New Principal Clerk outlines vision for Kirk

It is only his second day into his new job as Principal Clerk to the General Assembly, but Rev Dr George Whyte is already hard at work briefing his new team on the work ahead.

Rev Dr George Whyte and his team
The new Principal Clerk pictured with his team on his second day in the role: (from left) Catherine McIntosh, Senior Administrative Officer; Christine Paterson, acting Depute Clerk; Rev Dr George Whyte; Ros Milne, Senior Administrator for Ecumenical Relations; and Rev Dr John McPake, Ecumenical Officer. Two team members were unavailable for the photo: Mirella Yandoli, Interfaith Programme Officer; and Linda Jamieson, Personal Assistant.

His first commitment, he says, is to do his utmost to support local churches.

“I want to work collaboratively with Presbytery to support the work they are doing in the regional church.

“There is a lot of experience and expertise throughout our church and I hope to be of service by assisting people to learn from one another.”

Before stepping into his new role, Dr Whyte spent 27 years as a minister in parishes in Argyll, Glasgow and Edinburgh, and for the last eight years was Presbytery Clerk for Edinburgh. From 2011, he also served as Depute Principal Clerk to the General Assembly.

Those experiences allowed him to build relationships across the Church and learn about the challenges and opportunities of working within the Kirk’s legal structures, he says.

“This is an important and exciting time for the Church as it seeks to identify key priorities and to ensure local churches are fully equipped to meet the challenges they face.”

The Principal Clerk's team at work

One of Dr Whyte’s tasks will be to work with the Legal Questions Committee as they seek to modernise church law, for example, as they look at how on-line meetings might work.

“The challenge is: how do we restate our structures for today, being faithful to our roots as a Presbyterian church, but also allowing for forward movement.”

He also wants to ensure that anyone taking up a Presbytery Clerk’s role will be offered appropriate training and support.

“The role of a Clerk is far more complex than it used to be,” he notes. “Clerks today have to deal with civil law, charity law and the PVG scheme among other things.”

Collaboration, partnerships and creating communication channels that will allow church members to benefit from one another’s knowledge, skills and experience will help everyone move forward together, Dr Whyte says.

“Take the example of Hamilton and Lanark presbyteries, which have been working together on the selection, training and authorisation of worship leaders, an effort that is helping both presbyteries ensure that their congregations have a resource which they need.”

“They have now created a model that other presbyteries can draw upon. That is the kind of collaborative work I hope to support.”

As Secretary to the Assembly Arrangements Committee, Dr Whyte will also be looking at how to help Commissioners, many of whom come to the General Assembly only once, to engage more fully in the discussion and the decision-making.

Dr Whyte said his other key priorities include interfaith and ecumenical relations.

“I will be working closely with my team of colleagues to lead these outward facing aspects of the Church’s work.”

The Principal Clerk’s team includes some new faces: Christine Paterson, who has stepped up from her role as Legal and Learning Resources Officer to become Acting Depute Clerk and Catherine McIntosh, who is taking over from Alison Murray as Senior Administrative Officer in the Department of the General Assembly.