Lecture series ends with prophecy for the Kirk

Rev Dr Doug Gay finished his series of Chalmers Lectures at St Giles’ Cathedral last night with a call to reform the presbytery and central structures of the Church of Scotland.

Chalmers Lecture
L-R Rev Dr Doug Gay and Very Rev Dr John Chalmers.

In front of a live and global online audience, the theologian suggested reducing the number of Scottish presbyteries by nearly three quarters, and merging the four main central councils into a single body.

He said: “It seems to me we are long overdue a moment of refocusing, of streamlining, of simplifying. There is a kind of Victorian gothic quality to our institutional architecture. It’s time to knock some solid walls down, take out some pews, put up some new glass partitions, and create some cleaner, clearer, fit for purpose spaces.”

Under Dr Gay’s suggestion, the number of presbyteries would be reduced from the present 43 in Scotland to 12. The new, larger bodies would be given ‘substantial devolved financial responsibility for deploying and resourcing ministry within their bounds’ including the creation of new ‘congregational support posts’.

In the centre, the Ministries, Mission and Discipleship, Church and Society and World Mission Councils would be combined into one Church of Scotland Mission Agency. The number of people working for the central councils and bodies would be reduced ‘by up to a third’.

There would be separate arrangements for CrossReach, the Church’s social care arm.


Dr Gay paid tribute to the people who serve and staff the existing councils, telling them, “We in the church are in your debt - you are muscles and sinews within the body, you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Your work and commitment and care are precious to the church and we believe, precious to God…. I have many friends who work at 121, whose work and witness, whose dedication, gifts and vision I admire greatly.”

He also said anyone arguing for reform should be mindful that “Our thought experiment is someone else’s life, job, salary, home-base, ministry and vocation.”

Talking after the lecture, the theologian said: "My hope for the lectures was that they would be a catalyst for creative work on some of the key challenges facing the Kirk. The level of engagement with the lectures has been very encouraging and points to deeply felt and widely shared concern for the future of the Church of Scotland."

Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, chairman of the Chalmers Lectureship Trust, said: “These lectures have stimulated a huge amount of interest and I believe that that is because people have been genuinely interested in the subject matter.

“People care about the future shape of the Church and people want the Church of Scotland to be fit for purpose in the years ahead.

“What Doug Gay has done is stimulate an important conversation which I hope will reverberate around every part of our church life.

“The Church as it is currently structured is struggling, but the need for the gospel to be outlived and expressed in new and relevant ways is as urgent as ever."

Download a full transcript of the lecture.

Article courtesy of the Life and Work, the magazine of the Church of Scotland.