Statement on St George's Tron
11 December 2012
Much of the press coverage of the situation at St George's Tron continues to give a very one sided view which misrepresents the situation. It is about time the Church of Scotland again set the record straight.
Messengers at Arms do not - and did not in this case - storm the building and demand the return of items. It had become apparent that former office bearers of the Church of Scotland Congregation had started to remove items that we believe belong to the Church of Scotland from the building. An interim interdict granted by the Court of Session was served simply to prevent this continuing, and to prevent the disposal of items already removed until questions of their ownership can be resolved. The former minister met the Messengers at Arms in a side room and the interdict was handed over - all reasonably amicable, we have been told.
The claims made by the former minister and his supporters are extreme. To claim that the Church of Scotland is persecuting them, intimidating them and acting like a dictatorship does not stand up to examination. Since they announced that they were leaving the Church of Scotland last June - a decision which caused a great deal of sadness in the Church - we have gone more than the extra mile to persuade them to stay, to enter into meaningful discussions with them over the Church of Scotland assets they lay claim to, and to try to come to an acceptable agreement. However they have consistently refused to hand over the congregational records and other assets, and they have turned down an offer of a tenancy arrangement for the manse. They had given us no notice of any plans to move services out of the building after 9 December.
The Church had previously taken legal action over the return of the congregational records, but we sisted this as a gesture of our willingness to try to reach a negotiated settlement. We recently had to raise the prospect of legal action before they agreed to let representatives of the General Trustees and the Presbytery of Glasgow have access to the Church building to carry out an inspection and inventory of contents. When access was finally granted last week it was apparent that many items had been removed from the building that we believe belong to the Church of Scotland. Yet again they seem to be asserting their rights to these items through action without any willingness to discuss matters with us.
To claim that the Church of Scotland is acting in a heavy handed manner is, in our opinion, merely an attempt to divert attention away from the real issues here. These are nothing to do with differing theologies, but about ownership of charitable assets, and the questionable financial management of the former congregation - in particular the legality of the transfer of assets of the Church of Scotland to the Epaphras Trust before the individuals chose to leave the Church of Scotland. We have therefore written to OSCR to raise our concerns about the legality of this, as we consider we have a duty to do under charity law.
We have only taken legal action as a last resort. We remain willing to engage in meaningful discussion to resolve our differences, but it is impossible for us to do so when individuals are behaving in such a peremptory and high handed manner and seemingly prefer to act on their claims to assets rather than discuss matters.
However it is now the future that counts. That is why we have decided we have to rebuild the Church of Scotland presence in this part of Glasgow City centre, based out of the Tron building. The Church of Scotland is now starting to focus this work. It will do so building on the traditions of conservative evangelical preaching and compassionate service, and to that end a Transitional Ministry is currently being established.
Rev Dr Grant Barclay, Convener, Church of Scotland Council of Assembly.
Rev Dr James Jack, Chairman of the General Trustees of the Church of Scotland.
Rev Stuart Smith, Interim Moderator, Church of Scotland St George's Tron.