Kirk's Chief Officer looks back at 2020: 'Covid-19 challenged us at every level'

After a "challenging" year in the life of the Kirk, Dave Kendall, the Church of Scotland's chief officer, looks back at 2020 and ahead to what's to come in 2021.

Dave Kendall, the Church of Scotland's Chief Officer

This article first appeared in the Life and Work magazine of the Church of Scotland. You can subscribe to the magazine here.

It's a year now since I started as Chief Officer with the Church of Scotland and what a year it has been. When thinking about writing this short article about the challenges ahead I couldn't help but reflect on where we find ourselves at the end of 2020 and at the beginning of a new year.

Most notably we have made major strides towards meeting the targets set by the General Assembly in 2019. Expenditure has been significantly reduced, we have downsized the number of central staff without resorting to making posts redundant and improvements to both accountability and governance have been achieved.

Our Faith Action Plan was endorsed at the 2020 General Assembly to help with alignment and prioritisation, whilst development of an operational plan is enabling an integrated approach to the challenges ahead.

The business plan for 2021 is at an advanced stage of preparation and looks necessarily demanding in a way unimaginable just a year ago. The pandemic has been a horrible time in so many ways but has forced our hand on the pace of change. Covid-19 has challenged us at every level but has been particularly felt in the local church.

The closure of our church buildings and halls coupled with difficulties in maintaining many of our community activities felt devastating – but it led to an amazing response which meant that Church was always "open" even when the buildings were closed. So much innovation has been on show as we embraced many new ways of being Church, and served others through examples such as food banks, youth work and community outreach and then gradually reopened our buildings in an environment where safety has to come first.

2021 brings with it uncertainty about our finances and the shape of our day to day operations, but, given the resilience shown in congregations, presbyteries and the national office, I am confident that together we can come out of this stronger and better equipped.

Whilst the challenges we face have been exacerbated by the pandemic, they are little different from those reported by the Special Commission in 2019. In practical terms we need to plan ahead to become an institutionally smaller but practically more vibrant and influential Church. A clear focus on securing our financial sustainability, including the need to make some hard decisions on what we can set aside, will enable us to plan for and invest in future growth.

Our vision is to be a Church that inspires the people of Scotland and beyond with the Good News of Jesus Christ through enthusiastic worship, witnessing, nurturing and serving communities. So, the main areas that will enable our transformation are:

  • Our worship – how, where and when; with approaches that engage people of all ages.
  • Our ministries – developing the life of people at every level in our Church so that they can translate our vision into meaningful service.
  • Our leadership – resourcing inspirational leaders who can be a Christian voice that is heard and respected at all levels.
  • Our mission – witnessing to the Gospel in the local community, speaking truth to power and supporting the poorest at home and abroad.
  • Our values – at the centre of all we do in support of the local church.
  • Our buildings – providing 'well-equipped spaces in the right places' while reducing our commitment to unsustainable buildings.

I couldn't have had a better welcome and, having listened intently, I now have an understanding both of what we face and our potential for transformation. I am looking forward to 2021 with optimism and enthusiasm as we work together to take forward our goal of inspiring the people of Scotland and beyond with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Given the pressures that this pandemic has inflicted on us, displaying Christian love and support to each other and our neighbours has to be our top priority at every level of the Church today and every day in the future.

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