Assembly Trustees Update November 2022
This update covers both the October and November meetings as the October update was a message from the Convener.
In our opening devotions in October we focussed on Jesus telling the disciples to fish on the other side of the boat (John 21), and thought of the environment of possibility, of communities of faith joining together, of re-establishing a vibrant church - looking to our rich heritage and a vision shared, and investing in Christ's good news. In November we thought on God making all things new, and hope for new ways of relating, of looking across lines of difference to fulfil the command of God and live in unity, fellowship and joy together, unity in diversity being more beautiful than unity in conformity (Revelation 21).
This context setting is important as we then have financial and other matters of considerable moment to consider.
In October we agreed the detailed budget for 2023. This shows an overall deficit of £7.6m, including CrossReach, to be met from reserves. The total national budget expenditure for 2023 is £55.5m (excluding CrossReach) of which the Parish Ministry budget is £36.7m. The income to be requested from congregations based on their income is £42.6m. External risks have increased - such as the continuing war in Ukraine, the ensuing cost of living crisis, rising interest rates and a difficult UK economy. The deficit figure is down, compared to the £8.7m presented to GA22, for reasons which include a mix of increases and decreases: a decrease in minister numbers, a stipend and salary increase of 5% compared to 2% originally budgeted, allowance for the new Seeds for Growth Fund, and an increase on the original forecast contribution from congregations as this is now based on exact calculations for individual charges calculated from actual congregational income under Giving to Grow rather than assumptions.
In October, we also agreed the first revision of the indicative budget for 2024 to 2028. As expected, forward budgets use many assumptions, but the figures presented, both financial and otherwise, were stark.
The assumption for the number of Ministers of Word and Sacrament is a projected decrease of 22% - from 660 full time equivalents at year end 2022 to 472 by 2028. The assumption for the annual number of probationers is c25. Assuming downward trends in numbers of, and in, congregations, a substantial drop in congregational contributions, 32%, is allowed for.
An important aspect of the Giving to Grow Scheme is that the national church's income is intrinsically linked to congregational income. If it decreases, then the work carried out nationally for the Church of Scotland needs to be prioritised and reduced. The savings required show as £2m in each of the years from 2024 to 2026, resulting in an annual saving of £2m in 2024, £4m in 2025 and £6m in 2026 and subsequent years. Adding CrossReach into the calculations, and allowing for these savings, the overall net costs to be met from reserves in each of the years 2024-28 is between £4.5m and £6.2m.
The scale of the savings needed is very challenging. Previous General Assemblies have set the Church on this course through the Radical Action Plan etc and the initial savings required have been achieved. In effect what is happening now is a reset of the base line. The figures indicate that the income, and drawing on reserves, will be enough to fund little more than the parish ministries and some basic ‘central'/'121'/national office and Presbytery costs.
The prioritising process is underway and is picking up pace. In October most of our meeting was about priorities. It may go without saying, but it is worth saying nonetheless, that we as trustees see the top priority as introducing people to Christ, ‘making disciples', growing the Church. We are also keen to invest in the wellbeing and development of Presbyteries and we continue to see the ‘national' Church as being there for ‘the local'. There is also a continuing need to simplify. We need to advance consideration of ‘stop, devolve, evolve'.
We recognise the concerns around the Presbytery Mission Planning process. However, the Church urgently needs to reshape. There is not yet evidence of growth, and as trustees we see investment and getting the Church of Scotland behind a mission imperative as essential going forward. The Seeds for Growth Fund is part of this story, as are ideas for income generation to offset the need for savings. The scale of the work, the complexities and the challenges can appear threatening and the Trustees are keen, under God, to find a way through.
In other matters at these meetings, the Trustees
- Finalised the arrangements for the Seeds for Growth Fund, which launches in January
- Noted that there had been 129 eligible claims for the fixed hardship grant in relation to manse energy costs, which had all been processed and paid
- Agreed to top up the Small Grants Fund to allow it to provide more winter support grants before the calendar year end due to a high demand from the congregations
- Agreed proposals for the annual employee pay award, which would be put to the Employee Council who planned to hold meetings and a staff ballot in November
- Noted that one of our number had had to stand down for personal reasons and that we would look to fill the vacancy in the new year.
We also, in October, had a discussion, attended by relevant members of staff, about the Church of Scotland's presence in Israel/Palestine. We noted that a major paper had come to the GA in 2019, and we had the benefit of an updated context paper and an in-depth analysis of the governance of the Israel/Palestine entities, their complexities and the associated issues and challenges. We talked about our calling as a Church working with others, about establishing relationships of trust within which people could agree to disagree, about the importance of ‘presence' - amid risks - and taking opportunities to demonstrate different ways of doing things. We noted the importance of tying in the discussion with the work of a group set up by the Faith Impact Forum to look at international partnerships which is convened by the Rev Alan Miller and is to report through the Faith Impact Forum to GA23. No decisions were being taken at the meeting: follow up papers on specifics will be brought in the new year.
At our November meeting, we were joined by representatives from the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group and we:
- Agreed minor changes to the Group's remit and terms of reference
- Noted and approved membership adjustments
- Noted the direction of travel for 2022-27 set out in the Group's strategic plan, with priority actions identified under three headings: racial justice, disability inclusion and conduct & culture
- Heard about the Group's small-scale qualitative inquiry into the experience of Black People/People of Colour/Ethnic Minorities interacting with the Church of Scotland: the overall challenge can be expressed as a desire to provide a welcome and enable them to offer all that they bring to enhance the life of the Church.
The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group will be making information available on these various topics.