MORE than a dozen city churches face closure, merger or sharing a minister under a Church of Scotland blueprint for its mission in the Capital over the next decade.
A cash shortage in the Kirk has led it to ration the number of ministers across the country, with each area given a quota.
Edinburgh must cut its ministers from the current 84 to 78.2 by 2014. But presbytery clerk the Rev Dr George Whyte said the Kirk wanted to plan its future in the city on the basis of the work it saw to be done rather than rules on numbers of personnel.
The presbytery plan, a 112-page document, assesses each parish and recommends whether it should be allowed a minister of its own, be united with a neighbouring parish or become part of a team ministry.
Dr Whyte said the main driver of the blueprint was “not staff shortage nor congregational self-interest but the mission opportunities all around us”.
He said: “We’re trying to second guess where we will be in ten years’ time and give people a broad steer.”
The plan stops short of specifying that particular church buildings should close, but where there are proposals for parishes to unite, it is inevitable that some buildings will go.
Dr Whyte acknowledged some people would be upset about the changes proposed.
“For people who have always been in one building or one church community, it’s very difficult for them to leave that and join another one.”
But he said the age and size of some congregations meant they were struggling.
“For a congregation of 40 people who are all pensioners, the demands of maintaining a Victorian church building, finding office-bearers and dealing with a parish where most people are 30-40 years younger than them can be just too much. Given we only have a limited number of ministers, a choice has to be made.
“We are trying to take people with us as best we can. There will be people who will be hurt and disappointed. We are trying to rediscover that the church is there for a purpose, not to be an end in itself.”
He said some churches still operated on a model which assumed wider society was mostly Christian.
“It will take years to get to the point of accepting that most people are not Christian and if we’re going to be effective we have to find a way of expressing our faith which people round about can understand.”
The presbytery is due to finalise the plan in March and hopes to get approval from Kirk headquarters by May.
The Kirk’s plan affects more than a dozen churches, including:
Greenside Parish Church, Royal Terrace: Should be linked for five years with a neighbouring charge. The congregation would have a non-stipendiary minister and a half-time parish worker with responsibility for outreach in the entertainment/leisure centre in the area, such as the Omni Centre and the development of Greenside as a hub for international congregations.
Kirk o’ Field in the Pleasance: Should not be allowed to call another parish minister but the building should be retained and used for various kinds of mission. A parish worker should be appointed with responsibility for work in Dumbiedykes and amongst the residential population of the parish.
The three churches in Portobello - Portobello Old, Portobello St James and St Philip’s Joppa: Should be treated as one parish with two ministers and work closely with nearby St Martin’s in Magdalene Drive, whose minister would be part of the Portobello team.