431 years after it first began it’s come to a close.
Hamilton Presbytery was established in 1590 and has continued to serve the Church of Scotland as one of its courts ever since, but on the evening of Tuesday 7th December 2021 Hamilton Presbytery held its last meeting and will cease to exist on 31st December 2021.
Hamilton Presbytery will be incorporated into the new Presbytery of Forth Valley and Clydesdale on 1st January 2022 comprising the former Hamilton and Lanark Presbyteries.
If you detect any emotion at all at the close of such a long standing church court it is not sadness. During its last meeting Presbyters were invited to offer their own reflections and memories on the life of the Presbytery which was met by silence. If it is possible for silence to say more than words then it did so on that night. We do not mourn its passing.
And this may be the reason why… Presbytery as a court has not vanished from the scene it only continues in a new and larger format by the merging of Hamilton and Lanark Presbyteries and in a year’s time to be joined by Falkirk Presbytery. Bigger does not always mean better. The possibility of creating any kind of fellowship between ministerial colleagues over such a wide geographical area will be challenging. And as the Presbytery will only meet quarterly (on a Saturday) the opportunity to be in each other’s company will be very limited.
Come 2023 the Presbytery of FV&C will meet on the first Saturday of March, June, September and last Saturday of November. A slightly different pattern of meetings is arranged for 2022 due to the availability of accomodation but still on a Saturday from 9.30am to 4pm. Don’t plan your wedding (or funeral) for those days ’cause if all of us ministers are dilligent in our attendance we wont be available.
We are still going to use Motherwell Dalziel St. Andrews church as a meeting place along with facilities at the GLO centre. I hope many will access Presbytery online because parking will be an issue if we all arrive in our cars. And if we do access it online we’re going to need a far better system than the one we’ve been using.
Why will Presbytery be held across two venues? In part because of the increased numbers attending (in theory) and also to provide for break out rooms for discussion. I’ve been around Presbytery meetings long enough to know that we’ve tried the discusssion nights, conference days etc etc. at various times and they have all failed to be productive. Yes, I love the optimism of those who see the potential; I fear it is a potential that may never be realised. And yes, that makes me a pessimist.
Then I have an axe to grind. Saturday is my day off. The one full day in the week that I can call my own. And now I’m expected to give up four of them for the sake of Presbytery. It’s four Saturdays that impact on the patterns of life, of getting the shopping for my elderly mother-in-law, walking the dog, spending some time on my own hobbies and all that stuff. Oh yes, and spending time with the Mrs!! OK I’m having a moan but this stuff is real to me. And if it’s real to me then I suspect it is real to others like Presbytery Elders who can’t or wont commit a full day to a Presbyery meeting, who don’t always embrace technology so are obliged to attend in person and have extended travelling times from the further reaches of the Presbytery of FV&C.
What’s the catering going to be like? Will breakfast be available for those who had to leave home early to be sure of arriving in time to get a parking space. Lunch? Do we bring a packed lunch? Is there a canteen? How long is the lunch break?
So I see a future emerging where fewer ministry posts means that parish ministers all have larger parishes so therefore bigger work loads, time for relaxation, family, hobbies gets squeezed even more than it is just now. Stressed out ministers become invisible in a larger disconnected Presbytery.
Where does it all stop? Actually it stops with us. Ministers. The ones who have been inducted to charges on full tenure who can decline to take on the next linkage or union or grouping of parishes because assuming that we can or will just work more hours, take on more responsibility, give up our days off, our family time, our hobbies and interests is simply not realistic. The ones who are already interm-moderators for vacant charges constantly searching a limited pool of people for pulpit supply only to discover there is no one left to cover our own pulpit for holiday periods. Who are travelling distances to meet families to arrange funerals which is expensive for congregations, time consuming for ministers and a wholly inefficient practice for any organisation that is struggling to survive.
There are no winners any more. Congregations will go without the kind of ministry they seek. Ministers will face increasing pressures and demands on time until they break. If only the C of S would realise that it can no longer provide that cherished territorial ministry throughout Scotland and indeed has not realistically provided that for some time now. The C of S is trying to be something it can no longer be and in the process of deluding itself will destroy itself.
As you understand the opinions offered here are entirley those of the author.
If you are keen and want to know how the Presbytery of FV&C will be structured have a look here