Last weekend the Annual General Assembly of the Church of Scotland ended. Overall, throughout the seven days of the meeting, all the departments of the church ranging from mission, culture, finance and administration reviewed their work over the last year and made constructive suggestions for improvement.
Among all the reports, a very encouraging piece of news was heard in the report from the Board of Mission. It was said that the number of candidates that accepted training had more than doubled. Last year, the total number climbed up to 33. Accumulatively, such a trend will lead to a net gain of 100 new ministers over the next five years.
In the midst of the “aging minister” phenomena and a current shortage of ministers in the church, these new candidates bring light to the future. Currently, there are about 170 vacant posts of ministers. The majority of ministers are over the age of 55, with only 31 under the age of 35.
While the church congregation is falling, the increase in the number of people presenting themselves for full-time ordained ministry will bring the potential for a significant reduction in the number of vacant congregations.
"A lot of the people that are coming to us are incredibly bright and gifted young people, and that is what we need given the age profile of the ministry," the Rev Douglas Cranston, the convener of the Kirk’s board of mission was very optimistic to the future.
To receive and train these new ministers, the finance must be strong enough to support it. The Kirk is currently experiencing a shortage of funds, and it has become a big challenge to list out the appropriate priority and allocation of funds.
"The big problem, in light of the funding crisis in the Church, is that we have to make it clear where our priorities lie," he said. "When people speak to us, the one thing they want is their own minister, and a debate has to take place to find out if that is where we are going to put our resources and if we are going to shift resources away from other important work." Rev Cranston raised the dilemma.
On the other hand, the Church had received no inquiries and no firm applications over the past 12 months from people wanting to become chaplains in the regular army or the Territorial Army. This has been a little disappointing. The army’s problem is partly blamed on the current political climate, with ministers sharing the same dangers as soldiers in various parts of Iraq. There are also competing interests, with society wanting chaplains in schools, hospitals and shopping centres, and this in turn is cutting the number available to the army.
However, the Kirk addressed its commitment to the provision of chaplains to the regiments despite of the shortage of new army chaplains. Dr Alison Elliot, the Kirk’s new Moderator said bringing the servicemen and women comfort and the challenges of Christian faith is a privilege as well as being necessary.