Supporting the poorest in society is the "gospel imperative"

The Church is set to reaffirm its steadfast commitment to supporting the poorest people in society at the "heart of all that it does".

This is one of the key messages in the Faith Nurture Forum report to the General Assembly and highlights the invaluable mission of Priority Area congregations in areas of social deprivation.

However, it stressed that supporting the most marginalised is the "gospel imperative of the whole Church, not just the Church in the poorest places".

Rev Rosemary Frew
Rev Rosemary Frew is the convener of the Faith Nurture Forum.

Priority Areas are parishes which sit within the 5% most deprived rankings in the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD).

Described as "good places", the current list includes 64 areas and the 2021 General Assembly endorsed a widening of support to a supplementary list of 112 parishes which have some part of their population within one of the SIMD zones.

The report states: "Mission weaves through these good places, offering an inviting and welcoming church model and often doors are open seven-days-a-week.

"Typically, there will be community meals and other food poverty initiatives, outreach into the streets around the church, worship not just on Sunday but in other spaces in the week, work with older people, children and youth work, employment initiatives and more.

"The best places have a continually outward focus, joining up with local people and organisations to support the community."

Social change

The report said the Faith Nurture Forum's role has been to look for ways to strengthen and grow the Priority Areas network and making worship "integral to all that we do" is a key strategic goal.

Priority Areas churches play a key role in trying to affect social change to try and improve the lives of low-income individuals and families.

Congregations are encouraged to contribute to government consultations such as ending the need for foodbanks and supporting the doubling of the child payment campaign.

The report stated: "We took part in and promoted Challenge Poverty Week, a Poverty Alliance-led campaign to end poverty.

"With the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) being held in Glasgow in 2021, the focus of our Challenge Poverty Week content was themed around poverty and climate change.

"It highlighted that those already in poverty faced the greatest impact from climate change, that they contributed the least to bringing it about, and that our responses to tackling it need to be done in a way which does not push people further into poverty."

Reform

The report notes that the past year been one of significant change for the Faith Nurture Forum with the appointment of Rev Dr Scott Shackleton as Head of the Faith Action Programme and the development of the Faith Action Plan.

This has led to staff moving into one group with redefined roles and they have had to contend with a "perfect storm" - pandemic, presbytery restructuring and presbytery mission planning.

The Faith Nurture Forum said supporting the Church's strategy of striving towards having well-equipped spaces in the right places has never been more important, recognising the value of smaller churches as well as larger ones.

Providing support for all those who serve in the ministries of the Church is a key priority with the work of the Ascend Programme described as "invaluable during uncertain times".

"The Covid pandemic has added another layer of challenge over the last couple of years and while this has brought opportunities, it has also been a time of loss and adjustment and for many, frustration," said the report.

"These realities are acknowledged but it is also recognised that much has been achieved despite these limitations and the Forum wants to record its thanks to all in ministry for rising to the challenges in each community and context."

The Forum said support for people training for ministry and going through the admissions process is also of "paramount concern".

Code of conduct

The General Assembly will be asked to consider approving a new Code of Professional Practice and Good Conduct for the Ministries of the Church of Scotland as a standard to which all are expected to adhere.

Commissioners will also consider the total number of ministry posts to be allocated to presbyteries for the next five years which is subject to annual reporting.

Last year, the General Assembly approved a plan brought forward by the Assembly Trustees to reduce the number of full-time equivalent ministry posts to 600 and a target to have no more than 60 charges vacant at any one time by the end of 2025.

The Faith Nurture Forum acknowledges the difficulty presented by the reduction in ministries and highlighted that recruitment is a challenge, especially for full-time Ministry of Word and Sacrament and the Diaconate.

"The pandemic has presented for some a time of disconnection from regular church worship and involvement and it may be that this has impacted on the exploration of a call to ministry that often stems from local participation and encouragement," stated the report.

"That, combined with the significant change and reduction in ministry numbers being planned for by presbyteries at this time, seems to be affecting people coming forward in this time of transition and uncertainty.

"As the age profile of those in active membership of the Church has been increasing upwards over the years, this means, demographically, that the proportion of active members who are of an age to consider and explore the call to full-time ministry has been much reduced."

Recruitment

The Faith Nurture Forum said it remains committed to exploring opportunities to broaden the reach of recruitment and asks the whole Church to "prayerfully and actively encourage the exploration of vocation to the recognised ministries".

Last year, a new Under 40s Task Group was established to better understand challenges and opportunities facing the Church and it is anticipated that a strategy will be presented to the General Assembly next year.