A new arrangement that will see an overhaul of church congregations in Shetland and Aberdeen is to be presented to the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly following extensive meetings to thrash out the finer details of the arrangement.
If agreed, the formal arrangement is to see the Presbytery of Shetland and the Presbytery of Aberdeen unite as one under the Presbytery of Aberdeen and Shetland banner, after meetings were held in Shetland in October and in Aberdeen last week.
Ian Murray, assessor minister and clerk to the Presbytery of Shetland, said: “This marks a significant moment within the Church of Scotland, as we seek to explore new models of ministry and a sustainable future for our congregations throughout Aberdeen and the Shetland Isles, building upon already strong and historic links between Shetland and Aberdeen.
“The decision comes as Shetland moves towards a single parish ministered to by a team of three Ministers of Word and Sacrament and three Ministries Development Staff, a Children’s and Youth Worker, a Parish Development Worker and one full time equivalent administrative staff member who will oversee the day-to-day management and finances of the Shetland Parish.
“Both presbyteries are in the process of getting their houses in order.”
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The Church of Scotland’s General Assembly is to meet in May 2019 where the decision will be formally made; however, if approved, the move is not likely to be fully implemented until 2020 at the earliest.
Mr Murray added: “We have got to cut a cloth that fits. The benefit of new models of ministry and outreach is that it provides sustainability and it allows the mutual support for both presbyteries to reform.
“Shetland has been suffering for some time – at present we only have one traditional parish minister left which is unsustainable – and it will function better being part of a larger presbytery.
“Aberdeen also stand to gain one full-time Ministries Development Staff and one administrative staff member to help facilitate the move towards a new Presbytery of Aberdeen and Shetland.
“It is an exciting time. The Church of Scotland is always reforming and this is just part of it. We have always got to be looking out and in and to be looking to do something radical, something new and something different to prepare ourselves for the future to fit the needs of society and the current climate.”
Last month the Church of Scotland made the decision to close 20 of its 31 churches in Shetland, including in the islands of Fair Isle and Foula in response to dwindling congregation numbers across the region.
The announcement has left some Shetlanders facing distances upwards of 50 miles, including travel by air and sea, to attend their nearest Church of Scotland kirk.