Mission districts in the Presbytery of Edinburgh and West Lothian April 2022

Mission Districts in the Presbytery of Edinburgh and West Lothian

1 Introduction

Moira McDonald, Lynne McEwen and I were part of the Steering Group which prepared for the new Presbytery of Edinburgh and West Lothian. During 2021 the Steering Group for the new Presbytery worked its way through the remit it had been given by both the old Presbyteries. One part of the remit was Recommend a List of Mission Districts and their Remit for presentation to the first meeting of the new Presbytery. This did not happen, not because the Steering Group overlooked it or ran out of time. It did not happen because two things became apparent:

1 It would not be possible to define the geographical area of each Mission District until the Presbytery Mission Plan receives final approval from Presbytery and the appropriate central bodies. (Although planning in West Lothian referred to three specific Mission Districts, these are only provisional at present, and Cluster Groups identified in Edinburgh are not necessarily the Mission Districts.)

2 This is an area where a ‘top down’ approach from Presbytery is not necessary, and possibly not desirable. It is an area where more local perspectives are very important, and a ‘bottom up’ approach, in consultation with the Presbytery’s Mission Co-ordinator, is workable and desirable.

2 What is a Mission District?

1 It is a number of congregations and parishes within a defined geographical area, which should be a more natural unit than some parishes. Dividing lines between some parishes can be artificial and to a great extent irrelevant.

2 There may be an ecumenical dimension in a Mission District: this would build on existing ecumenical relationships in some areas, and perhaps initiate such co-operation in other areas.

3 It should enable the new larger Presbytery, which may appear remote, to be closer to congregations and provide a degree of fellowship which will probably not be possible across the new larger Presbytery.

4 It is a unit designed to engage with Christian outreach and service in an area which is larger than the parish and smaller than the Presbytery.

5 It is an opportunity for congregations to share resources in a practical way.

6 It is something new for the Church of Scotland. What works and what does not work will become apparent as the Mission Districts begin to function. It might be described as an adventure in faith.

7 It is not an ‘official’ new layer of governance between Presbytery and Kirk Sessions. Each Mission District need not, and perhaps should not, function in exactly the same way.

3 Sharing Resources

Some congregations have already engaged in sharing resources, e.g. providing Session Clerks and Treasurers to other congregations who find it difficult to recruit these from their own membership. Mission Districts should provide wider opportunities for this. In each Mission District there will be a number of paid ministries. Each of these people, Ministers of Word and Sacrament, Deacons, Mission Development Staff, is a unique person with his/her own skills and talents. Rather than expect each of them to do everything, whether it is a talent they have or not, the Mission District may be an opportunity for each to concentrate on their strengths. As the Church of Scotland becomes less dependent on paid ministries, there will be an expectation that lay people will do more. One area for this is leading worship. The establishment of worship leadership teams will become increasingly important. Training may be provided at Presbytery level or within a Mission District (or two or three Mission Districts together). Once this training has taken place, it will be possible to have a Worship Leadership Team in each Mission District, to serve across that Mission District. Session Clerk, Treasurer, Property Convener, Safeguarding Co-ordinator, Musician – these are posts which each congregation seeks to fill at the present time. Sometimes this is straightforward, often it is not. Within a Mission District there can be the opportunity for one congregation to assist another, or even for some posts to be undertaken across the Mission District. One area which may particularly lend itself to this is the post of Administrator: he/she could work across the Mission District in an office to serve the whole Mission District, rather than each congregation have a part-time Administrator and office facilities. Sharing of resources in a Mission District can happen without congregations formally adopting a Basis of Team Ministry or a Basis of Parish Grouping.

4 Fellowship and Support

Ministers, Deacons, MDS, Session Clerks, Treasurers, Property Conveners, Safeguarding Co-ordinators, Musicians – these people often work in isolation, with the parish boundary operating as a barrier. It suits some to work in this way, but often only until something goes wrong. Mission Districts provide the opportunity for those doing the same job to meet together, to learn from one another, and to support one another. This can also apply to all elders, and to members of congregations with similar concerns. People will discover that those in neighbouring congregations are not from a different planet! The congregation has become the key unit in the Church of Scotland. When I worked in the Church Offices, I received a very sad phone call from a woman, asking for advice that would enable her congregation to keep going for another year. Some congregations today are in ‘survival’ mode: keeping ‘the show on the road’ has become the main, perhaps only, concern. With shared resources and greater support, the Mission District could become the key unit, and the outlook might move from ‘survival’ to ‘revival’. For this to happen we need to trust one another and be willing to increase our horizon beyond our own church building, our own congregation, our own minister. There may be lessons to be learned from the Methodist Church, where the circuit (a group of congregations) is the basic unit, or from the Church of England, where a diocese is divided into a number of deaneries.


5 What is missing?

Having said all this, what has been left unsaid? One very important thing, the most important thing – what is the main function of the Mission District? It is to engage in Christian outreach and service, to be a visible church, to share the gospel in word and action. This needs to be determined within each Mission District. Rather than prescribe a remit at this stage, it is more appropriate to list some questions which each Mission District might address:

1 What are the principal needs of the communities within our Mission District?

2 How can the church most effectively share the gospel in our Mission District?

3 How would we start setting up our Mission District?

4 How would the work of our Mission District be co-ordinated?

5 What resources, if any, does our Mission District require from Presbytery?


Gordon D Jamieson

30 April 2022


Comments from those present at the Conference:

1 Mission Districts may be regarded as yet another layer of church governance and administration.

The answer to this concern is that the Mission District is designed to engage congregations in mission, some aspects of which may be more effective undertaken by a group of congregations working together rather than a number of individual congregations working separately. The Mission District is not part of the governance of the church.

2 Remove the present parish boundaries in favour of a Mission District boundary.

This may be the sensible approach in some, if not all, Mission Districts, especially where current parish boundaries are artificial and largely irrelevant. If the abolition of some parish boundaries is contrary to church law, but is a good idea that leads to more effective mission, then there may be good reason to change church law.

Another comment referred to the training of Worship Leadership Teams, which was referred to above and in the brief comments by the convener of the Faith Nurture Committee.

It was also emphasised that a ‘bottom up’ approach needs to be addressed with positivity and enthusiasm.

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