Kirk ministers to be called remotely

Congregations in the Church of Scotland will be permitted to meet remotely in order to call a minister, under new protocols approved today, reports Life and Work magazine.

Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair

A Commission of Assembly, meeting by videoconference, agreed the temporary amendments to Church law, which will apply until at least October.

Since the coronavirus lockdown was imposed in March, Kirk Sessions and Vacancy Committees have been unable to meet; and as public worship has stopped there have been no opportunities for sole nominees to preach. This has meant newly-qualified ministers are unable to seek their first parish, and those who feel called to another church could not pursue that calling. Read more from Life and Work on their website.

The new protocols will allow for Kirk Sessions and Committees to meet remotely, and for preaching as sole nominee to take place by live streamed or recorded worship. The ballot procedure has been amended to allow for votes to be sent by post or hand-delivered.

The Commission also approved protocols for Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions to meet by video or audioconferencing.

The convener of the Legal Questions Committee, the Rev Dr Grant Barclay, said: “The time to come will remain challenging regardless of changes to public health policy. In changed circumstances, however, some things remain: we need to be able to continue to function as a Church…

“The protocol is designed to be as flexible as possible, enabling general principles to be applied to differing settings from large city-centre charges to smaller, perhaps linked rural ones. These provisions are also temporary and shall subsist only until the next General Assembly. At that point (and it is intended that there shall be a General Assembly in October of this year) the terms of the protocol may be extended if it is found to have worked well, or it may be adapted in the light of experience – or departed from completely…

“We think it is necessary to offer these more flexible ways of working, given the pressing challenges which are faced, not least by vacant charges as well as by ministers completing their fourth or familiarisation placements and who now seek a charge.”

He added that the protocol on remote Kirk Session and Presbytery meetings was subject to the principles “that all those entitled to be present are made aware of and can attend, albeit remotely; that all are enabled to contribute to and to hear the arguments; and that all those entitled to participate in decision-making are provided with the means of doing so”.

In response to a question, Dr Barclay added that he knew of no way a new minister could be inducted to a charge without ordination, which is currently not possible. However, it was hoped that situation might change when Scottish Government guidelines are updated in coming weeks.

This was the first time a Commission of Assembly, a gathering of about 10% of the most recent General Assembly, has met remotely. The Moderator, Principal Clerk, Dr Barclay and other officials were present in the Assembly Hall in Edinburgh, and Commissioners joined by videoconferencing facilities.

Guidelines on the new protocols will be sent out shortly from the Principal Clerk to Presbytery Clerks, and placed on the church website.

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The team has also launched The Coronavirus Diaries, which features people from across the church and partner organisations sharing their experiences of life during the pandemic. Read the latest diary entry from Kasta Dip, director of India Peace Centre or find more at Life and Work magazine.