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Church of Scotland to make hard choices on closures, amid falling attendance

26 May 2023

Church of Scotland

The new Moderator-Designate, the Revd Sally Foster Fulton

The new Moderator-Designate, the Revd Sally Foster Fulton

FALLING church attendance and the reduction of numbers of ministers are forcing the Church of Scotland to take tough decisions on church closures and structural reforms.

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which met this week, was asked to consider major changes to enable the Church to be more sustainable in the current economic climate.

A report to the Assembly revealed that around 60,000 people worship in person on a Sunday, compared with 88,000 pre-pandemic. An increasing number now choose to worship online or “in other ways”. The report also found that the number of members fell by 35 per cent in the ten years since 2012; and that the current number of church buildings was “untenable and unsustainable”.

The Assembly’s Convener, the Revd David Cameron, said: “This is a critical time as we make the essential changes needed to lay a sustainable foundation for the future. The reforms we embark on together are to reconfigure and reshape the Church for mission and service around fewer buildings and fewer charges.”

He said that the challenges facing the Church had been exacerbated by the cost-of- living crisis. “Whilst our resources, both in terms of people and finances, are becoming increasingly scarce, we recognise now is the time to prioritise investment in the future.

“In 2022, we announced the Seeds for Growth Fund, a £25-million initiative which is designed to support mission and is aimed at growing local churches and new congregations.”

With the average age of church attendees at 62, and attendance numbers shrinking, the Assembly was told that the number of church buildings, currently between 4000 and 5000, will need to be reduced.

The report says: “The pressure of managing our Church is falling on a high proportion of our remaining number. . . As a shrinking Church in terms of numbers, this really has to be addressed.”

It also said that patterns of worship were changing at a much faster pace since the pandemic, with 45,000 people now choosing to worship online.

The Assembly was asked to agree on plans for 600 ministry posts, with only 60 vacancies at any given time. And the Trustees’ report said that the changes required to move the Church of Scotland onto a more secure financial footing were “significant and wide-ranging”.

The Assembly discussed a range of other issues, including the Church of Scotland’s connections to the transatlantic slave trade and assisted suicide.

New Moderator. The Assembly also welcomed its new Moderator, the Revd Sally Foster-Fulton. She succeeds the Rt Revd Dr Iain Greenshields. She will take a sabbatical from Christian Aid Scotland, of which she is the Head, to take up post for the next 12 months.

She told the Assembly: “I am beyond humbled, inexpressibly honoured and more than a wee bit excited to be your Moderator.

“There are monumental challenges facing the world — and the Church is not exempt. Across our global neighbourhood, we face a triple threat, ones that feed on each other — climate change, conflict, and Covid. Together, they add pressure on well-being, a sense of home and culture, on finances and resources — and sadly, unsurprisingly, it is the most vulnerable who suffer most. . .

“These challenges will not stop us: they focus us, as we remember who and who’s we are. Being a living, breathing, reforming, and loving body of Christ in this place continues to be the mission and ministry of the Church of Scotland.”

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