Tag Archives: Church of Scotland

Church of Scotland Statistical Report (And Comparison to the PC(USA) )

As I was looking through the reports to the Church of Scotland General Assembly 2015 I found the most recent statistical report at the end of the Legal Questions Committee Report.

The numbers in the report help to quantify the comments about the declining number of adherents in the Kirk. For example, over the last year the number of individuals On the Rolls has declined from 398,389 to 380,163, a decrease of 4.6%. Since 2003 – the time span covered by the report – the Total on the Rolls has decreased 31.3% from 553,248. Similarly, back in 2003 there were 1546 congregations, in 2013 it had dropped to 1389 and in 2014 the number had further dropped to 1379. Since 2003 it reflects a 10.8% drop and a 0.7% decrease in the last year.

Looking at the categories of membership change, over the last decade I found it interesting that membership loss to the Church Triumphant (deaths) was almost always right around half of the losses. Removals by transfer shows a fairly steady decline while removals in the other category are consistently higher than transfer but jumps around a bit. On the plus side, admissions by Profession and by Resolution run about equal while admissions by Certificate are a bit higher. However, in the bottom line the number of removals was about three times the number of admissions in 2003 and they gradually diverge over the next decade until by 2014 the removals were more than four times higher than the admissions.

Considering the similar patterns seen in the PC(USA) I thought I would compare the two data sets to see how similar they are.

The numbers for 2014 for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are not out yet so the decade drop to 2013 will be considered. The PC(USA) numbers can be found in the annual Comparative Statistics reports.

In 2003 the PC(USA) reported 11,064 congragations and 2,405,311 members. The Church of Scotland had 1,546 congregations and 553,248 total on rolls. In 2013 the PC(USA) had 10038 churches and 1,760,200 members. The Church of Scotland had 1,389 congregations and 398,389 total on rolls.

The decade drop in number of congregations is 9.3% for the PC(USA) and 10.1% for the Church of Scotland. The membership drop is 26.8% for the PC(USA) and 27.9% for the Church of Scotland. A difference of just about 1% for each of the measurements.

Since the two branches have significantly different numbers of congregations and members I have plotted comparison graphs using their numbers normalized to 2003 and so it shows the proportion of members or churches in each of the following years. The red line and points are for the Church of Scotland the the blue line and points are for the PC(USA).

CofS_PCUSA_Congregations_2014CofS_PCUSA_Membership_2014

There are some interesting differences between the plots, particularly the higher rates of decline for the Church of Scotland earlier in the time period and an increased rate of decline for the PC(USA) in the last few years. But overall, declines for both are fairly steady and very similar.

This raises all sorts of questions about why this is. This is too limited a data set to really speculate too far, but similar combinations of factors are certainly in play for both. On the one hand they have been wrestling with very similar internal discussions and actions regarding the role of same-sex partnered leaders within the church. On the other hand, they both have the bigger cultural issues that are causing the decline of mainstream/established churches throughout the western developed world. Figuring out the interplay and strength of those two components, and some others we might be able to think of as well, will take a much broader set of data to consider.

The strength of the similarity came as a bit of surprise to me because of the accounts I see about the rapid decline of Christianity in Europe (exempli gratia) and I expected to see Scotland declining noticeably faster than the American branch. If there are significant differences between the continents, this either speaks well for the Church of Scotland or poorly for the PC(USA), or both. More work is needed here.

It is probably worthwhile briefly noting one additional statistical item from the report and a point of significant divergence between the two branches. The final table in the Church of Scotland report shows that at the end of 2014 there were 215 vacant charges, just about one-fifth of all the charges in the Kirk. Furthermore, 39 students were training for the ministry. In the PC(USA) the Church Leadership Connection Applications and Positions Report shows that there are currently 45 Head of Staff positions being searched for and over 800 individuals who might want those positions. There are 213 solo pastor positions in the search process and 1421 individuals who are searching for such a position. And in 2012 – the last year these statistics are available for – there were 12,807 active teaching elders and 1,078 candidates for 10,262 churches. (And for those not familiar with the PC(USA) system, candidates are those students in the final stages of training or those who have finished and not yet ordained to a call.) And yes, I have skimmed over a whole bunch of nuance in both sets of numbers, but it does show the marked difference between the scarcity of Church of Scotland clergy and the abundance of PC(USA) clergy.

The membership and congregation data is however an interesting and enlightening comparison and it shows two related and culturally similar Presbyterian branches in similar circumstances. I will keep an eye out for additional data sets which may throw more light on the forces which might be controlling the similar behaviour. But that is what I see in the data now – your mileage may vary.

Postscript: If you are interested in the data set and the calculations you can view them on a Google Sheet.

Presbyterian News Headlines For The First Half Of January 2015

OK, we are getting caught up a bit – at least I am into the current year.

But I am going to start by including a few older ones around a single theme: There were recognitions of three missionaries over the past couple of months culminating in early January with the centennial of the death of Mary Slessor, a Church of Scotland missionary to what is now Nigeria. A few of the headlines from both Scotland and Nigeria:

‘The Queen of Okoyong’: The legacy of Mary Slessor – from BBC News

Plaque commemorates ‘extraordinary’ missionary Mary Slessor – from stv News

Mary Slessor: PCN honours late missionary with commemorative ceremony – from Pulse Nigeria: “The Presbyterian Church of Nigeria AkwaSynod will be holding a commemorative service to celebrate the centenary celebration of Mary Slessor’s death. “

The previous month Jane Haining was in the news as a BBC documentary about her premiered. She was a Church of Scotland worker in Budapest who refused to leave her work when the Nazis invaded and ultimately died in Auschwitz. (Unfortunately, it appears the documentary is not available online.)

Jane Haining: The Scot who died in Auschwitz – from BBC News

Finally, a Presbyterian Church of Ireland missionary was honored in India for his work there:

Presbyterian missionary remembered in India – from Presbyterian Church in Ireland; “A former Presbyterian missionary who served in India has been honoured during a special ceremony held recently at the Gujarat United School of Theology. Rev. John Faris and Miss Linda Jackson represented the Presbyterian Church of Ireland as the Ted Jackson Computer Training Centre and new library were officially opened in Ahmedabad.”

 

And in news on mission workers currently serving, an attack on a Northern Irish medical missionary:

Maud Kells: Brave humanitarian shot in DR Congo will not be deterred – from Belfast Telegraph

 

And now, a few other things that caught my interest…

From the Reformed Church in South Africa, after the general synod meeting was divided on the issue, a special synod will be called to discuss it:

Special synod to decide on Reformed Church women ministers – from The Citizen

 

A new General Assembly Moderator is inducted in Ghana:

Evangelical Presbyterian Church gets new Moderator – from Ghana News Agency

 

A new story related to a continuing discussion around the PC(USA):

Edison minister fights divestment policy: Presbyterian cleric says national body ignores Jewish voices – from New Jersey Jewish News

 

And in Scotland, opposition to a new opt-out system for organ donors:

Free Church of Scotland blasts organ donor plans – from The Scotsman; “The Free Church of Scotland has voiced its opposition to a blanket opt-out system for organ donation. The religious group claims specialist nurses and better education on organ donation in schools would be far more effective in increasing the number of donors.”

 

Also out of Scotland, the Kirk is a partner in providing a more friendly atmosphere for visiting families at a youth correctional facility:

Family bus scheme launched at Polmont youth prison – from BBC News

 

Over the last few months there have been several very interesting church-sponsored workshops around the globe. In this time slice there was one by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland:

‘Living and dying well’ conference draws key speakers – from a Presbyterian Church in Ireland news article; “Hosted jointly by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and Union Theological College, the theme of the event is ‘Living and Dying Well’ and will address the ethical, pastoral and legal issues surrounding attempts to legislate in favour of assisted suicide.”

 

A few things about buildings, starting with the continuing saga of the Greyfriars Church of Scotland in Port of Spain, Trinidad:

Move to save ruins of Greyfriars church – from Trinidad & Tobago Guardian

Bid to settle Greyfriars demolition out of court – from Trinidad Express

Greyfriars owner, PoS Council in talks – from Trinidad & Tobago Newsday

In Texas, the oldest house of worship in town, originally built by Presbyterians, and later used by other denominations, has been vacant for over a decade is being converted to community space in a private initiative:

Edna leader restore church for community – from Victoria Advocate

Help with a new roof for a church in New York:

Historic Le Roy church receives landmark grant – from The Daily News

And from Scotland, a new proposal for a historic but abandoned church property but with concern for the adjoining cemetery:

Proposals to convert Kinfauns Church into luxury house back on the table – from The Courier

 

And remembrances of three notable gentlemen:

In Ireland, Mr. Jonathan Simms, MBE, a supporter of the Boys Brigade and other youth programs, remembered in a service led by the GA Moderator:

‘He had time for everyone – a rare quality’ – from Carrick Times

In the U.S., Professor Ed Farley of Vanderbilt Divinity School:

Remembering Nashville theologian, musician Ed Farley – from The Tennessean

And Syngman Rhee, seminary professor and the Moderator of the PC(USA) 212th General Assembly (2000):

Syngman Rhee, Presbyterian and ecumenical leader, dies at 83 – from The Christian Century

PC(USA) mourns loss of former Moderator and ecumenical leader – PC(USA) press release

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Second Half Of December 2014

In addition to my earlier posts on the approval by the presbyteries of the act concerning partnered same-gender clergy in the Church of Scotland and the various Christmas messages, here are a few items that caught my attention at the end of the year:

There was a crash of a bin lorry (garbage truck) into a group of Christmas shoppers in Glasgow just before Christmas resulting in six fatalities and numerous injuries. The Church of Scotland was a major responder and these articles talk about that pastoral care and remembrance as well as having quotes from the Moderator of the General Assembly and the Moderator of Glasgow Presbytery.

Glasgow bin lorry crash: Church leader tries to comfort grieving families – from The Guardian

Glasgow bin lorry crash: Memorial service for dead and hurt – from Glasgow Churches Together

Kirk moderator warns there are “no trite answers” to George Square tragedy – from Herald Scotland

Also from the Scotland, the Kirk is one of a group of churches forming a credit union to promote fair financial practices. The new endeavour received government approval.

Church’s flagship credit union is ready to launch – from Church Times

 

The AirAsia jet that crashed in the ocean off southeast Asia carried a family from the Yeosu First Presbyterian Church

Missing AirAsia Jet Carried A Young Family Of Korean Christian Missionaries – from Huffington Post (an excerpt from a WSJ subscription article)

 

In Ghana, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church had some critical words for the country’s leadership

Ghana Needs A Visionary Leader – Presby Moderator – from Daily Guide

 

The Louisville Institute at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary received a major grant from the Lilly Endowment for work with Native American pastoral leaders:

Seminary institute awarded $2.5 million grant – from The Courier-Journal

 

Professor Kevin J. Vanhoozer of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School won the 2014 Christianity Today Book Award in the theology/ethics category with his book “Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine.” Dr. Vanhoozer has served on the Panel of Doctrine for the Church of Scotland and the book was published by the PC(USA)’s publishing arm Westminster John Knox Press.

Trinity’s Vanhoozer wins 2015 Christianity Today book award – from Chicago Tribune

 

And in the category of stories that have taken on a life of their own, two that the press have managed to exaggerate or just get wrong. The first is a report that the Church of Scotland was evaluating its meeting space and while finding someplace else is a possibility it is not as much a probability as this story makes it seem…

Church plans exodus from historic Edinburgh home – from The Scotsman

And from the PC(USA) an erroneous headline about a piece of business supposedly taken up at the last GA…

Presbyterian Church USA Voted on Erasing “Israel” from Prayers – from Breaking Israel News

 

As Romania marks the 25th anniversary of its revolution, a brief tribute to the Reformed pastor who started it:

The Pastor Who Brought Down a Dictator – from The Daily Signal

 

And another anniversary, the 10th of the Great Sumatran Earthquake and the recollectons of a minister who was working in Sri Lanka:

Kirk minister recalls tsunami horror 10 years on – The Scotsman

 

Finally, numerous commemorations were held of the centennial of the World War I Christmas Truce:

Kings Presbyterian will mark First World War Christmas truce with special service – from Nova News Now (Canada)

Ballyclare match to recreate Christmas truce in Great War trenches – from Belfast News Letter (Ireland)

Christmas truce football statue unveiled in Liverpool – from BBC News

Presbyterian News Headlines For The First Half Of December 2014

Moving on to the next group of headlines, here are a few things that caught my attention.

A good chunk of Church of Scotland news in this period including the following:

An honorary degree from Glasgow University for a former Moderator

Honorary degree for former Moderator Lorna Hood – from The Scotsman

A challenge from the Moderator and questions about trying to grow the Kirk, including connecting online

Moderator hopes 100,000 people click with Kirk – from The Scotsman

Doubts over whether new stance on gay clergy could revive Kirk membership – from The Press and Journal

Church of Scotland: Will online outreach help ailing attendance figures? – from Christian Today

Moderator calls for Church to redefine membership in digital age – from Church of Scotland

The launch of the Scottish Leaders Welfare Group that includes the Church of Scotland. And for a bit of context, the issue of poverty was an important one in the Indy Ref campaign as well as the ongoing work of the Kirk, which will be regularly mentioned in these headlines posts.

Church and union leaders unite in bid to end cruel austerity measures in Scotland – from Daily Record

 And in worship news

New Gaelic hymn book launched – Hebrides News; compiled by a church in Skye with new and classic hymns; the continued use of Gaelic in worship is a major factor in maintaining the language

 

The issue of religious conscience in a commercial setting and same-sex marriage has become a hot topic in the U.S. but there is similar controversy about it elsewhere, in this case Northern Ireland, and the local presbytery sides with the baker after Equality Commission ruled against them:

Presbytery backs Ashers in legal row – from Ballymena Times

 

And similarly, dwindling congregations can be found the world over as well, in this case a church in Andersons Bay, New Zealand

Historic church’s future in doubt – Otago Daily Times

 

At the annual conference of the Mizoram Synod in that province of India:

Mizoram Synod turns down proposal to ordain women theologians – from Business Standard

 

From the U.S., one of the more unique stories of the time period…

Shurat Hadin charges US Presbyterian Church with having ties to Hezbollah: Israeli NGO says tax-free status should be revoked. – from The Jerusalem Post

 

Water projects built by the Presbyterian Church of Ghana

Presby[terian] Moderator commissions water projects for Northern and Upper presbyteries – from ModernGhana

Upper Presbytery Commission Water Project at the Cost of GHc 100,000 – from MyGhanaOnline

 

Buildings, buildings and more buildings…

W. Lebanon Church Has New Owner – from Valley News; former Seventh Day Adventist building bought by Providence Presbyterian Church (OPC)

Old Sutersville church may yet survive – from Trib Live; former Presbyterian Church building, believed oldest structure in borough, saved from wrecking ball for now.

Insurance costs could shut Inverness’ Old High Church – from BBC News

For Neighbors, Construction On Kansas City Church Is Good News – from Kansas City Public Media; update on a previously mentioned redevelopment project by the presbytery

First Look: Downtown church’s $17.7M transformation into a community center – from Columbus Business First

These Philadelphians Want to Get Closer to Their Neighbors – from Next City; a church being converted into a cohousing development

 

That’s it for now. Moving on to the next topic.

Learn Eldership – A New Publication From The Church Of Scotland

Eldership_coverMy copy of a new Church of Scotland publication arrived in the mail this week. Their new book for training elders as part of the Learn program is simply titled Learn Eldership and it has been a best seller with pre-orders selling out the first press run in three weeks.

The list price with St. Andrew Press, the publishing arm of the Kirk, is £10.00, but you can get it for £7.00, or less in volume, by going through the Resourcing Mission site. The publication date is this Tuesday, March 2, but these distribution channels shipped as soon as they had it in stock. However, the postage to ship it outside the UK could more than double the cost of the book if, like me, you live on the other side of the world. However, I see that Amazon is taking pre-orders for the release this coming Tuesday so that will mean lower-cost shipping for many of us.

There are very good reasons that this 75-page book quickly became a best seller — from a design and structure point of view it is one of the best books for training ruling elders that I have seen. The flow of the book is logical beginning with an Introduction (think of it as the “what am I getting myself into” talk), a section on the Fundamentals like the Bible, creeds and prayer (contextually like the PC(USA) has created the new Foundations section of the Book of Order), and it then talks about Understanding the Kirk and Serving the Kirk.

While it has this flow the articles in it are short, easily read, and written by a wide variety of experienced leaders. And each article is pretty much self-contained and they do not need to be read in any particular order. For example, here is the article on Pastoring the Parish:

Eldership_pageIt gives you a good feel for the contemporary design and length of article.

Now, I realize that the quality of a book on Eldership should not just be about the layout and typeface but about the content and relevance. Again, this struck me as a good resource from that perspective. For starters, while the articles are easy and short reads it is clear this is only a starting point. In the photo above you can see in the lower right corner two blocks. One is Questions for discussion (e.g. “In what ways can you develop pastoral care within your congregation?”). The other shown is Why not try…, in this case “Why not try… hosting a lunch for interested individuals in the congregation to discuss the pastoral care provision?”

While not shown in this example, most of the articles also have a Further Reading section as well and the checking of those that I have done show that frequently the listed readings are a mix of recognized academic titles (from such sources as Yale University Press and Blackwell) and ones from publishers of more popular titles (e.g. IV Press and Zondervan).

But what I found most attractive about this book is that while it covers the essentials of church governance about the place of the session and the other courts of the church, it really seems to put the main focus on the spiritual and pastoral duties of a ruling elder. Sections about hospital visits, caring for the bereaved, and missional thinking are examples of the nice variety of material that deals with practical ministry aspects of being a ruling elder.

In some ways the attraction of the book is also its greatest weakness. The articles are so bite-sized that for some of the articles I found myself wanting just a wee bit more, but not enough that I would want to go to the trouble of seeking out the additional resources to beg, borrow or buy. But this is probably a product of the target for the book of using it in the Learn program. It is designed to be used in a group setting so it is not as much a handbook as a companion piece and conversation starter and the speaker or group can help fill in the details.

The one section that I wish was in there would be one specifically on the elder tending to his or her own spiritual development. Yes, there are suggestions in the section under the Bible and prayer, as well as mentioned as part of the work of the session. But I think it is an important enough aspect of the work of the elder to deserve more focused discussion. My opinion – your mileage may vary.

And finally, it must be mentioned that the book does reflect the theological circumstances that the Church of Scotland finds itself in at the moment. This is probably best encapsulated in the section on the Westminster Confession where it talks about it being a subordinate standard but only on points regarding “the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith.” But an attempt to bring greater clarity to that in the past did not make significant progress and so there is not agreement on those points. It acknowledges that within the Kirk are those that see the Westminster Confession setting a “definitive expression of the faith of the Kirk,” for others it is a “significant document in the development of Reformed theology, and one worthy of ongoing reception,” and finally those that see the document as “highly anachronistic and/or simply erroneous in its theological views.” The good news is that while the doctrinal and the few polity sections must navigate this maze, the many pastoral and ministry sections usually do not impinge on these debates. It is left as an exercise for the reader to keep this situation in mind regarding sections that might have been influenced by these circumstances and sections that might also have been omitted.

So in the pantheon of elder training material where does this one fit? It deals more with spiritual shepherding and much less with governance than The Presbyterian Ruling Elder: An Essential Guide. And it has a clearly different focus than Presbyterian Polity for Church Leaders and Blood on Every Page. For many the standard is the 19th century classic by David Dickson, The Elder and His Work, (recently reissued). That is a great source of practical advice in a conversational style and while some may suggest that the style of visitation coached in that book is a relic of a bygone era, I would suggest that there may still be something to it – but I digress. This present work under consideration is a broader and less focused work than that. I do believe that this work comes close to my favorite, the Equipping Elders material from the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Equipping Elders is not as graphically appealing but I have found it to be a great mix of the theoretical and practical and is therefore packed with more information than Learn Eldership. And the electronic version is a free download so you can’t be the price.

Bottom line for Learn Eldership: Easy reading and practical material in good short pieces. A ruling elder with soon want more on these topics – be it reading or coaching – but it makes a good starting point and a wonderful overview of the responsibilities an active elder.

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Second Half Of November 2014

Here is what caught my attention in later November of last year. (And have I really gotten that far behind on these?)

From Presbyterian branches in Africa:

Over 400 varsity students from Presbyterian University of East Africa to miss graduation – from Standard Digital; A problem with accredited courses and matching courses to degrees canceled students’ graduation plans.

Staff petitions Blantyre Synod over Mulanje Mission CCAP administrator, accountant – from Nyasa Times; Accusations of corruption and mismanagement at this church-sponsored medical facility

Livingstonia Synod takes a swipe at ‘lazy’ judges – from Nyasa Times; “The CCAP Synod of Livingstonia through its Church and Society organization has condemned the conduct of some judges for not performing to the expectations of many Malawians, saying the judges are reaping off Government.”

PCC: Reverend Fonki Samuel Forba begins new mission with the Church – from CameroonWeb; the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon elects a new Synod Moderator

 

An article about the social care ministry of the Church of Scotland

CrossReach keeps us on the right path – from The Scotsman

 

And the Lord High Commissioner to the next General Assembly was announced

Judge Appointed Lord High Commissioner – from Life and Work; “Sir James Arthur David Hope, Baron Hope of Craighead, will represent the Monarch at next year’s gathering in Edinburgh.”

 

And in ongoing labour relations questions in the Church of Scotland

Church to end union pay deal agreement – from Herald Scotland; “Workers at the Church of Scotland offices have voted to end the collective pay bargaining agreement with Unite the Union. A ballot of the 220 staff saw an 80 per cent turnout and a vote of 93 to 80 in favour of an end to the eight-year-old recognition agreement.”

 

Also in Scotland, there was a proposal, abandoned for the moment, to make the schools more secular

MSP drops attempt to curb church role in Scots schools – from The Christian Institute

 

A full page New York Times ad was taken out to speak out against the PC(USA)’s Israel/Palestine divestment action and signed by 120 well-known members of the church.

Prominent Presbyterians Push Back On Divestment – from The Jewish Week

 

In Ireland, criticism of a move by a church to manage the leadership of a program it sponsors:

Killinchy church congregation split over demotion of Girls’ Brigade leaders – from The Belfast Telegraph; “Killinchy Presbyterian Church has moved to demote three long-serving Girls’ Brigade leaders because they attend the neighbouring Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church”

 

And finally, the strange but true headline of the period…

170-Year Old Mummified Cat Discovered in the Highlands – from Press and Journal; because the building dates to 1844 and has not been touched since it is said the cat may date to the time of the Disruption. For more on the renovation, or if you have reached your Press and Journal limit, there is a Free Church article about the church reopening: Dornoch Free Church set to reopen after renovation work

That is it for now. On to something else.

Presbyterian News Headlines For The First Half Of November 2014

OK, I’m falling behind again – but trying to catch up. So here are a few of the things that caught my attention back in November…

In the ongoing news story in Trinidad, initial demolition work on Greyfriars Church in Port-of-Spain was begun and after three hours halted. The contractor was reported as saying the work was only to open parts of the building so the engineers could inspect the structure. The owner said it was to remove a toxic roof. And to bring you up to date as of this writing nothing further has happened with the building as the community continues to discuss the future.

Greyfriars demolition stopped – from Guardian – Trinidad and Tobago

Contractor: No bid to demolish Greyfriars – from Trinidad Express

Owner of Greyfriars: Toxic roof removed from church hall – from Guardian – Trinidad and Tobago

In Scotland following the Independence Referendum, the British Government established a group to look at devolution of powers and home rule. This group, the Smith Commission, had a lot of input but comments from the Church of Scotland focused on what could be done locally to improve conditions for those in the lowest economic groups, as typified by this headline:

Group seeks powers over benefits – from The Courier

The Commission included a former Moderator of the General Assembly, Dr. Alison Elliot. More on the Commission and the Kirk’s input:

Cross-party Scottish home rule campaign launched – from BBC News

Church leaders want more power for Holyrood to help the needy – from Aberdeen Press & Journal

And along those same lines but in a different sphere:

Kirk poverty campaigner reflects on Vatican visit – Church of Scotland press release; “Martin Johnstone, the Church of Scotland’s Priority Areas Secretary, recently attended the first Global Meeting of Popular Movements hosted by the Vatican in Rome.”

It was interesting to see that the Governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, preached at the First Presbyterian Church of New Canaan, Connecticut.

Governor of Massachusetts to Preach at First Presbyterian Church of New Canaan – from New Canaan’s HamletHub

Two stories about saving historic churches. The first, the renovation of a building that has been vacant for 35 years that will soon house community and presbytery services and offices:

Collaborative $10M redevelopment will save historic KC church – from Kansas City Business Journal

The second, a church that saved its original structure from demolition and is renovating it to become a community space:

Presbyterians want to restore historic church for community gatherings – from press of Atlantic City

And a follow-up on that major archaeological discovery on Church of Scotland land:

Viking treasure finders reflect as first secrets are revealed – from Church of Scotland press release

A peek inside a Viking piggybank: CT scans of treasure chest reveal hidden brooches, gold ingots and ivory beads – from Daily Mail

That’s it for the news for now. On to other topics

Top Ten Presbyterian News Themes Of 2014

As we close out this eventful year I will once again join the numerous sources putting out top ten lists for the year that was. And as in past years my primary focus will be on stories, or themes, that were seen across multiple Presbyterian branches with a few more selective ones thrown in.

General Assemblies and Same-Sex Relationships

This was probably the top news theme of the year: The Church of Scotland GA sending to the presbyteries, and the presbyteries approving, language for churches to opt-out of the traditional standards. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 221st GA approving language to redefine marriage in its Book of Order and it appears on path to approval in the presbyteries. The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand approving a change to their Book of Order to prohibit same-sex marriages. And momentum is building around an overture to the next Presbyterian Church in Canada GA that would remove the prohibition against ministers being in a same-sex relationship.

Seminaries

This was a category that really caught my attention this year but which I have yet to write up in detail. In any year there is interesting seminary news, like Doris J. García Rivera’s installation as president of the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico. But this seemed to be a year with more initiatives than normal.

These included the reorganization of the Free Church Seminary as the Edinburgh Theological Seminary. There was also the new joint initiative between Reformed Theological Seminary and Redeemer Church in New York City.

More radical seminary initiatives include a non-accredited communal seminary associated with Church of All Nations in Minneapolis and San Francisco Theological Seminary has launched a Center for Innovation in Ministry with a workshop on the theology of video games.

But the one that I have found most interesting is the Redesigned Master of Divinity Program at Fuller Theological Seminary. Fuller listened to their alumni and launched a new program which is described in part like this:

Many graduates can no longer count on traditional systems to create jobs for them. They will have to invent new ways to minister. Our reshaped curriculum is designed to prepare students with entrepreneurial skills.

One of the interesting things about this new initiative, and Fuller in general right now, is the prominence of Presbyterian leadership. In addition to Mark Labberton becoming President last year, the initiative is under the oversight of Scott Cormode, the Academic Dean. Behind the Vocation and Formation part of the initiative are some well-known Presbyterian faces that include Tod Bolsinger, Steve Yamaguchi and Laura Harbert.

Congregations Switching Branches

The moves between branches continue with the PC(USA) once again transferring more churches than it closes. And in the Church of Scotland there has been a slower, but noticeable, departure.

The other interesting movement is churches moving from the Reformed Church of America to the Presbyterian Church in America. Last Spring one of the flagship churches, University Reformed Church, voted to transfer. This fall five churches in Illinois have also voted to make the move.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

The General Assemblies of both the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand considered this issue. In the PC(USA) the Assembly did not approve an outright divestment but referred it to the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee for further consideration. The PCANZ instructed their Property Trustees to divest and recommended that individual churches do likewise.

Independence Referendum in Scotland

The Church of Scotland was prominent in the time leading up to the Scottish Independence Referendum with an open session at their General Assembly that presented a variety of voices on the subject and further national and regional level gatherings leading up to the vote. Following the vote there was a service of unity hosted by the Kirk.

The Free Church of Scotland also held a session at their General Assembly and issued their own material providing viewpoints on Independence.

Property

For the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) this was certainly a hot topic with a GAPJC decisioncivil legal challenges, settlements and high-valued negotiations. For this post the full extent of the property news is left as an exercise for the reader but there are still a lot of open questions and at the moment there seems to be momentum in favor of the hierarchical church.

Another property news item is the Greyfriars Church in Port of Spain, Trinidad. The historic structure was sold to a developer and it’s future is uncertain. Some preliminary demolition has begun and efforts are underway to try and preserve it.

PC(USA) Ethics Investigation

In a still developing story, it was revealed that four PC(USA) church development employees associated with Presbyterian Centers For New Church Innovation were the subjects of an internal ethics investigation for not following policy in setting up an outside non-profit corporation to facilitate distribution of 1001 Worshiping Communities funds. Initially there were administrative actions taken but as the story grew the four were placed on administrative leave and an outside law firm brought in to conduct an independent investigation. At year’s end it was decided that firm had a conflict of interest and a new firm was chosen.

Israel-Palestine Actions

The other hot topic leading up to the PC(USA) General Assembly was issues around Israel-Palestine. At the previous GA a proposal for divestment from three companies who profited from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory failed by a very narrow three-vote margin. The proposal was returning to this GA. In addition, a PC(USA) affiliated group, The Israel/Palestine Mission Network, (IPMN) issued a controversial study guide Zionism Unsettled that questioned Israel’s character and identity. While IPMN does not speak for the PC(USA) the study guide was sold by the official Presbyterian Distribution Services making the distinction fuzzy in many minds. In addition, there was some advanced controversy when the commissioner chosen to moderate the related commissioner committee was asked to step down because a number of people questioned his impartiality.

The 221st General Assembly did approve the divestment proposal by a slim seven-vote margin, but the action also encourages ecumenical dialogue in the region and affirms the denomination’s commitment to Israel and the peace process.

The Presbyterian Distribution Service dropped Zionism Unsettled shortly after the Assembly and it is now available on the IPNM web site. However, studies around this topic are available on Thoughtful Christian.

Women’s Ordination and Related

The religion gender issues news this year was dominated by the Church of England and the completion of the process to have women serve as bishops. In fact, in Presbyterian circles it was a very quiet year for complementarian/egalitarian discussions, which in itself is probably news.

The one big item is the decision by the Mizoram Synod conference to reject a long-standing request from Kohhran Hmechhia, the Women Ministry of the Presbyterian Church, to ordain women theologians.

In another story, history was made when Michael Barry and Liz Hughes tied in the first round of voting for Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Rev. Barry was elected in the second round by one vote over Rev. Hughes and a third candidate, Rev. McNie. This was the strongest showing that a female candidate has had in the election.

Death of Ian Paisley

Among several notable deaths in the Presbyterian community, the death of Ian Paisley stands out for his iconic status in both Northern Irish religion as the leading founder of the Free Presbyterian Church and for his important roll in politics and reconciliation in Norther Ireland.

And a couple of other Presbyterian-ish stories

Knox 500

While the date of birth of John Knox is not known with certainty, the best information suggests that it may have been in 1514 making this the 500th year of his birth. This was marked by the Knox 500 Conference in Edinburgh as well as the making of a documentary about him titled “Give Me Scotland.”

Spectacular Viking treasure hoard found on Church of Scotland land

Not your typical religion news story but a very important archaeological discovery involving the Kirk and a couple of its ministers as well as a metal detectionist.

And let me take a moment to throw in two transitions: The retirement of Jerry Van Marter after over 26 years with the Presbyterian News Service and Jack Haberer stepping down from the helm of the Presbyterian Outlook to return to parish ministry. Best wishes to both in their new settings.

And those are some of the highlights of 2014. Now as we look ahead to 2015 – and many of my friends around the world are already there or now busy celebrating Hogmanay – I wish all of you a very Happy New Years and best wishes for the coming year.

May you balance your ardor and order and remember to be decent and in order.

Happy New Year!

Church Of Scotland Ordination Overture Results And Reaction

Almost all of the presbyteries in the Church of Scotland have now voted on the overture from the 2014 General Assembly related to ministers in same-sex relationships and it is clear that the overture has gotten strong approval from them.

While this is a major hurdle it is important to keep in mind some of the fine details. First, it is not final until the 2015 General Assembly takes a look at it and adds its concurrence. Considering the margin with which it passed the 2014 Assembly and the number of presbyteries that gave approval it would seem reasonable to expect the next Assembly to also approve it. But we need to keep in mind that at the moment the process has not been completed.

The second item to remember is that this overture does not change the official stance of the Kirk but only provides a mechanism for individual churches to depart from that stance in the ordination and installation of officers should the need arise.

And the headlines, even from the official publication Life and Work, are a bit inaccurate in that gay clergy have been permitted if they were celibate, but the overture proposes new policies for partnered clergy in same-sex civil unions.

One important aspect of this vote to keep in mind is that the margin among the overall votes cast is much narrower than the presbytery vote. Of the 46 presbyteries it is being reported that so far 28 have voted yes and 11 have voted no on the overture. That is a 72% yes vote. But if you look at the total from the presbyters, it was 1253 yes and 1006 no, a 55% to 45% split.

As the results were spreading through the news media the last couple of days the group Forward Together, a Church of Scotland affinity group opposed to the proposed polity changes the overture would bring, announced their new initiative — the Covenant Fellowship. Their Statement begins:

We believe that the Church of Scotland is moving away from its roots in Scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith. We believe that the time has come for the creation of a ‘Covenant Fellowship’ within the Church. This Covenant Fellowship will draw together those who believe that the Scriptures, in their entirety, are the Word of God and must provide the basis for everything we believe and do. Our vision is nothing less than the reformation and renewal of the Church of Scotland, in accordance with the Word of God and by the empowering of his life-giving Spirit.

The Church of Scotland is facing a severe crisis. A majority of Presbyteries has now adopted an Overture which would permit those in same-sex civil partnerships to serve as ministers and deacons in the Church. Many people feel that the only way to protest against this unscriptural move is to leave the Church of Scotland. Many ministers, elders, members and adherents have done so already and more will follow. While respecting that position, our hearts’ desire is to remain within the Church, in order to seek its reformation from within, although we recognise that not all will feel able to make such an unqualified commitment.

The Statement goes on to solicit from like-minded individuals and churches their signing on to the Declaration of support for these principles and protest of the actions of the Church of Scotland.

The Statement was issued in association with comments from the Rev. Prof. Andrew McGowan, which were picked up by the media. He said, in part:

If approved, this (overture) will extend even further the disruption of the Church of Scotland.

Many well-known congregations (individual ministers and groups of worshippers) in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Stornoway and elsewhere have already left the Church, or been split in two.

and

The hope is that the Covenant Fellowship, which begins today as a protest against recent events, will grow to become an effective campaign group within the Church on behalf of those who believe in Christian orthodoxy.

This statement and comments did not go unnoticed, and some of the language in the comments and the Statement elicited an official response from the Acting Principal Clerk of the General Assembly. The Rev. Dr. George Whyte says:

The Church of Scotland welcomes Professor McGowan’s continued commitment to remain a member and a minister but there are in his statement accusations which we believe are not accurate.

The proposed legislation which is the focus of the group’s criticism has been painstakingly considered by the Church across the nation. We know that for many people the discussion has been difficult and it has always been clear that we could never come to a common mind on the matter.

This pain and disillusionment has been felt by those, like Professor McGowan, who think the Church is going in the wrong direction and those who desperately want a Church which would go further on their chosen route. Yet the issue has to be discussed and we are a Church which recognises “liberty of opinion.” Our General Assembly has agreed that this proposal – to allow a congregation call a minister in a civil partnership – falls into that category. It is not, therefore, an attack on the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith.

“We share Professor McGowan’s abhorrence of further disruption and we hope and pray that across Scotland Christians will find ways to continue to work together despite their varied opinions.”

In addition to the Covenant Fellowship, media was also reporting comments from a spokesman for the Free Church of Scotland. The comments expressed concern for the actions and direction of the Church of Scotland and concluded with the line “Although we are saddened by the present circumstances in the Church of Scotland, we are happy to provide a home to those who wish to leave.”

The Church of Scotland has seen the departure of a few ministers, congregations and members over the last few years since the trajectory was set by the 2011 General Assembly. But this new association seems to now more clearly define one side although being a brand new initiative we will have to see how it develops.

It is also tempting to map the current landscape of the PC(USA) and the directions of ebb and flow there onto where the Church of Scotland find itself now, and it almost seems that naming the new initiative the Covenant Fellowship invites that comparison. However, the lay of the land in the Kirk is probably going to be shifting rapidly and I will let the structures settle down a bit before I take the time to undertake that analysis.

What can I really say at this point to sum up these developments but… Stay Tuned!

Presbyterian News Headlines For The First Half Of October

Much of the Presbyterian related news in this time period was dominated by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, particularly the decision to include the prohibition against same-sex marriage in their Book of Order, a decision I have already discussed. The press releases about the election of the Moderator and the Moderator-designate, a new Executive Secretary, and another about beginning the process to divest from fossil fuels got some wider distribution:

Presbyterian Church elects new leader – from Community Scoop

Presbyterian Church elects Moderator-designate – from Community Scoop

New national Assembly Executive Secretary for Presbyterians – from Community Scoop

Presbyterian Church to consider divestment of fossil fuels – from Community Scoop

At the same time church buildings face an uncertain future as congregations dwindle:

Historic Auckland church faces ‘imminent’ risk of demolition – from TVNZ

Community rallies to save old church – from The Dominion Post

In the debate over dividing Malawi into north and south countries, the Livingstonia Synod is take to task for taking sides in the matter in their siding with the current president oposing division.

CounterJab: Sorry, no room for Livingstonia Synod, Kyungu in federalism debate – from Nyasa Times

Elsewhere in the CCAP:

Malawi: Nkhoma Synod to Repay Cashgate Money Embezzled By Church Officials – from allAfrica

In Northern Ireland a Presbyterian Church was damaged and an Orange Hall destroyed by arsonists:

Locals condemn arson attack on Donegal Orange Hall – from Irish Times

Presbyterian church arson ‘an attack on all Christians’ – from Belfast News Letter; includes comments from the Moderator of the General Assembly

Convoy Orange Hall: Donegal arson arrests made – from BBC News

 News from a PC(USA) related seminary:

Doris J. García Rivera installed as president of the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico – from Presbyterian News Service

From Columbia, South Carolina, a story about Blythewood Presbyterian Church, a fairly new PCA church that is using the land it one day hopes to build its sanctuary on for a community garden in the mean time:

Blythewood Community Garden: A different approach to outreach – from the Columbia Metropolitan

And finally from Scotland: While members and pastors continue to depart from the Church of Scotland

Kirk ministers and members officially join Free Church – from Aberdeen Press and Journal

There was high-profile news of a major archaeological discovery on Kirk property

In Pictures: Largest Ever Viking Treasure Trove Discovered by Metal Detectorists in Scotland – from International Business Times

Retiree unearths huge Viking treasure trove in Scotland – from Japan Times

Viking treasure trove discovered in Scotland – from The Guardian

Spectacular Viking treasure hoard found on Church land – from Church of Scotland press release

And that is what caught my attention back then. On to the next one…