Presbytery met in person on 8th October and again on line on 11th October to consider the Presbytery Mission Plan (PMP) as presented in a series of deliverances from the PMP Creation Group (PMPCG). The five geographic Zones into which Presbytery had been divided, created for administrative convenience, had been allocated posts on a population basis and within these Zones, congregations had been invited to form Clusters to discuss how to work together. The formation of Clusters led to some variation to the Zones, after which each Cluster was allocated posts on the joint basis of Cluster population and level of Ministry & Mission contributions to the central church – the latter as a comparable indicator of church health. Clusters were tasked with presenting mission-based proposals for utilising their allocated posts with indications of how they saw the future of their buildings (the choice being between long term retention and disposal). These Cluster Plans had been submitted to the PMPCG for their approval and were presented to Presbytery on a Zone by Zone basis with congregations cited to be present when their Zone was up for discussion. The final deliverance in the PMPCG report covered Presbytery approval for the PMP as a whole.
The first meeting disposed of 4 out of the 5 Zones. Zone 5’s discussion was prolonged beyond the allotted time on account of a motion to add a 0.5 post to the Cluster which included Church House (one of 5 projects supported by Presbytery); Church House had a full post in the old Plan but only 0.5 in the proposed PMP. The additional 0.5 was to be taken from the recently agreed central posts and this was passed after a long discussion and an amendment deleting the central post proposed for removal with an instruction to the PMPCG added requiring it to consult with the relevant Committees and bring a proposal for sourcing the Church House supplementary allocation to the November Presbytery. Presbytery agreed that Church House should retain the level of support it had previously enjoyed so that its vital work amongst deprived families in the East End of Glasgow could continue unaffected. Zone 5 approval was deferred till the meeting on the 11th October along with a reworded deliverance to approve the full PMP subject to the decision on sourcing the Church House post in November. Thus, the process to get the PMP fully approved would not be delayed. Consideration of these remaining deliverances was duly completed on 11th October.
It would be easy to simply report that in due course, the Zone Cluster proposals and the full PMP were duly approved but that does not tell the full story of the debate. It is important to
give the Kirk Session a feel of the overall mood of Presbytery. Whilst the Cluster Proposals were all agreed, the overall feeling was one of resigned acceptance combined with concern at the process in general. This was stressed as levelling no criticism of the PMPCG who were given a thankless task of implementing instructions from the General Assembly within a set timescale and that, so far as Presbytery can go, has been achieved. Several congregations made eloquent speeches sharing the concern they had of how the reduction in personnel would impact their work and questioned how mission could be enhanced thereby.
A motion is to be brought to November’s Presbytery seeking to formally submit a series of concerns about the PMP and its implications in the form of supplementary comments on the PMP. The proposer suggested that the whole idea was based on a false premise that the Church of Scotland is capable with its reduced ministerial complement as envisaged to continue to minister to the entire population as embodied in the so called “Third Article Declaratory”. In an attempt to comply with this aim, the Church is spreading itself so thin as to be in danger of ministering effectively to nobody.
Eaglesham has emerged comparatively well out of the PMP when compared with others. Our Cluster Plan, given three posts to utilise, envisages a two stage adjustment whereby there would be a Union between Mearns Kirk and Broom (on the retirement of Joe Kavanagh) followed by a further Union between that charge and Newton Mearns (on Jim Boag’s retirement); both retirements will fall due within the 5 year implementation period for the PMP. The ministries at Maxwell Mearns Castle and Eaglesham would continue. There is a commitment to pursue joint mission work and sharing the burdens of ministry throughout the Cluster. All buildings have been provisionally designated for disposal (to ensure fairness) pending further investigation and discussions though, as has been reported to the Kirk Session, unofficial thinking within the Cluster has somewhat progressed beyond that position and it is intended that a physical presence in Eaglesham should remain. Thus, Eaglesham retains its ministry but will be expected to offer pastoral and other support elsewhere in the Cluster and collaborate on joint initiatives.
As a comparison, the other Clusters in Zone 4 fared as follows:
4A (Ibrox and Sherbrooke Mosspark) reduced from 2.5 posts to 1 post.
4B (St Andrew’s and St Nicholas, Hillington Park, Cardonald, St James’ Pollok (PA) and St Christopher’s Priesthill & Nitshill (PA)) reduced from 6.75 posts to 2.7 posts.
4C Eaglesham’s Cluster with Broom, Maxwell Mearns Castle, Mearns Kirk and Newton Mearns reduced from 5 posts to 3 posts.
4D (Netherlee and Stamperland, Busby and Greenbank) reduced from 3.5 posts to 2 posts.
4E (Eastwood, Thornliebank, Orchardhill, Giffnock: South, Giffnock: The Park, Williamwood, Carnwadric (PA) and Pollokshaws (PA)) reduced from 8.75 posts to 3.5 posts.
4F (Merrylea, Newlands South, Langside and Shawlands Trinity) reduced from 4 posts to 1.5 posts.
4G Comprises Pollokshields who are still seeking a Cluster to join and are granted 0.5 post, down from 1 post.
One further example from the north of the City shows how fortunate Eaglsham has been. One Cluster comprises the village parishes of Torrance, Campsie and Milton of Campsie, the latter two of which have parish sizes comparable to Eaglesham’s with Torrance being smaller. These each have their own full time minister but in the PMP, have to share 1 post amongst them.
Having been approved by Presbytery, the PMP will now be sent to the Central Committee (PMP Implementation Group (PMPIG)) for consideration. The PMP stretches to over 400 pages and will take some time to digest and a response is not expected till late November. The overall timetable states that the PMP should be approved in full by the end of 2022.
Some of the Cluster plans are less fully developed than Eaglesham’s and it remains to be seen how PMPIG will view that.
Should the PMP be approved centrally, it is anticipated that the embargo on Calls (in place since the 2021 General Assembly) would be lifted but how the restriction on building development to “wind and watertight” work would be treated remains to be seen and the lifting of this will probably be restricted to buildings listed in the PMP for retention (which Eaglesham’s are not).
The PMPCG implied in their report that the PMP as it stands is being treated as but the first stage in an ongoing process and this gives some optimism for the future. There is an in-built requirement for the PMP to be reviewed by Presbytery annually and this will give space for Cluster Plans to be refined, developed, improved and even changed over a less pressurised time period.
Indications from the central Church are that the PMP will be implemented incrementally as circumstances permit but with the expectation that when vacancies occur, any adjustment in the PMP will be put into effect. As church law currently stands, the pace of this will be very much dictated by Ministers as they decide to retire or are called to other charges. Most ministers have unrestricted status which means that they cannot be moved against their will, irrespective of whatever the PMP says and that may cause implementation tensions over the coming years in some areas. One congregation, currently vacant (and having been vacant for many months) and facing a Union with an adjoining congregation in the PMP expressed concern that they would be forced to remain vacant until the retirement of the minister of the adjoining charge as he had been given medical advice not to increase his workload and was unwilling to take on the Union as a result.
Those employed as MDS staff have not the same protection and Presbytery was advised that the central church intends to issue redundancy notices at the end of 2023 to all MDS employees whose posts are not included in the PMP. It is feared that many such will chose to look for more secure employment well before then and the work they are doing will cease; this will particularly impact Priority Area Congregations where most MDS posts are to be found.
The PMP is intended to be fully implemented over a 5 year period. Within that time, we in Eaglesham will have to engage with our Cluster neighbours, firstly to determine the buildings configuration within the Cluster and that will involve us taking an honest look at our existing stock to determine what we can realistically expect to sustain in the longer term. We also need to look at ministry to the Cluster to see how best the pastoral load should be shared so as not to place too onerous a burden on the new enlarged parish compared to the two which remain unaltered. Some “cross border” work will be needed (or perhaps a look at whether there remains a value in parish boundaries within the Cluster).
Most importantly, Eaglesham must not believe we have “got away lightly” in this process and that we can therefore carry on as before. The Cluster concept opens up opportunities for mission work in collaboration with our neighbours and initiatives can be devised anywhere in the Cluster – including within Eaglesham or Waterfoot – utilising the strengths of the Cluster as a whole, not just those of the individual congregations. Yes, we are keeping our Minister and we should be most grateful to our Cluster neighbours in agreeing to that but we must also engage with them in furthering the Kingdom as best we can in this new shape in which the church finds itself, firm in the belief that God can and wants to work alongside us as we move forward into the new future with faith, hope and love.