24th May 2018

General Assembly - Thursday

 

General Assembly 2018 - Thursday Morning

by Laurence Wareing

9. Thursday 24 May: morning

The morning’s session began with the report of the Committee on Chaplains to her Majesty’s Forces

– presented by its Convenor, the Revd Gordon Craig.

He began by following up yesterday afternoon’s debate on the report of the Registration of

Ministries Committee by saying that the Register had unintentionally caused Chaplains to feel

marginalised, in particular by the process required to transfer from chaplaincy to parish ministry.

However, the Convenor reiterated yesterday’s assurances from the Convenor of the Legal Questions

Committee, that practical measures are being put in place to allow chaplains a seamless transition

back to parish ministry. Mr Craig said that his committee will play a significant role in that process.

Chaplains never “leave the Church”, the Convenor said; rather, they minister in another part of the

vineyard. “They go where their people go and minister to them in all manner of situations.” He

mentioned the Revd Dr Mark Davidson who was deployed for a number of months on board a

Trident Class submarine without contact from the outside world; and the Revd Nicola Frail, deployed

to South Sudan, ministering to the UK Engineering Task Force as it undertakes building work that will

allow humanitarian assistance to reach those in need.

However, each of the three services is in urgent need of new chaplains and Scotland is proving a

difficult recruiting ground. Mr Craig urged any minister with “the slightest inkling of a Call” to either

full time or reserve chaplaincy to test it.

He quoted the Revd Stephen Blakey, soon to retire following 41 years of service as an Army

Chaplain, who writes that the Service Chaplaincy is a very special form of ministry. It has, he says, “a

powerful incarnational dynamic of putting on the uniform”: the minister becomes one with their

soldiers because they dress like them, go to the places they go, eat the same food, endure similar

discomforts and face the same dangers.

Taking up the issue of chaplains feeling connected to other areas of the Church, the Convener said

that chaplains do have Church of Scotland email addresses if they desire one, but they don’t receive

digital copies of the Church’s Life & Work magazine. The Committee later agreed to look at available

options.

A serving parish minister said that on a daily basis forces chaplains work in hubs, “do ecumenism

really well”, work with young people, and are present to address questions of faith as and when they

arise. Just as forces chaplains may need some training to bring them up to speed with current needs

in parish ministry, she said, so she felt she would benefit from training in order to better understand

the ways in which forces chaplains undertake ministry.

The Revd Louis Kinsey brought forward an amendment to the deliverance, urging Presbyteries to

appoint armed forces champions. He noted that members of the armed forces make up around ten

per cent of the whole population of Scotland. The convenor welcomed the amendment; so did the

Assembly. Mr Kinsey then requested a future report concerning the work of Cadet Force Chaplains,

indicating that chaplaincy vacancies do exist. Other commissioners enthusiastically endorsed the

value of chaplaincy to cadet forces, not least for the chaplains themselves. It was emphasised by the

Convenor that these are youth, not military, organisations, so don’t normally fall within the remit of

the committee. However, he was happy to agree that the committee will look at this issue.

As is the custom, the Convenor then requested that commissioners invite a senior representative of

the armed forces to address the Assembly. Major General Bob Bruce, Military Secretary and General

Officer Scotland, spoke about the deepening importance of the role of military chaplains. Padres are

the first people to whom military personnel know they can turn at difficult times – and he named

many of the difficult situations in which the armed forces are active throughout the world. He said

the sight of a padre climbing out of a helicopter in a dusty environment to set up to lead a service is

“wonderful and uplifting”. The military cannot go into demanding situations without some spiritual

support – the physical presence of a chaplain can turn the mood of a large group of soldiers, Major

Bruce said – they are a calming presence, and he added: “When the going is really hard, we are

absolutely dependent on them.”

The forces have never been better supported but never less understood, the Major concluded, so he

was especially thankful of the support shown to the forces and their chaplains by the Assembly.

Following a short break, Mr Bill Steele presented the report of the Social Care Council, often referred

to under its trading name, CrossReach.

This year will see the start of a development and fundraising partnership with the Church of Scotland

Guild (one of the Guild’s new three-year projects): the Join the Dots initiative is designed to combat

loneliness and isolation where it is experienced within different age groups across Scotland. The

Convener said that this initiative has been in part inspired by some of the people with whom

CrossReach works and the situations they experience.

Mr Steele spoke, for example, of young people from CrossReach’s Care and Education Services and

the Daisy Chain Early Years Project in particular who have spoken publically about the positive

difference coming into contact with CrossReach has made in their lives. However, they have also

spoken about the negative impact on their lives caused by the attitude of others in the communities

around them, undermining their sense of self-worth and making them feel alone – even in a crowd.

Older people, too, can feel alone in a group situation – projects such as the music-centred Playlists

for Life, or the Heart for Art programme for those living with dementia help address that loneliness.

Mr Steele said that the Council is not alone amongst care providers in having to make the hard

decision to close certain services, as it has to do this year. As austerity measures continue to bite, he

said, the Coalition of Care Providers in Scotland reports that in 2017 60 per cent of providers

withdrew or decided not to participate in procurement exercises and 30 per cent withdrew from one

or more live contracts. That said, the Convenor was also glad to report some good news: the

imminent completion of a new Education Campus on the Erskine Waterfront.

The Council is exploring new pathways to recruitment, including through digital technology, a

recently launched volunteer strategy, and a pilot partnership with The Princes Trust through which

the Council will offer work placements and interviews to a number of young people who have

already been supported by the Trust and are interested in a career in care. The Council also

continues to address the pension deficit and issues of low wages and the living wage for all, though

the latter goal still remains out of reach.

2019 will mark 150 years since the Assembly commissioned the Committee of Life and Work, out of

which the Church’s current commitment to social care was born. The Convenor invited

commissioners to consider how they might contribute to the celebration.

Turning to questions, a commissioner spoke about one CrossReachcare home that has had to close

in his parish in Caithness. The Convenor said that conversations are being undertaken with NHS

Highland with a view to seeing what initiatives can be developed in the future. In response to a later

question, the Convenor outlined how the Council has tried to minimise the impact of redundancies

in such situations. “We don’t do things lightly or without care”, he said. In response to a question

about differentials between salaries, the convenor said that these have been pared back but roles

with greater accountability do deserve higher rewards.

A commissioner commended Morlich House in Edinburgh, which has been recognised for excellent

practice and innovation. Outbuildings and a redundant garage have been transformed into a 1950s

street and house where people living with dementia experience an environment with which they

may have been familiar in younger days. In the main house, the Kings Fund Environmental tool has

been used to ensure that other features ensure that all those who live there can easily access

information, for example via plasma screens and notice boards adapted to give pictorial information

about activities.

A minister speaking from a northern rural parish asked how the council can help in an area where

other services for older people have been closed or become too expensive for local people to access.

The Convenor commended an online social care forum – a live, interactive resource, where

experiences and solutions can be shared. A youth delegate praised the initial support offered

through Stirling Presbytery to her family on her father’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. She said that

ongoing help would be appreciated now that her Dad’s condition was worsening and the family are

finding it harder to cope. How could the Council help? The Council does have a dementia

development team and the convenor hoped that contacting the team might be the start of a journey

together.

Following a heartfelt vote of thanks by a commissioner to the Council for the care both his mother

and aunt had received from CrossReach, the report was concluded and the Assembly suspended. We

will return after lunch for the Theological Forum and to hear from a wide range of the Church’s

smaller committees.

 

 

General Assembly 2018 - Thursday afternoon

by Laurence Wareing

10. Thursday 24 May: afternoon

The afternoon session opened with the report of the Theological Forum, presented by the

Revd Dr Donald MacEwan.

The Forum’s theological thinking over the past year has resulted in work on Holy

Communion (with the Panel on Review and Reform); on the oversight of ministers (with the

Ministries Council); and on a report on a theology of reconciliation, which will probably to

be brought to next year’s Assembly. This latter work has included reading responses from

ecumenical partners to the Forum’s report of last year on same-sex marriage. Later in the

debate, in response to a question, Dr MacEwan outlined some of these responses in which,

for example, it was recognised that people could take different approaches to same-sex

marriage but still believe scripture to be important. Amongst other comments, some said

that the report didn’t pay sufficient attention to questions of power, powerlessness, justice,

the marginalisation of some in society, or to human rights issues. Some said that the Forum

should have recognised that this issue was about scripture, and for others it was not.

The principal piece of work in this year’s report focuses on whether children who have not

been baptised should be permitted to share in a service of Holy Communion. The Forum

wanted to take account of genuine pastoral situations, and was alert to a society in which

children (and adults) are finding their way into church communities in which they have not

been brought up. The Forum concluded that there is no reason to revise the traditional

ordering of baptism first and then admission to communion. “However”, they said, “it is

important that such a normal ordering should not be so elevated that it leadd to church

practice that is too rigid, unwelcoming, or ungenerous.” Indeed, in the context of pastoral

care and education, receiving communion may itself lead to deepening faith, discipleship

and ongoing participation in communion.

The Right Revd Mgr Philip Kerr spoke about the Catholic tradition of giving a blessing to

those who come to communion but are not baptised. The Convenor responded that the

Forum doesn’t say that this is wrong; but he also spoke about children, for example, who

wish to “share in the meal” – pastorally it would be right to permit this.

In response to a question, Dr MacEwan said that, with regard to public profession of faith,

the Forum is confused – and, he thought, the Church is too. He wondered whether there

might be a future opportunity to work on this issue and at least, he said, “express that

confusion more clearly”! When the Assembly turned to the deliverance, one commissioner

presented the Forum with just that opportunity, which the Assembly supported.

One commissioner said he’d been shocked to hear how few children are permitted to take

communion – he called this “malpractice”. “What would Jesus do?” asked one

commissioner. And his response? “In the words of Nike, ‘Just do it!’” Another welcomed the

report because, he said, the situation is “messy on the ground”, and in answer to his

question, the Convenor acknowledged that Church law may need to be reviewed.

The Assembly then received an Overture instructing the Forum to examine the present-day

value of the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Overture was presented by the Very Revd

Dr Finlay Macdonald, a former Principal Clerk of the Assembly, and Mrs Isobel Hunter.

The Westminster Confession was adopted by the General Assembly of 1647 as a summation

of the faith of the reformed Church and ever since, to a greater or lesser degree, has been

recognised as a key statement of faith. Over the years, however, unease about some

aspects of the Confession’s teaching has meant that the Church has distanced itself from

some parts of the statement. Dr Macdonald questioned how useful the Confession now is,

and said that considerable work has to be done to find out which bits individuals are no

longer required to accept. Mrs Hunter said that when she was becoming an elder she’d

been advised not to read all the Confession and told by her minister that he hoped it

wouldn’t put her off for life. It is important, she argued, to have a confession of faith that

will inspire for life, not put off for life. In conclusion, Dr Macdonald said that the Presbytery

was saying no more than that there is an issue here and that the Forum was well placed to

consider it.

Dr Peter McEnhill had been curator of the original Westminster Confession in a room high in

a building in Westminster College, Cambridge. He said that in ten years, not one person

came to study the document. Scottish friends who passed through, when invited to see it

would ask – “How many stairs?” What we need is a document that doesn’t live in a small

suitcase in a high room but actually expresses the life of faith, he said. For others, however,

the Westminster Confession does lie at the heart of their faith. “We’re arguing over the soul

of the Church”, said one. “How would this work help the Church or Scotland?” asked

another. “We need to live with our history.” Another added, “We have a Church in crisis and

some really big issues to tackle. Do we really need to have protracted discussion and cause

further division and spend a great deal time and money?”

Others did feel that it would be good to think about how to express our faith in terms that

are more appropriate to the present day and the Assembly voted overwhelmingly to receive

the Overture.

After a short break, Graeme Caughey, chairman of the Pensions Trustees, gave the Assembly

a positive update on the Church’s three pension schemes. He said all three had a “highly

successful year”, each having benefited from years of hard work by previous and current

trustees.

He said the largest scheme – the Ministers Scheme – was providing a successful model,

which the other two staff schemes were following. Put simply, he added, after previous

difficult years, a great deal of hard work had “broken the back of the underfunding issue”

and things were “heading to full funding in a few years”. The Assembly was assured that all

the assets of each of the schemes would be used solely for the benefit of their members.

Turning to the Report of the Housing and Loan Fund, the Revd Ian Taylor, chairman of

Trustees, began with a quote from the Gospel of St Matthew: “When I was a stranger, you

took me into your home.” He said the Fund has been taking those words of Christ seriously

for nearly 50 years.

The Fund presently owns 222 houses let to retired Ministers or their bereaved spouses or

former partners. In addition, last year it had in place 118 loans which, when added to retired

ministers’ own savings, had enabled many “brothers and sisters in Christ” to buy their own

homes.

“The Fund,” Mr Taylor said, “remains in a healthy financial position due to the continuing

careful stewardship of the Trustees” – good news for the many servants of the Church who

might experience anxiety when approaching retirement

.

The Council of Assembly now brought a Supplementary Report asking to appoint a special

commission to review the shape and organisation of the Church of Scotland Pension Trustee

board and bring forward any recommendations for change, including any appointment of

additional Trustees, to the Commission of Assembly. Mrs Sally Bonar, the Council Convenor,

assured the Assembly that the Council recognised the independence of the Trustees to

make decisions about the schemes they managed. This proposal was not about the

individual Trustees; it was about good governance.

In the questions that followed a range of concerns emerged about the way the report had

been brought forward late in the day, and with such urgency attached to it that the findings

of a Special Commission couldn’t wait until the Assembly of 2019 for full discussion. The

Convenor said that the urgency was because if a review did indicate a change in structure,

there was a danger that valuations due this year might become technically incompetent.

It emerged that the Trustees themselves were not happy about the proposed review. They

felt the review was being proposed in response to the Council’s budget concerns and that it

might result in moving assets in directions with which the independent Trustees were

unhappy.

Mrs Bonar said that the Council’s anxieties had to do with the fact that the same six

trustees, together with council-nominated Trustees, managed three different funds with

different needs. There might be conflicts of interest, Mrs Bonar said; but the chairman of

the Trustees said that a conflict of interest policy was in place and that legal advisors are

present at every meeting.

A difficult debate followed, including two separate votes, first to depart from the business

and, second, not to receive the report.

The Very Revd Dr John Cairns rose to propose a counter-motion to the substance of the

deliverance, inviting the Pension Trustees to bring a Report to the General Assembly of 2019

on effective and efficient structures for trustee oversight of the closed funds and the most

efficient means of administrating the funds. Dr Cairns felt that the Council had not clearly

identified the problems they perceived and had not sufficiently discussed their concerns

with the Trustees.

On a vote, Dr Cairns’ counter-motion was carried.

Next came the report of the Church Hymnary Trustees, which oversees matters relating to

Church Hymnary 4, published in 2005. Mrs Ann Inglis said that overall sales, unsurprisingly,

had fallen but sales of the words only edition have remained reasonably high. The Trustees

have continued to support the Scottish Church Organist Training Scheme and workshops

have been well attended. They’ve also investigated the possibility of producing CH4 in a

large print format. The Trustees are not persuaded that there is enough evidence to justify a

production that might lead to unnecessary costs. There are options for individuals to

produce words in a suitable format.

In response to a question about a possible CD, Mrs Inglis said that copyright issues

prevented the production of CDs of the complete hymnbook.

The Church of Scotland Trust then introduced the three strands of its work:

1. To oversee 48 third party trusts set up to benefit the work of the Kirk – this can be complicated when circumstances change over the years.

2. Taking responsibility for heritable property within the International Presbytery.

3. Oversight of overseas properties, in particular in Pakistan where the ownership of property in Sialkot has caused difficulties over many years. The

retiring Chairman, Mr John Hodge, said the Trust is able to create a trust with independent trustees rather than wait for the Church of Pakistan to produce

a suitable body. A final draft of such an arrangement had not yet arrived, but Mr Hodge was sounding unusually optimistic about this recurring matter.

 

list end

Finally, the Assembly heard the report of the Church of Scotland Investors Trust. 2017 saw

share markets grind inexorably higher with a marked absence of volatility, said the Chair, Ms

CY Alexander, and all three Investors Trust funds recorded positive performances.

Picking up on matters discussed in yesterday’s Church and Society report, Ms Alexander said

that the Trust applies ethical exclusions to investments held where possible. However, its

preference is to operate in line with the findings and recommendations of the cross-

denominational Church Investors Group because of the breadth of work that would be

required for the Trustees to research environmental social and governance (ESG)

developments on their own. However, the Council of Assembly has agreed to consider the

trust’s recommendation that an ESG resource be put in place for all investing bodies within

the Church of Scotland.

An amendment urging the Investors Trust to investigate the risks and rewards of continuing

to invest in fossil fuels companies fell after the Convenor said that the Trust takes climate

change very seriously and that the amendment was asking for exactly the kind of

assessment the Trust’s managers undertake daily.

In short order the Report of the Chalmers Lectureship Trust was received and the Assembly

suspended until our final day, tomorrow, which will feature the report of the Mission and

Discipleship Council.


General Assembly 2018
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