A good friend wrote this article:
St George’s Tron Church in Glasgow has announced that it has:
seceded from the Church of Scotland.
over the gay clergy issue:
Last year, despite having had the clear opportunity, the General Assembly failed to reverse the stance taken in 2009 approving the appointment of ordained ministers in same-sex relationships. Instead, it clearly and deliberately chose to set an opposite trajectory towards normalising such relationships.
Not withstanding that no decision has been made on the issue by the General Assembly (it doesn’t come up till the one in May 2013) this does raise some interesting questions and I pose these as an interested observer and a former student of ecclesiastical history:
How can a former Church of Scotland congregation continue to act as a parish church?
Presumably it can’t and it will lose its parish. If so, who will service that parish? The Church of Scotland has already stated in the Tron case that:
Discussions will take place with representatives of the Tron over the coming weeks to clarify the situation and determine the best way of preserving a Church of Scotland ministry presence in Glasgow city centre.
One option would be to make it a sort of ecumenical parish with the former Church of Scotland congregation being one of the ecumenical partners. The geographical parish could also be split between neighbouring churches. In theory a new church could be founded in the parish, although that seems less likely.
In what sense can an independent church be Presbyterian?
They will continue to have ruling elders, but with no upper courts to answer to (presbytery, synod or general assembly) its really a congregational church, rather than a presbyterian one, and will suffer from the problems that all independent evangelical churches suffer from. The principal one being what they do to find a minister when their current one retires. In independent churches ministers used to “emerge” by recommendation from well known ministers. As the number of independent churches increased this became untenable and many joined the FIEC which has a ministerial training and accreditation programme. The difficulty for a presbyterian church is that most of the churches in the FIEC practice believers baptism and most of their potential ministers would hold similar views. The ministers of seceding churches might follow the precedence of some of the baptist churches that have left the Baptist Union and arranged to remain “in good standing” with the denomination. This arrangement means that their ministers can retain their accreditation and ministers from the denomination can pass in and out of these churches with no risk to their future careers or pensions.
Denominational link ups?
Its equally possible that a church leaving the Church of Scotland could apply to join another presbyterian denomination. The obvious home for most would be the United Free Church of Scotland which has a similar form of worship to the Church of Scotland, but they might not be keen on getting involved. Some churches from further north or the islands might be more comfortable in the Free Church of Scotland. However, given the history of splits in the kirk its more likely that if sufficient churches left they would form their own micro denomination.
The $64,000 question
Its not clear how any church can actually leave the Church of Scotland. The members could leave and start a new church, but my understanding is that the constitutions of most churches don’t have the flexibility for continuation as the same legal entity. Then there is the thorny issues of buildings – but potentially easier to solve than the issue of the legal entity that makes up the congregation.
These are the big questions. I don’t know what the answers to them are, but if I was a betting man I would predict that any churches leaving will want to retain their parishes and operate in some sort of semi-detached way with the Kirk. Such an arrangement could be beneficial, allowing two factions to exist within the one organisation and actually preventing a total split.
Of course, this is all hypothetical, but fascinating none the less.
Tags: Church Life