Thursday, 7 May 2009

Being Able to Choose One's Own Minister

Is part of the issue surrounding the Rev Scott Rennie of Brechin Cathedral. I won't go into the details of the story as that has been well documented elsewhere, but one of the recurring themes is the complaint that Queen's Cross Parish Church as a congregaton voted for Mr Rennie to be their minister but that the matter has now been taken out of their hands.

I am no expert in Church of Scotland Practice & Procedure but after about 20 years growing up in a Manse I have a fair idea of what happens at a vacancy (If anyone with more knowledge than I finds fault in my writings on this, please contact me and I'll change it immediately)

After the minister has left a charge, the Presbytery has to give the congregation "leave to call" a new minister. A congregation cannot simply go ahead and charge onwards on the search. After the "leave to call" has been given, the congregation sets up a Nominating Committee which then searches for a new minister and after he/she preaches as sole nominee, the Interim Moderator supervises over a vote of the congregation on whether or not to call the said minister.

In Independent or Congregational circles, that is the end of it. If the vote goes well then the minister can accept the post and basically he/she is the new minister. No-one else has any say in the matter.

However, Queen's Cross Parish Church is not such a church. It is part of the Church of Scotland which has a Presbyterian model of government. This basically entails a series of para-congregational groupings with the intention of holding one another to account. Please see my friend the Rev Ian Watson's blog for more information on this.

Therefore when in the Church of Scotland, a vacant congregation elects to call a minister, this has to be "sustained" or rather approved by the Presbytery. Mostly this is done on the nod with little or no discussion as there are very few issues which ever arise. However, only when the Presbytery sustains the call can the congregation have their new minister.

In the case of Queen's Cross Parish Church, although the Presbytery of Aberdeen sustained the call, a group of dissenters from the Presbytery appealed to the higher court of the church, namely the General Assembly for this to be overturned as is their constitutional right. One of the whole ideas behind Presbyterianism is that a decision by a lower court of the church, be it the Kirk Session or Presbytery can be referred to the higher court by a dissenting member as what happened in the Presbytery of Aberdeen.

Yet in the various media and church circles, complaints whirl around about Queen's Cross Parish Church not being able to decide for themselves on their prospective new minister. The frustration of the matter being taken out of one's hands must be enormous but when as all Ministers (and I think Elders) vow at ordination that the Presbyterian model of government is agreeable to the Word of God it is difficult to sympathise on this matter alone.

Oh and one more thing. If I hear someone else claim to spot the intense irony in this situation that in the Disruption of 1843, Evangelicals walked out of the Church of Scotland for the right of a congregation to choose their own minister and now they are doing the opposite I think I'm gonna scream!

In 1843 the Evangelicals led by Thomas Chalmers walked out of the Church of Scotland as they could no longer live with the situation where local wealthy "patrons" installed their own choice of minister into a charge, no matter what the wishes of a congregation were and that in turn, the Church of Scotland was in effect being governed by the State and not having Spiritual Independence over it's own affairs. Hence now the situation where the Church of Scotland has a jurisdiction in law over it's own Matters Spiritual which cannot be overturned by the State.

Never was there a mention that Presbyteries and in turn the General Assembly should not still hold to account the actions of local congregations.

I'm sure I'll blog again on this subject again but those are my brief thoughts this evening.

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