Presbyterianism: a multiplicity of committees

I like a good meeting. In fact, I don’t even mind a bad meeting. To me, it always feels like something has been achieved when a topic has had a good airing. Sometimes it doesn’t matter whether any action follows, so long as a good chat was had by all. This is not satire it’s the confession of a woolly Presbyterian. Yet I am, a little, apprehensive about the potential to multiply meetings found in the proposed CofS Mega-Presbyteries.

Our Presbytery has already been divided into networks (aka hubs or clusters). These have been adopted with varying levels of enthusiasm. Now it seems that, as predicted, these will be joined by, not only a new gargantuan Presbytery but also, more accessible local groupings. I’m not alone in having noticed that Mega-Presbyteries sound a lot like the return of Synods, supplemented by local groupings that sound a lot like Presbyteries. This is not a criticism, it was inevitable that a bloc from Stirling to Angus would still require smaller regional meetings.

Recently, while browsing the ‘Effectiveness of the Presbyterian Form of Government’ report, I noticed the suggestion that Mega-Presbyteries may require a group of Presbytery Trustees to provide oversight. Will this replace or supplement the Business Committee? There was also the suggestion of Presbytery bodies mirroring national bodies, which I assume means some form of regional duplication of the national structures. And there appears to be the suggestion that the Mega Presbyteries may also need governance that allows them to interact at an international level? Is it envisaged that the central belt Presbyteries will eventually make a bid to rejoin the EU?

Then at a recent Presbytery meeting it was suggested that it might be necessary to form a national forum for Presbytery executive bodies. Perhaps this committee will also liaise with the central structures? Or will we also need additional bodies to allow, for example, the Presbytery Faith Nurture Forum to communicate with the National Faith Nurture Forum etc? And we haven’t even begun to imagine the additional fora and committees that Mega-Presbyteries may precipitate within 121 George Street or the myriad committees within those Mega-Presbyteries.

Admittedly, I am probably unaware of the various meetings and bodies that already exist to oil the wheels of the Kirk governance machine. But it strikes me that the rationalisation and efficiency gains expected through the Mega-Presbyteries may have already been squandered. I suspect it’s typical of ageing administrations, but we appear to be multiplying bureaucratic levels to administer ever diminishing resources and people.

I understand that at its best Presbyterianism aims to maximise participation and disperse authority. This can help to avoid fiefdoms and authoritarianism. But at its worst, Presbyterianism institutionalises the failing to which I admitted above. We multiply meetings, initiate commissions, form forums and create committees and feel that we have achieved something. But these structures are supposed to support an end beyond themselves. They are supposed to free the church to worship, witness, serve and glorify God.

As we make plans for the future shape of the Kirk, how will we ensure that the administration gives life to worship, mission and Kingdom growth? Otherwise, along with a sizeable property portfolio, we will be left with a convoluted bureaucracy having no purpose beyond self-perpetuation.

Choose your crisis

Is it too early to gauge whether Cop26 has been a success? I’ve been persuaded to abandon cynicism by a more optimistic friend who suggested that the fringe activities may have helped encourage and inspire people to care for our world. However, I’m unqualified to comment on whether, or not, the interactions of world leaders will prove effective.

Climate Change has certainly been front and centre for the last few weeks. And amongst the throng of campaigners, activists and protesters, have been churches and Christian organisations. Again, I’m persuaded, for a number of reasons, that this is positive. Perhaps it verges on ‘climate heresy’ to suggest a need for persuasion. But the church should always be wary of uncritically adopting perspectives based on popularity.

For example, while it’s vital that Christians engage with the issue of environmental degradation and climate change, we should not indulge into the wailing of the apocalyptic cult that surrounds it. Care for God’s world and its inhabitants is worship. Engaging with the concerns of our neighbours is an act of love and mission. But we must not live as those without hope.

Despite my thoughts on ‘bannergate‘, there are more pressing crises facing the world. This is where my sympathy emerges for those mildly exasperated by the present emphasis of many churches. Long before Cop26 there existed a trend for churches to express greater concern for the fashionable issue of the day, than for the core message of Jesus. It’s not that these concerns cannot coexist, but arguably some Christians appear more eloquent and confident in sharing the need for climate justice than in sharing Jesus Christ.

There is a great need to care for our environment, but the Gospel teaches that there is an even greater existential crisis at the centre of each of our lives. We are all going to die! And, in geological terms, very soon! If we have been marching, tweeting, posting or blogging about saving the earth, do we exhibit half that passion for the salvation of the lost? It’s not either or, but when I look at my own denomination, climate and other justices are often much more prominent than concern for the ultimate justice of God.

And for me, here’s the clincher. Of those who have read this far, how many are rolling their eyes and thinking that this view is terribly passé and unreconstructed. Because in reality many of us have grown a little ashamed of a simple Gospel. We are uncomfortable with its lack of sophistication and the hint of literalism about sin, death, heaven, hell and salvation.