During lockdown, our local Argos closed. There are still Argos stores in Dundee and the Kinross’ Sainsburys. So if you live in Perth and you want something from Argos, you can travel or you can shop online.
When planning the closure of the Perth Argos, probably no one suggested laying off the Perth employees and asking the Dundee staff to run both stores. If that had happened, I suspect it wouldn’t be long before the Dundee staff resigned or were signed off with stress. But if Argos was a Church of Scotland, would we have done exactly that? Would we have pointed to the third article declaratory and insisted on complete coverage of both regions, with half the resource?
Some may baulk at the comparison of the life of the Kirk in the same sentence as the strategy of a high street retailer. But arguably the Lord’s instructions were similarly decisive when it came to the towns that rejected the Gospel or local churches that stagnated. It’s a good question for every church to ask; ‘does Jesus consider our church fruitful or is he about to shake the dust?’
But to return to the point, our historic constitution states that: “as a national Church representative of the Christian Faith of the Scottish people [the Kirk] acknowledges its distinctive call and duty to bring the ordinances of religion to the people in every parish of Scotland through a territorial ministry.” There is much to consider about the meaning and relevance of this Article today. And as I consider the seismic reduction of ministries ahead, I wonder how are we going to live up to this commitment?
Let’s be real. It will not be possible for us to make the cuts instructed by the General Assembly and continue to focus our attention equally on every part of the resulting parishes, networks, hubs, clusters, mission groupings or mega-presbyteries. It may not be possible for every remaining church to have an in-person sermon each Sunday or to have a moderator or interim-moderator at session meetings. It may not be possible for only Ministers of Word and Sacrament to continue to conduct communion. Weddings, funerals and baptisms may not remain the domain of ‘the meenister’. And these may not be the most radical changes.
Those in leadership, and particularly those engaged in ministries, will need to focus on activities and practices that best advance the Kingdom of God and further the mission of Jesus to his world. But do we know what those activities are?
What will be the most important activities for Church of Scotland Ministers in this brave new world? What are the ordinances of religion today and what should they be? We are certainly unlikely to ‘hatch, match and dispatch’ our way to the Kingdom of God? And how does the preaching of the Word relate to mission if there is seldom anyone new to hear it? How will discipleship happen when, increasingly, participation in the Christian community is one of many leisure options?
The reality is that we don’t know! We don’t know what ministry will look like because we haven’t been this way before. That being the case, it is vital that we allow those in ministries the continued freedom to discern what God asks of them. You may think that goes without saying, but in the new paradigm it is equally possible that a cookie-cutter approach is imposed with the aim of forming an easily interchangeable workforce.
Having said that, although we ministers like to blame external expectations for the demands placed upon us. I wonder if the biggest obstacle to the necessary changes will not be congregations, 121 or Presbytery but the internal compulsion of many parish ministers to attend every event, meet every need, solve every problem and control every outcome.