General Trustees Review

Introducing himself to Presbytery Clerks, Raymond Young, the new Chairman of the Church’s General Trustees, looks forward to developing “the key partnership that the Trustees have in supporting congregations”  with Presbyteries. 

He says, “We are in a time of change. My predecessor, lain Douglas, has made it quite clear over the years that we agree with the view of many in the Church that while the buildings are a major resource for mission, many are a distraction from the core business of the Gospel by being outdated or not needed. Many will require significant investment to make them properly fit for being a launch pad for mission over the next 20 years. We also recognise that many of the practices used to look after the Church’s estate reflect a now gone culture and environment and that many congregations no longer have the skills, capacity or resources to care for the buildings as they did in the past.” The Presbytery’s Safe Buildings Seminar on the first Saturday of June and the launch at the recent General Assembly of the Health and Safety Toolkit graphically demonstrate the changing environment and culture the Church is in today.

Because of these changes the Trustees are in the process a major review of their practices and procedures, and have termed it ‘the Way Forward’. The review is looking at the Trustees’ own governance and structures, at their communications, how they support congregations through grants and loans, at how they handle redundant buildings, at the use they can make of technology to improve the management of the Church’s estate, at the support they could give on Manses and particular types of listed buildings, and at the changes that they may need to make in the way that glebes are managed.

The Trustees have formed a pilot “cluster” with the Presbyteries of St Andrews, Angus, Dundee, Perth, and Dunkeld and Meigle to look at how they can further improve their relationship with groups of Presbyteries, including how to help with the strategic and planning decisions Presbyteries face, and whether having individual Trustees allocated to a Cluster can help improve the decision making process. 

“While the Cluster may be fairly representative, we recognise that the operating practices, skills and time availability within Presbyteries varies across the country, and so wish to give the opportunity to all Presbyteries to contribute. So we will produce some consultation papers over the next few months,” Mr Young said. The first of these will be about the quinquennial building review process.

The mission of the Trustees is: The General Trustees working with Presbyteries and other Church of Scotland agencies, use the land, buildings and investments entrusted to them as resources to assist congregations to develop flexible, robust and sustainable facilities capable of supporting local mission. The Trustees have been concerned about the need for a more strategic relationship, relating not just to buildings, but to land and financial matters. 

While the Trustees recognise and respect that the Presbytery is responsible for decisions about which buildings should be retained or disposed of, the Trustees (particularly where they are the owner or where buildings are subject to Assembly Control) can and should contribute to the consideration. The Trustees are conscious that the Church of Scotland will not be able to continue to support the number of buildings that are currently in use.They recognise the
challenge that some smaller Presbyteries have in making difficult and painful decisions for individual congregations; the involvement of the Trustees in those decisions may help.

Presbyteries are also responsible for commissioning and following up Quinquennial surveys. Again, there appears to be little consistency on how this is done across the country, and the Trustees would welcome the opportunity to work with Presbyteries on ensuring that the programme of inspections is properly carried out, that follow up action is taken and recorded.

It is suggested that Presbytery regularly meet with their congregations’ Fabric Conveners, both to inform them of new legislation and to encourage work to be done. They might consider workshops on various topics that are a more common problem to congregations.