Commissioners – as delegates to the General Assembly are know – were told that progress had been made to rationalise the process.
The move came as the names of 12 nominees were published yesterday to be on a panel of a new Assembly trustees body to oversee a radical overhaul of the Kirk’s operating structure.
Those wanting to become regular or reservist ministers can see delays due to necessary security checks and medical and fitness tests.
However, as soon as possible after a minister expresses an interest in becoming a forces’ chaplain, an “acquaint visit” will be set up where issues such as medical requirements can be discussed.
The report said such visits would avoid “any needless waste of time, and will never be regarded as forming any sort of commitment” before an individual makes a commitment. The need for such recruits was highlighted by Rear Admiral Jim Higham who described the Royal Navy’s expansion programme.
“For the first time in my 30 year career, the navy is growing.
“Growing in terms of both our people and our ships. From 2015 to 2025 the tonnage of grey steel we operate will increase by 30 per cent.
“Fuelled by a future ship and submarine build programme that includes the two magnificent 65 000 ton aircraft carriers that I saw in all their glory from the aircraft window as I landed in Edinburgh yesterday.
“In the here and now of current operations, the navy is in high political demand…and everywhere that the Royal Navy has gone, your chaplains – our chaplains – have gone.”
Commissioners also heard that the majority of presbyteries had appointed an armed forces champion, following a recommendation from last year’s Assembly.
Professor Brian Ashcroft, emeritus professor in the department of economics at the University of Strathclyde, one of the nominees for the new trustees’ panel, said: “I think my name has been put forward because of the work I’ve done on the Scottish economy and on industries as they adjust to change.”
Prof Ashcroft, who is married to Wendy Alexander, the former MSP who was the leader of the Labour Party group in the Scottish Parliament from 2007 to 2008, added: “I think the Kirk itself believes it needs to change with the decision to go from 45 presbyteries down to 12, declining attendances and the need to attract more young people.
“It is facing a number of issues from and needs to examine opportunities for growth.”
Other nominees for the new trustees’ panel include two former Moderators – the Very Rev Dr John Chalmers and the Very Rev Professor Iain Torrance.