Presbytery changes prepare Church for the future
Published on 7 November 2022 4 minutes read
The Church of Scotland is on target with streamlining its presbytery structures by 2024 as part of a wider drive to meet the demands of 21st century mission.
These radical reforms will see the number of presbyteries in Scotland fall from more than 40 to under a dozen, creating a simpler structure to support the work of the Church as it looks for fresh opportunities to grow, reach out and serve communities across the country.
The ambitious target was agreed by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 2019. This year's General Assembly noted that it had been encouraging to see how the leadership of local presbyteries around the country had responded to the challenge and seen the opportunities which the new structure would present.
The most recent of the new look presbyteries to be formed is the Presbytery of the South West, bringing together the former Ardrossan, Irvine and Kilmarnock, Ayr, Wigtown and Stranraer, Annandale and Eskdale, and Dumfries and Kirkcudbright presbyteries.
The new presbytery held its first official meeting on Saturday 1 October, the day after it officially came into being, at St Marnoch's Parish Church, Kilmarnock.
This included the installation of the first Moderator for the new presbytery, Rev Brian Hendrie, and the swearing in of its first presbytery clerk, Mrs Christine Murray, as well as the appointment of other roles including treasurer and safeguarding officer.
It also allowed representatives from the former presbyteries to get to know each other.
Mrs Murray said: "The first meeting was a very positive experience, starting with a moving service involving all the Moderators from the ‘old' presbyteries leading us in prayer before our new Moderator was installed.
"All our conveners have already proved to be hard working and more than capable, as they grapple with the complexity of unifying so many different approaches and traditions, and I have been overwhelmed by the number of messages of support not only from ministers and members of presbytery but from congregational members from Arran to Lockerbie.
"I am sure that, with such a level of goodwill behind us, we will succeed in advancing the Word of God in the Presbytery of the South West."
A good balance
The establishment of the Presbytery of the South West follows the creation of the Forth Valley and Clydesdale, and Edinburgh and West Lothian presbyteries at the beginning of this year.
The Presbytery of Edinburgh and West Lothian already had its committees and conveners in place before its official union on 1 January, and installed its first presbytery Moderator, Rev Julia Wylie, at its first meeting a month later.
Further activities have included an informal in person "getting to know you gathering" held in Corstorphine Craigsbank Church Hall in April to allow people from across the presbytery to meet face to face, and a day conference on the subject of mission in contemporary Scotland, which took place in Linlithgow St Michael's Church Hall in September.
Acting presbytery clerk Dr Hazel Hastie said the first event in particular had been a highlight,
"That was a real opportunity to come together and have a coffee and a croissant and sit down and talk to people that you didn't know," she said.
"I also think we have a good balance of people from the former presbyteries on our committees, providing a valuable mix of experience from both Edinburgh and West Lothian. We hope to explore presbytery wide initiatives enabling closer working together to build the Kingdom of God."
Neighbouring presbytery Forth Valley and Clydesdale has also added to its mix of experience with the addition of Falkirk Presbytery in June.
New presbyteries for Clyde, Fife and Aberdeen and Shetland had already been established before the beginning of 2022.
Now Aberdeen and Shetland is preparing to join Gordon, Buchan, Kincardine and Deeside, Orkney and most of Moray in the new North East and Northern Isles Presbytery at the start of 2023. Rev Elspeth McKay, currently the minister at Paisley Abbey, has recently been named as its first Presbytery Clerk and will be moving to Aberdeen to take up her new role.
She commented: "I am very much looking forward to returning to the North East and to getting to know the Northern Isles a bit better.
"I'm also looking forward to meeting people as we forge the way ahead with the new Presbytery of the North East and the Northern Isles."
Early 2023 will also see the creation of Lothian and Borders Presbytery, bringing together Lothian, Duns, Jedburgh, Melrose and Peebles presbyteries, and the new Perth Presbytery, bringing together the Perth, Angus, Dundee, Dunkeld and Meigle and Stirling presbyteries.
The restructuring programme in Scotland is hoped to be completed in early 2024. The 10 Highlands and Hebridean presbyteries of Argyll, Caithness, Sutherland, Ross, Inverness, Abernethy, Lochaber, Lochcarron-Skye, Uist and Lewis, are currently working towards the establishment of a new presbytery for the region, Clèir Eilean Ì (Highlands and Hebrides).