GA23 - 'Yes' to reconfiguration of ministry talks

23.6.2023 | Mission News, General Assembly, Ministry, Church Life, Presbytery News

This evening, one of the most radical pieces of work to come before this year’s General Assembly was discussed. Looking to the future of mission and ministry across the island, the Report of the Reconfiguration of Ministry Task Group was approved by members to be sent to its regional presbyteries for consultation in the Church.

The issues it seeks to address are so important that the Task Group’s Report has been designated as the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s (PCI) ‘Green Paper’ for ongoing discussion. Submitting and proposing the Report on behalf of the Task Group’s Convener, Very Rev Dr David Bruce explained that the Task Group’s remit “‘was to carry out an examination of the key principles and practicalities that will underpin a radical reconfiguration of ministry in the light of changing demographics and ministry and mission opportunities.’

“It’s Report may be too radical for some, too extreme, asking the Church to think thoughts and consider options that they simply don’t want to. If we do these things, we’ll be going too far, too fast – for some. For others, it won't be radical enough, just tinkering at the edges, but failing to go anywhere near far enough. For them, if we only do what’s in the Report, we’ll just be re-arranging the deck chairs,” Dr Bruce said.

The former Moderator, who is also a member of the Task Group, continued, “Some may feel there's a lack of detail – there is, but there’s a reason for that, as some big things are suggested in this Report: investing £500,000 a year in new work – and it is investing, rather than spending. Reducing the number of presbyteries so that they can function more effectively, having a set number of ordained ministers in a presbytery so that we can better look at the ministry and mission of the denomination as a whole…prompt[ing] presbyteries to prioritise work in their area, with a proactive strategy rather than working in a pragmatic, piecemeal way. It’s deliberately broad-brush, so we can think about these in principle, seeking the Lord together, like a family around the kitchen table, talking and listening and praying together.”

He also said it was important to stress that the Report “is not seeking to change our theology about the nature of ministry, the calling, or work of ministers of word and sacrament – that’s not what it’s about at all. What the Report is saying, is that in our service of the Lord we cannot be closed to changing how we’re organised, or configured. How we use what the Lord has entrusted to us, how we discharge the calling He has laid upon us, so that we can to do His work as effectively as we can, according to His will, by His power and to His glory.”

At nearly 50 pages long, packed with charts, tables, projections and other information, the Task Group’s Report is the longest in the Blue Book, which contains all the reports before PCI’s principal decision-making body, which brings together ministers, elders and others from the church’s 500-plus congregations across Ireland.

Addressing the Assembly, the Task Group’s chair, Very Rev Dr William Henry seconded the Report. “I want to add my words to underscore why I believe we need principles to underpin a radical reconfiguration of ministry. Understand this for what it is. This is a Green Paper…to enable the wider church to reflect on significant issues before us…However, none of this is being presented as something that is signed, sealed and delivered. Rather, at most, it should be seen only as what the Task Group considers as the direction of travel most likely to achieve an effective reconfiguration of ministry necessitated by current circumstances…[and] everything is being presented for discussion throughout the church.”

Speaking of the Task Group’s guiding principles contained in the Report, Dr Henry said, that they should not be seen “as a ‘straitjacket’ that would forever bind us and prevent us from making wise, sensible and Spirit-led decisions because we know the only constant is change itself. They should rather be seen as some form of ‘launchpad’ that can guide and help the Church move forward in her God-given mission…pointing to the saving message of new life in Jesus Christ. This is not a ‘straitjacket’, this is a ‘launchpad’,” the minister of Maze Presbyterian said.

Dr Henry continued by saying that the immediate challenge was to do five things together at the same time. “The first two could be thought of negatively: close some churches, and secondly manage decline in others that have reached the end of their life cycle. The final three are more positive: support some presently declining churches that they might grow, support churches that are currently growing and plant new churches.

“That’s the core issue, but that’s a hard task because we know these are not simply buildings, but there are good, loving, praying, hopeful people in all of them. That’s the reality of making choices. But decisions need to be made…this Report, this Green Paper, is an attempt to lay out groundwork that will enable the wider church to think and pray and decide what to do.

“We need principles that guide our reflection into the future. The future choices will always be difficult to call but they will need to be made…We need church wide discussion on this, now, in the abstract as it were, so that we can be agreed on the principles, and ensuing practicalities, so that solid decisions can be made in the future in concrete situations,” Dr Henry said.

Approaching 9.30pm, on the last vote of the day, the General Assembly agreed that the Green Paper be sent for consultation with the Church, with a further Report coming back to the 2024 General Assembly. This Report and recommendations may then be dealt with by that Assembly, or sent down to presbyteries for further consideration,with a final Report brought to the 2025 Assembly.

The General Assembly is livestreamed on here on this website. All public sessions will be livestreamed until the Assembly’s close on Saturday, 24 June. You will find the business before the Assembly here and the Reports that will be discussed here. You can  follow proceedings live via Twitter @pciassembly using the hashtag #PCIGA23.

Back to News