Introduction to the visit from DG March 2022

 

 

 

 

Church of Scotland Presbytery of Edinburgh & West Lothian Resources Committee Deployment Group (DG)

 

Introduction:

In order to facilitate the conversations between representatives of the Deployment Group (DG) and congregations regarding the creation of a Presbytery Plan, it was suggested that introductory information be provided. Such information will hopefully ensure that discussions are focused and fruitful, especially when time needs to be used wisely. Please find below a series of possible questions, followed by responses that may aid in this far ranging and important process. Appendices are included with observations on the wider context and details on relevant issues.

 

Why is the DG visiting?

The proposals for the Presbytery Plan mooted thus far have drawn a range of reactions. Some have responded positively and enthusiastically, some have responded with guarded support and some have responded with grave concerns. Much of the correspondence received has indicated a pressing desire to meet with Presbytery to discuss questions, concerns and possible alternatives. Hence these meetings are a part of the consultation process. In dialogue, a greater understanding of the views of congregations can be garnered and perhaps too, a greater understanding of the wider pressures and possibilities in the Presbytery and nationally.

 

How will meetings be arranged?

The DG has decided, given the responses provided by congregations, that meeting with them individually would be most appreciated. In some instances, groups of congregations are already working well together and in that circumstance a larger meeting is of course possible. And some congregations may feel that a meeting is not required - that is, of course, their choice. It is suggested that, if a congregation does want to meet with representatives of the DG, the representatives will be in contact with the Minister and Session Clerk in the first instance. A meeting can be arranged with a Kirk Session or, if preferred, representatives of the Kirk Session. A day and time can be arranged. Moreover, an agenda can be drawn up ensuring that the most pressing issues are addressed in the time available.

 

What can be expected of the DG?

The representatives of the DG will strive to meet with every Kirk Session as soon as practicable. Aligning diaries will be challenging in and of itself. Furthermore, the following can be expected:

Prepare: the representatives will have read the information already shared between the congregation and Presbytery. In addition, the representatives will have access to congregational statistics and accounts. Other information will be consulted if relevant.

Listen: the representatives will listen carefully to that which is articulated.

Clarify: the representatives will strive to clarify that which is heard in order to understand more fully.

Explain: the representatives will explain the remit of the DG, the process as it is currently envisaged and what it is hoped can be achieved.

Answer: the representatives will answer questions and, if further guidance is required from the wider Presbytery or the national church, seek to do so and provide an answer within two weeks. There have especially been questions asked about Mission Districts and the manner in which a union or other form of readjustment may work in a particular area. More information has been gathered from the wider church and yet more may be required.

Report: the representatives will bring the insights of the congregations back to the DG for further consideration and discussion.

 

What are the limitations on the DG?

Alternative proposals have been offered for the Presbytery plan. These range from a request for more staff to a change of tenure to a different group of congregations with whom to work. Representatives of the DG are not in a position to agree an adjustment but will bring any suggestions back to the DG. Moreover, congregations are kindly asked to remember that the representatives of the DG are not just Presbytery. They are you. That is, each one is a minister or an elder who has kindly agreed to provide time, energy, insight and patience in order to construct collectively a Presbytery plan for our church. They, like you, are working faithfully within the same constraints of time and energy and experience that we are all feeling at this time of momentous upheaval. We as a Presbytery are therefore grateful not only for the input from ministers, congregations and sessions, but also for the contributions from the members of the DG.

What can the DG expect of congregations?

In turn, the DG further ask that representatives are treated with kindness, understanding and respect. Many conversations will be difficult and strong emotions may arise. Such reaction is a sign of heartfelt commitment. Some questions will be difficult to answer or the answers may not be to the liking of congregations or may take some time to answer. We are, ultimately, all trying to work together to encourage mission in the Presbytery.

What can we expect of each other?

Those who have engaged with difficult conversations have suggested that agreed terms of engagement can be helpful. Perhaps the following is a good place to start:

  • listen to understand;

  • one voice at a time;

  • respect the other person;

  • monitor air time (keep comments brief).

Such guidelines may keep conversations focused, cordial and effective.

What is the subsequent process?

DG representatives will report back to the DG. As the process continues, the DG will note where there is growing consensus among a group of congregations about their future. We will also note where further conversations are required.

It is hoped that every congregation will be visited at least once between 1 April and 30 June and, ideally, there will be contact made with the Mission Districts too. The DG will then assess the status of the current proposals and decide a way forward in consultation with Presbytery. It should be emphasised that Presbytery has the final decision regarding any Presbytery Plan. The timeframe is tight but with God’s grace we can engage in conversations that lead to effective mission.

We do hope that this information is of some use to you and that our ongoing conversations and dialogues are of benefit to the mission of the church in this Presbytery and beyond.

Sincerely yours,

Stewart G Weaver

Stewart G. Weaver (Convener of the Deployment Group)

APPENDIX ONE: BROADER QUESTIONS

Why are we going through this process at all?

That the church is facing significant pressures in terms of numbers and finances has been clearly stated. The Report of the Assembly Trustees in the 2021 Blue Book contains a great deal of relevant information. Furthermore, the General Assembly (GA) of 2021 agreed not only to a 40% reduction in ministry posts but also the creation of Presbytery Mission Plans by the end of 2022. These plans are to be strongly focused on mission rather than ad hoc responses to the significant challenges. The deadline for the agreement of the plans is 31 December 2022 (and this process involves consultation with a number of bodies of the national church) and the deadline for full implementation is 31 December 2025.

What is the overall strategy for the CofS, and how does this planning process fit into it?

At a recent meeting with representatives from the national Faith Nurture Forum, we were reminded that the Presbytery Planning process flows out of the Radical Action Plan. This was agreed by the GA of 2019 and can be found in the Report of the Council of Assembly. To quote from the report: ‘The focus of the Action Plan is about supporting the whole Church, especially at a local level…’ At the GA of 2020, the Faith Action Plan was presented in order ‘to ensure that the Radical Action Plan became embedded as a core tenet of the work of the Church’ and thus ‘the decision was made to create a strategic plan.’ That plan is the Faith Action Plan and it can be found in the Blue Book of 2020 in the Report of the Assembly Trustees. The process in which the Presbytery of Edinburgh and West Lothian are now engaged arises out of this thinking and this strategy. Within the parameters of current (and future) resources, realistic conversations with local congregations and groups of congregations are taking place in order to create the conditions where local mission can grow and flourish. ‘Success’ in terms of numbers may occur. ‘Success’ in terms of building up relationships, sparking new ideas and widening horizons of mission possibilities has already occurred. ‘Success’ in terms of deepening faith in troubled times is prayed for.

 

What is the theological underpinning of this process?

Many have asked if greater emphasis can be placed on the theological grounding of this process and the concomitant documents. Mention has been made of the Missio Dei: the mission of God already taking place in the world to which the church is called to join. Mention has been made of the Five Marks of Mission: the Great Commission is a touchstone. The Theological Forum offered some helpful insights in August of 2020 (please see the link below). A quote may be helpful:

‘the Five Marks function helpfully as a theological vision statement for Christian mission. They include essential aspects of the mission work of the church: evangelism, discipleship, pastoral care, social justice, reconciliation and care for creation…all these five aspects belong within any vision statement of Christian mission.’

Within the current consultation, some of the forum’s closing words may be worth sharing:

‘The Five Marks may be helpful in offering a broad, generous theological vision to frame pragmatic decisions over priorities, but the Five Marks themselves do not do the work of prioritisation. That requires a practical wisdom, with an awareness of specific local, regional and national contexts.

https://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/69749/Church-ofScotland-Theological-Forum-Five-Marks-of-Mission.pdf

What is the current and future process for the Presbytery of Edinburgh and West Lothian?

The consultative document produced for the Edinburgh section of the Presbytery and the draft produced for the West Lothian section have initiated important local conversations and elicited responses from congregations. Presbytery have thus agreed the following: 

  • April to June 2022: congregations or larger groupings to be visited by DSG representatives;

  • June 2022: adjustments made to the plan;

  • July to Sep. 2022: further engagement and consultation;

  • October 2022: Presbytery vote on draft plan.

It can be noted that the word “adjustment” appears in the process above. The papers produced are not fait accompli. Adjustments are indeed possible but within the parameters of 65.5 ministry posts for the Presbytery, a cognisance of the wider effects of any adjustments and a focus on mission.

Who makes the decisions?

The DG will process and discuss the insights and information provided by congregations. This group also has the following remit: ‘responsible for presenting, implementing and reviewing the Presbytery Mission Plan…’. The DG will thus offer to Presbytery a proposed Mission Plan for discussion and debate. The final agreement rests with Presbytery.

 

APPENDIX TWO: SPECIFIC QUESTIONS

What pastoral support is available during these times of change?

The DG has been in conversation with Presbytery’s Faith Nurture Committee, who oversee pastoral care within its bounds. Every Minister, Deacon, MDS, OLM and Reader has been contacted and reminded of the network and variety of support that is available.

What are Mission Districts (MDs) and how do they work?

In many of the responses to questions posed for the q/a on 15 January, it was noted that MDs are a relatively new entity and that perhaps, in the first instance, an analogy could be made with a Parish Grouping. Since then, more information has been gathered. MDs developed in some parts of the Church of England as a response to current circumstances. It has been suggested that they could include 6-12 congregations working together to enable mission, resource ministry and support relationships. A MD could have a leadership team with a rotating chair and others who might oversee finance or administration. Such a team and the related congregations could identify new projects and initiatives and encourage partnerships. While governance, legal status and finance still require discussion, it is envisioned that the MDs would become ‘local network of churches inspiring, influencing and leading mission and ministry.’ ‘They would lift the horizon beyond the parochial into wider issues and opportunities….’