When a Church of Scotland church becomes vacant, a nearby Minister is appointed to guide, counsel, and, effectively, to act as the Minister of the Charge that is looking for a new incumbent.
Almost all of the time, it’s a very fulfilling experience. Most often there is a locum appointed to take Sunday worship, but I have, in the past, conducted weddings and funerals, and have, as a result, felt more in touch with that Kirk and Parish. Obviously, I’ve also chaired Meetings, and have been present at Vacancy Committee (now “Nomination Committee”) to guide, advise, and give point out rules and regulations regarding Church law.
Yep – great times….. with one exception:
Two churches in the one town were amalgamated. Let’s call them “St Agnes by the Gasworks” and “St Botox on the Brow “. The first of these kirk buildings was closed, and both congregations met in the latter’s premises.
It was very much a case – for many from each former congregation – of “them and us”.
When the Nomination Committee was elected, the balance of Church membership of St A’s and St.B’s, was reflected in the make up of the group. The larger number came from St.B’s.
Meetings were civil enough, and reasonably united, until……..
…. a particular applicant was suggested as being the “anointed one” – the potential new Minister. All hell broke loose, as this guy had previously been an assistant Minister in the old St.Agnes Kirk.
“Debate” isn’t a word that I would use to describe the deliberations; more a verbal punch-up, with both “sides” literally shouting at each other. I metaphorically held the jackets, as they laid into each other, all the old historic rivalries rising to the surface, and un-Christian bile being spat out venomously.
Surprisingly, after the dust had settled, a vote was taken, and the Minister- in- waiting was agreed upon – by the slimmest of majorities – it was something like 7 for and 6 against.
I phoned the “lucky” winner. He seemed delighted. Then he asked if it had been a unanimous vote, and I had to tell him that it was a majority, to which he asked the dreaded question, “by how much?”.
Well, he naturally turned it down. The news wasn’t greeted with tearing of hair nor gnashing of teeth, but some of the Committee members had wry smiles on their faces.
One should always expect the unexpected. Not I, when someone proposed that the Committee be disbanded. And it was: those “for” reflecting the party line split; St.Botox showed these upstarts from St Agnes!
Christmas intervened. Discussions were held between me and the vacancy advisory group. Then – in the following January – it was decided to elect a new Nomination Committee. During the hiatus, a couple of attempts were made to “nobble” me, but without success.
So – here we go again! But with a twist: instead of the Congregation openly voting for members of the new Committee, by show of hands, it was decided that nominations should be done by secret ballot. Can you begin to imagine how long that took? I was counting the voting slips for well over an hour.
And, surprise! surprise! The top twelve “winners” were all from St. B’s; only one – with the lowest score – came from their “rivals in Christ” and was number 13 of all those chosen. Moreover, many of the old Committee members were voted back on.
We met as a Committee immediately afterwards, and, before a Clerk could be elected, the poor guy who was #13 launched into a tirade against the whole sorry procedure and those involved in it. Having been just elected, he then immediately tendered his resignation, and stomped off in high (or is it low?) dungeon.
I suppose we should have started all over again – again. But we carried on, twelve good men (and women) and true, and muggins here too.
Eventually, someone WAS chosen, and I bowed out gracefully – certainly, gratefully. Yet, I lost about a year and a half of my life that I’ll never get back.
The joys, oh the joys, of practice and procedure in the Kirk of Scotland! So much better than having a Bishop appointing someone – NOT!