Council convener reflects on the GA's vote for 'radical change'

This year the General Assembly was supposed to deliver a strategic plan which would chart the Church of Scotland’s course for the next 10 years this year.

Sally Bonnar
It was a tough moment for the council’s convener Sally Bonnar who was tasked with presenting Worshipping God, Inspiring Faith, Connecting People to the assembly.

Instead the commissioners voted to reject the proposed plan, choosing to instruct the Council of Assembly to return in 2019 with something more radical.

It was a tough moment for the council’s convener Sally Bonnar who was tasked with presenting Worshipping God, Inspiring Faith, Connecting People to the assembly.

Along with other council members the Perth elder had hoped the plan would give the Church a foundation to tackle the challenges ahead.

“Of course it is disappointing when a piece of work is not accepted that’s taken two years and a lot of consultation both within and outside the church,” she says.

“Within the plan there were some quite radical ideas, such as ideas about church planting and new forms of church.

“It also looked at changing the way we work across Scotland and moving towards more partnership work. But with the whole thing thrown out there was no opportunity to debate those ideas.

“At the same time, what was encouraging is that the mood of the Assembly was for something more radical.”

That the Church needs to change is not in doubt.

While Christianity has continued to grow worldwide, the UK has been becoming more secular and fewer people are signing up to become Church members.

Congregations have grown older and while many are the lifeblood of their communities, others are burdened with caring for outdated buildings.

Church structures that were created when there was a minister for every parish in Scotland now struggle to support the many congregations without one.

Yet the legacy of the past is also our core purpose and our shared mission, Sally says.

“It’s important that we recognise that the Church is not just a group of congregations,” Sally says.

“The church is a God-given community of disciples and our job together is to be God’s Mission to the World and to enable that for future generations.

“As a Reformed Church it is important to examine ourselves and ensure we are engaging with that mission.

But we also have to be managed and if we get it right those structures can free up and support disciples to carry out mission.”

As one of the country’s largest—not to mention most effective charities— as well as an employer and steward of resources, the Church has governance responsibilities.

“Whatever happens we will need a structure of trustees and an organisation to manage finance, payroll, HR, and so on,” Sally says.

“All of those structures have to be fit for purpose and that includes the council structure— all of the councils including the Council of Assembly.”

“There is a job to do here and the Council of Assembly has been tasked with doing it alongside others within the church.

“It is important to recognise however that no plan will be perfect.

“We are striving for something that will provide a framework for renewal in the church. Then we must support it with our prayers and it is encouraging that once again the General Assembly has endorsed the national Together We Pray campaign and the day of prayer in November.”

Over the last two years, she says, more than 2,000 church members contributed their thoughts and ideas for the future and this should not be lost.

Now, she believes, more people will need to join the conversation on which of the many possible directions radical change should take.

“Rapid change is not easy and it can be really, really painful,” she says.

“In any change we have to leave behind things that no longer working for us and the quicker it is the more painful it is and the more we leave behind.

“It is up to each and every one of us as individuals to decide how we are going to play our parts.”

Overall, despite the momentary disappointment, Sally is hopeful.

“The organization can only facilitate God’s Mission through his people in community," she says.

“What the church will become is not in the gift of the Council of Assembly or of any of us. It’s in the hands of God.”