Update on ‘D10’ March 2021

Summary

Since November a group appointed by the Assembly Trustees has been looking at ‘D10' - deliverance 10 - from October's General Assembly. Good work has been done building on constructive and helpful input given by consultees. In the time available it would have been a tall order to bring substantive proposals to the General Assembly for further structural change this year. Recognising the importance of taking a collaborative approach to developing change proposals, and that it's not quite the right time to do further thinking on the detail of the structures, the Trustees plan to pick this aspect up in the autumn whilst still progressing the overall transformational changes that are already in train. They will report accordingly to the General Assembly in May. Follow up on the learning so far through ‘D10' is ongoing.

The story so far

The D10 group was formed after the General Assembly held online in October 2020. The Trustees' report to the Assembly had introduced the Faith Action Plan. This followed on from the Radical Action Plan whose central theme was releasing resource to and supporting the local church. The Faith Action Plan sets high-level outcomes for the faith related work of the National Offices, through a single, integrated programme of work. It incorporates the work of the Faith Nurture and Faith Impact Forums on a prioritised basis.[1]

In their report, the Trustees reflected upon a joint statement from the Forums in 2020 about their work. This said that ‘creative and cooperative working across all areas of common interest [and] modelling the interdependence of the Five Marks of Mission must be a hallmark of the Church's witness, with every area holding each other to account.' Having regard to this ‘expressed commitment to working together', the report in essence then asked: does the one Faith Action Plan require one Forum to oversee its development and implementation?[2]

The D10 group comprised

  • Two parish ministers with past experience in the work inherited by the Forums
  • Two parish ministers currently serving on the Assembly Business Committee (one of whom is an Assembly Trustee in that capacity)
  • A retired lawyer and senior civil servant who became an Assembly Trustee in May 2020, and
  • The Professor of Divinity who chaired the Special Commission that reported to the General Assembly in 2019 and whose work gave rise to the creation of both the two Forums and the Assembly Trustees.

After a first period of consultation the Group unanimously agreed proposals for consideration. These were set out in some detail, while recognising that much further development would be required, and a second consultation phase was held in February. This revealed a spectrum of views both on whether there is a need for change and the Group's proposals. More especially, the responses to the consultation reflected just how tough a year it has been. Even if there had been clear consensus about the Group's model and the Group had had time to develop the detail before the Assembly publication dates in March, the clear message was ‘not now'.

The Group therefore recommended that detailed work on the future structure of the Forums should be paused for a few months. This pause is for three reasons: to allow the Assembly Trustees and the Faith Impact Forum and the Faith Nurture Forum to develop their work and their relationships, the Head of Faith Action Programme to take up post, and - the Group hopes - the burdens, distress and constraints of COVID-19 to have receded somewhat.

Given the timescales required to produce a report in time for a General Assembly, adequate time has to be factored in for further consideration of the need for, and type of, structural change and so the Group suggested that the work on this aspect restart in September whilst the overall reform agenda, including actions arising from the work of the D10 group in areas such as communications, continues.

What the Group said in updating the Trustees in March 2021

Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.

Proverbs 19:21 NIV

Our process

We came to our task with no preconceived ideas as to the outcome. The General Assembly's deliverance, in mentioning ‘a single Forum', asks the Trustees to report on what they believe will be the most effective and efficient structure for the delivery of work which has to be managed and delivered from the Church's national base. ‘Effective and efficient' was therefore a given for our deliberations. A single forum was not.

Given the deliverance's reference to ‘work which has to be managed and delivered from the Church's national base', as a ‘way in' to our task we thought that we would explore with our initial consultees what areas of work are essential for the Church of Scotland today and in the foreseeable future. We'd ask which of these should be managed and delivered from/supported by the Church's national base and continue from there. These were the questions we intended to explore.

In considering what might be ‘effective and efficient' we were interested in how elements of the Church relate to one another, how the work of one area influences another and how joined up thinking might be enhanced. We wanted to know what seemed to be going well, what wasn't and what might help.

All our meetings were on Microsoft Teams. In our phase 1 consultation we met with: the Convener and Vice Convener of the Faith Nurture Forum; the Convener and Vice Convener of the Faith Impact Forum; the Principal Clerk; the Convener of the Theological Forum; the Convener, Vice Convener and Officer of the Ecumenical Relations Committee; the Chief Officer; the Assembly Trustees' Administrative Trustee; and the Convener of the Assembly Trustees.

In line with the approach taken by the Special Commission we agreed with our consultees that our conversations would be confidential.

We quickly discovered that exploring the questions we had intended was premature, despite the question of what should be done, and by whom, being reported as an urgent matter in the report of the Assembly Trustees to the Commission of the General Assembly in November 2019.[3] We had to come at our work another way, through listening, reading and reflecting.

We began to consider a possible model that was not four-square with ‘a single Forum' but built on the developing working methods of the Forums and offered the prospects of enhancing collaborative working.

Given the freshness of the ideas – and the intervening Christmas season – we took time to work them through and to think about pace. We then tested this out on a small group – three of the Assembly Trustees, the Chief Officer and the Solicitor. With their encouragement we talked with the Forum Conveners and Interim Heads, before sharing our thinking with the Assembly Trustees as a whole. Two things were at play here: was there merit in our proposals? And what about pace? The Trustees thought there was merit in our proposals, but they would require developing alongside extended consultation.

With that encouragement we moved to a further phase of consultation,contacting each member of the Forums, and the Interim Heads, sharing our ideas and inviting comments. We also shared our ideas with the others we had consulted in Phase 1.

Responses flowed in quickly. After ten days we set a deadline. We received responses from over 80% of our consultees.

We are very appreciative of this level of response. We had appreciated that if we were suggesting change, it would take time to think it through. We had recognised the importance of co-creating, of involving people in developing the proposals.

We hadn't anticipated the strength of feeling about the past year.

The past year

The members of the Faith Impact and Faith Nurture Forums worked hard through 2020 to get to know and work with one another, and become familiar with an extremely wide-ranging brief, despite the pandemic.

There has been a considerable challenge in refocussing the national work of the Church, and particularly the activities of the Forums, at a time when stringent financial controls have been required in line with instructions from the 2019 General Assembly.

Many work streams clearly need to be delivered and this work has continued, with new work emerging for some, and a drive to improve across the staff group.

A particular, ongoing, challenge has been in areas where there is discretion about the need for work when the desire of some has been to continue everything. Through the hard work of staff and Forum members in the later part of 2020 priorities have been established and choices made.

For some, this feels like work done against the odds. For some, both deliverance 10 coming before the General Assembly in October and our group coming up with proposals in response felt like they were being disregarded, taken for granted, not appreciated, disrespected even.

Whatever was expected by way of communications between the Assembly Trustees and the Forums, communications have not been satisfactory. A number of missteps may have contributed to this.[4] We also detected a tension between calls for the Assembly Trustees to leave the Forums alone and not micro-manage, and a desire for clearer direction to be given by the Assembly Trustees. And, quite simply in our view, a few people are carrying inordinate burdens in making all of this new structure work: in particular the Conveners and Vice Conveners of the Forums, the Convener and Vice Convener of the Assembly Trustees, the Chief Officer and other staff, and the Assembly Trustee's Administrative Trustee.

That is where we have been. What matters now is what comes next.

Looking forward

Outside the report-writing window, the nest-building birds are back. In 2020 they were a lockdown source of wonder. For the first time in that tree, they patiently pieced twigs together, over weeks, then reared their young. This year they're reworking the nest. They're adding fresh twigs. They're combing the tree for dropped twigs, which they collect and weave into place. The work is intricate. For the tree is a monkey puzzle, and the placing and weaving take time and care. The construction made it through last year's storms. The birds are doing their best ahead of this year's. The nest they build is important. But it's not the end in itself.The birds work earnestly in order to provide a setting in which life can prosper.

We are not revealing any confidences in saying that ‘frustration' is a word we heard quite frequently in phase 1. We are not the first to say that institutional maintenance sucks the life out of Christians. This troubles us. We would like to find a way of making things simpler, yet effective.

Although we append a summary note, we are not setting out our ideas in detail here. We think it is premature to do so at a time when they need much further work. In the autumn we hope that the Assembly Trustees, the Chief Officer, the incoming Head of Faith Action Programme, other staff, the Conveners and Vice Conveners of the Forums, Forum members and many others will be involved in further assessing the situation and our proposals.

The comments we received in phase 2 included the eagerly enthusiastic as well as the critical and the questioning.

We observe a lack of shared understanding about the arrangements put in place in 2019. That's not surprising; we ourselves have had to keep checking the constitution and remit of the Assembly Trustees and the reports to and deliverances from the General Assembly.

Throughout our process we have heard much about the General Assembly and the need for reform. We would very much support, in particular, the Assembly Business Committee's efforts to rethink the General Assembly, such that it might better articulate and shape its strategic aims. We have also been made keenly aware of the importance, challenges and significance of presbytery development. These have not been part of our remit, but they are part of the context.

We consider that our propositions have merit. We identify with the concerns the Trustees set out in October[5]: it is challenging to ensure joined up working within one integrated programme with the two Forum arrangement.

The Faith Action Plan, and programme, need to become more prominent in the life of the church. The plan, and the work streams within the programme, need to be developed so as to become clear, focussed, realistic and cohesively prioritised, while also offering a vision that will animate the whole church.

We think there is another factor. In seeking more efficient and effective structures to serve the church of tomorrow, we need greater simplicity. Our numbers and resources are now much smaller than those of our predecessors who devised the arrangements we have inherited. As we face the societal changes that are significantly impacting upon the church, a less labour-intensive organisational shape is needed at every level, including the national. Without developing appropriate processes to which, in fewer hours, an individual can contribute creatively and with energy, we risk wearying - and even losing - faithful and committed people.

That is why our model looks at both where the work is done and how it might more readily be integrated.

We have also heard concern about whether and how all of what we are discussing here affects people in the parish. That concerns us too. In many ways. We want more people in the parish to know about the work that's supported/delivered from the national base, to want to contribute and have a say in setting the priorities for work which is delivered from the national base and for people to enjoy doing so: fulfilment not frustration. We want those involved in the work at the national base to have time and energy for engagement locally. These were in our minds as we developed our thinking.

Our work is about people, about relationships.

We think it is really important that the journey in which our group has been involved continues. There's something in here about the whole church learning to be new. We are concerned for the people who are carrying the biggest responsibilities in our current set-up. We think our propositions have potential to improve how we attend to the matters that are the responsibility of the forums. We therefore suggest that the Trustees should continue and develop the work of the D10 Group that was focused on the future structure of the Forums, beginning in the autumn. The pause will allow the Forums and Assembly Trustees further time to develop both their work and their relationships. The new Head of Faith Action Programme, who will be a key individual in the development of this work, should also have begun to be established in post. We hope that, at least in some ways, COVID-19 will also be less of a factor by then.

We thank the Assembly Trustees for appointing us to this group. It has been a privilege to work together and to share in the challenge of developing the church for a fresh season.

The D10 Group: Rev Professor David Fergusson, Rev Neil Glover, Rev Sheila Kirk, Rev Jan Mathieson, Rev Donald McCorkindale, Ann Nelson (chair)

Appendix: Summary of D10 Group's proposals to date

Context:

The Radical Action Plan endorsed by the General Assembly in 2019 has now been incorporated into a Faith Action Plan, introduced to the General Assembly in October 2020.

Both Forums have a number of workstreams and implementation groups.

The duties of the Chief Officer include facilitating the development and enhancement of joint working between and among the Agencies. The duties for the new post of Head of Faith Action Programme also include effective co-ordination of work across the Forums.

Proposition one:

That, in place of the Forums, the work of the Forums should instead be undertaken by focussed Programme Groups with defined delegated authority to develop strategy and policy and oversee its implementation in the different areas of the Faith Action Plan.

Programme Groups would include a mix of staff and ‘non-staff', be fitted for purpose in terms of size, remit, expertise etc, and be expected to use a variety of models to ensure good input to their decision-making from across the church and beyond.

Depending on the level of delegated authority, decisions on strategy/policy would be taken by the Programme Group, the Assembly Trustees or the General Assembly.

Current Forum members would form the key initial membership of the Programme Groups.

Consideration: The arrangement sounds counter-intuitive. Won't it give rise to less joined-up working rather than more? We think our proposition two addresses this:

Proposition two:

That there should be a Faith Action Board, of a size and make up to be determined, but ensuring that the co-ordinating role of staff is complemented by a minister/member perspective. This Faith Action Board would have a facilitative role and oversee the development of the Faith Action Programme to ensure a consistent approach to strategy, integrated and collaborative modes of working, good multi-directional communication, and effective reporting to the Assembly Trustees and the General Assembly.

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We suggest that the approach set out in propositions one and two, taken together, will offer opportunities for people from across the church to engage in manageable, meaningful work at a national level while ensuring that the Assembly Trustees, and ultimately the General Assembly, are appropriately enabled in their oversight responsibilities.

Our thinking is that this model may more readily harness the gifts of the people of God in a structure which is a) simpler and more streamlined and b) in which the contribution of each is more clearly located within the whole so that the Church may better serve the world in which it exists today, to the glory of God.

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[1] The deliverance reads: ‘Instruct the Trustees to examine the implications and changes that would be required to unify the work of the Church under a single Forum and bring a report to the General Assembly in 2021 on what they believe will be the most effective and efficient structure for the delivery of work which has to be managed and delivered from the Church's national base.'

[2] Appendix 2 to the Assembly Trustees' Report paras 8,9,13. This work was approved in Section 10 of the Assembly Trustees' Deliverance, giving rise to the name "D10" for the working group.

[3] Para 1.4.7: …it is not yet clear which elements of work should be carried out by Presbyteries, which should be discontinued and how the main elements should be prioritised. This is an urgent matter and the Trustees propose that, in consultation with the Forums, they should report to GA2020 as to…those parts of the work of the [former] relevant Councils which should be carried out by each Forum, those parts which should be carried out by Presbyteries, those parts which it is no longer necessary to carry out…

[4] Such as mismatched expectations about the first – and because of COVID-19 the only – joint meeting of the Forums and the Assembly Trustees [when the Trustees wanted to address priorities, another of the urgent matters from the 2019 Commission of Assembly, to be reported to the Assembly in May, but Forums had only met once and hadn't got to know one another or their work]; the opportunity missed to appoint replacement liaison trustees for the Forums when the first ones retired as Trustees in May 2020; misunderstandings around the extent to which each of the Forums had a remit, ‘principal remits' having been approved by the 2019 Commission of Assembly with detailed remits to be developed for Assembly 2020.

[5] Para 10-13 of Appendix 2 to the Trustees' report to the General Assembly 2020.