Kirk hosts first ever virtual General Assembly amid cash worries

The first ever virtual General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is set to take place amid growing concerns that its annual income could fall by up to £20 million because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

By Stephen Wilkie
Tuesday, 29th September 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 30th September 2020, 12:39 am
The General Assembly under normal conditions
The General Assembly under normal conditions

Kirk presbyteries are being asked to predict how many ministries can be afforded amid fears the Church of Scotland's annual income could fall by an estimated £20 million this year due to Covid-19.

In a report to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Assembly Trustees have warned people not to "underestimate" the challenges facing the Church and said that failing to take action to reform is a "recipe for slow decline".

The assembly is taking place virtually for the first time this week after it was cancelled in May for only the second time in 330 years because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair was installed as the current Moderator in May amid strict Covid-19 precautions

The Assembly Trustees, appointed by the General Assembly in 2019 to oversee radical reforms, are seeking approval for congregational ministry and mission contributions to be set at £38.1 million in 2021, an 18% reduction on the previous year.

Their report asks presbyteries to "exercise robust oversight which will prepare the Church for revising down the number of charges, buildings and ministries required across Scotland".

It also calls for "realistic predictions on the number of ministries that are needed and can be afforded in order to structure the local Church for mission and growth".

It is feared the Church's total annual income, which is around £105 million, could potentially fall by an estimated £20 million this year.

A Church of Scotland spokesman said: "The Covid-19 health crisis has affected income streams for all charities and the Church of Scotland is no exception."With church buildings closed over the last six months and activities curtailed, there is the potential for reductions in contributions from our congregations as well as in our trading activities and investment income which we rely on to carry out our vital work.

"To respond to the financial challenge facing us, a range of mitigating actions have been taken to maintain the income levels as far as possible, reduce our costs and accelerate our plans for structural reform."

More than 730 commissioners will take part in the General Assembly remotely via the Church's website on Friday between 7pm-9pm and Saturday from 9.15am to 5pm.

Social distancing and hygiene measures mean only a small number of representatives of the Church's committees and councils will be at the Assembly Hall on The Mound in Edinburgh to present reports.

The Church has permission to use the building under a business exemption and proceedings will be chaired by Right Reverend Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly.

The only other people who will be in the hall will be a skeleton technical crew, and commissioners - mainly ministers, elders and deacons - will be able to engage with discussions and vote online.

The Queen will not be represented by a Lord High Commissioner this year but she will instead send a letter to the General Assembly.

Commissioners will be asked to back calls to develop a strategy for the Church to transition both locally and nationally to net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

They will also be asked to reaffirm that racism is a sin, declare that Black Lives Matter and report to a future Assembly on the issue of racial justice and the legacy of slavery and the Church of Scotland.

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