Save the Parish – we are not alone

It’s tricky times for everyone. E.K. has just learned that the town centre has gone into administration just as Braehead shopping centre did some time back. Yes, even big commecial ventures are finding it hard to make ends meet.

The Church of Scotland is finding it hard to make ends meet. We also know that a good percentage of full time ministry (Parish Ministers) are rapidly heading toward retirement and there are very few coming into minisry to replace them. A large percentage of local parish churches do not produce the income to pay for the level of ministry they enjoy. We know something has to change. What we currently have is not a sustainable.

The Church of Scotland, (like the Church of England, and I’ll come back to that) has taken the decision to close church buildings or as I understand that to cease using them as a Church of Scotland place of worship. Again as I understand this it will also mean that the General Trustees will not need to commit any resourvces toward maintaining those redundant buildings. Please don’t think that this will all be old listed buildings that cost a fortune to maintain and repair; some newer buildings will also be removed for the General Trustees books.

What alarms us about this course of action is that the presence of the church in communities is going to diminish. Just like the body when exposed to low temperatures withdraws blood from the extremities of the body to keep the core warm; it is in survival mode. But survival comes at a cost. Those fingers and toes that are irreparably damaged and die through frost bite never recover; they are gone forever. Everywhere I go, the colleagues I meet all share the same feeling – we are doing this the wrong way, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. We are all saying it, thinking it, but not doing much about it.

So, I mentioned the Church of England; let me come back to it now. C of E Parishes have also gone through that alarm at the potential closure of church buildings. Not content to just let it happen they established their own movement (rebellion?) to Save the Parish. (that link will open in a new tab) The structure of the C of E is very different to that of the C of S but the point is this, they refuse to let the parish suffer because they know, as we know, the parish is the core of the body not the extremity.

Of course, we cannot have what we cannot pay for. Financing our activities is key. Minister’s need to be paid and buildings need to be maintained, heated and lit. So why not give us new models for creating that financial sustainability? Why not give us the next five years to develop new ways of generating the income we need to make it all happen? And if we can’t then OK, it’s time to call it a day. But at least give us an alternative, a second chance, a glimmer of hope.

Within the last few days, I took part in the Webinar for Accelerate, the Scottish Government funded support mechanism for charities seeking new ways of funding their work. It all hinges around Social Enterprise, a trading model that uses profit from commercial activity to fund charitable work. Why are we not promoting this more? Shouldn’t the plan for parishes be one of showing us how to generate sustainable income?

Granted, all the money in the world will not draw people into full-time Ministry; there still needs to be some sense of calling. Yet, I will say this, in my experience parishes which have been vacant over a number of years have not simply thrown in the towel and vanished from the face of the earth. These are the parishes which have pulled out the stops to keep it going, to serve their communities, develop new skills and deepen their commitment. Sometimes they serve communities which have real and growing needs with exceptional generosity and kindness. They don’t need full-time Ministry or even part-time Ministry, just access to Ministry for the celebration of the Sacraments. Re-shaping the patterns of Ministry is unavoidable but also do-able. While the C of S still has large numbers of experienced Parish Ministers why not set us free to redefine what Ministry is and how we offer that ministry across our churches, our cities and towns and villages.

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