Glasgow Road , Paisley PA1 3PA
Telephone: 0141-889 7060
e-mail: Church Office
Scottish Charity No: SC007484
SHERWOOD GREENLAW CHURCH
CHURCH STRUCTURES & GOVERNMENT
‘Part of the vows taken by ministers and elders on ordination, and by members of the Diaconate on commissioning, includes the promise “to uphold (the Church’s) doctrine, worship, government and discipline” and “to take (one’s) due part in the administration of its affairs”.
To many in the Church it may seem strange, and even unjustifiable, to place government, discipline and administration on a par with doctrine and worship. Who would wish to dispute the assertion once made by the historian Kenneth Scott Latourette that "always we need again and again to remind ourselves, that the secret of the Church's strength is not organisation . . .age after age it is the men and women who have been captured by Jesus, and have entered a new life through him, who have been the centre of Christian advance, the active agents through whom the faith has gone on"? These words are a necessary warning to all those who ever imagine that the answer to the Church's problems lies in better organisation and administration.
But, if organisation and administration are not to be overrated, neither are they to be decried
or counted superfluous. Even in a body such as the Church that so readily acknowledges its
dependence on the activity of the Holy Spirit, and where the concept of grace is so prominent,
law and order are not discounted, neither are form and structure or organisation and
administration. Each has a proper part to play under Christ in the life of his Church. And so
the Church of Scotland, as is stated in the Articles Declaratory of its Constitution in Matters
Spiritual, lists as marks of the true Kirk not only "the Word purely preached" and "the
Sacraments administered according to Christ's ordinance", but also "discipline rightly
exercised" (Article VII). Extract from “An Introduction To Practice And Procedure
In The Church Of Scotland” By A. Gordon Mc Gillivray Second Edition (2001)
(2006 Updated Text)’
Government in the Church of Scotland is exercised through a graduated series of courts. At the congregational level there is the Kirk Session. Above the Kirk Session is the Presbytery with authority over all the congregations in an area of common community interest. Above the Presbytery is the General Assembly, the supreme court of the Church, with authority over the whole Church of Scotland in all its parishes in Scotland and over all its outreach both in and beyond Scotland. All Church courts (it should be noted) are not courts in name only but are as much courts of the land as is any civil court, having an authority and powers that are every bit as binding within their jurisdiction as those of a civil court are in its.
The management of a congregation lies primarily in the hands of the
Kirk Session, though, depending on the history of the congregation, another body
may be involved. In Sherwood Greenlaw we also have a Congregational Board. The
affairs of a congregation fall into one or other of two categories - either spiritual or
temporal. In every congregation its spiritual affairs are the responsibility of the Kirk
Membership Of Kirk Session.
The Kirk Session consists of the minister (or ministers, where there is a shared ministry) inducted to the charge, together with the elders of the congregation.
The Kirk Session itself decides how many elders there should be, and when it is necessary to appoint new elders. Elders are chosen in one of three ways, but it is important to note that, whichever method is followed, the final decision, both as regards the method to be followed and the persons to be appointed, rests with the Kirk Session. Elders may be chosen (a) by the Kirk Session itself; (b) by a congregational meeting; or (c) by means of signed lists. In Sherwood Greenlaw we have tended to favour method (a).
Eligibility For Election
Any communicant member of the congregation, male or female, is eligible for election as an elder if eighteen years of age or over. A Session must neither appoint someone an elder simply because of their being male nor decline to appoint someone an elder simply because of their being female. Here, as elsewhere, personal theological beliefs, however strongly held, must not be allowed to obstruct the declared mind of the Church. A paid servant of the congregation (eg. Organist, Church Officer) is not on that account debarred from office as an elder.
Tenure Of Office
Elders are ordained for life. Elders do not automatically qualify for membership of the Kirk Session on moving to another congregation. It rests with the Kirk Session of the congregation they have joined to invite them to serve on the Session.
Elders are subject in the first instance to the discipline of their Kirk Session in respect of
their life, doctrine, and the discharge of their duties, including attendance at Kirk
Session meetings. Discipline may lead to removal from office and/or loss of status.
Removal from office has the effect of preventing an elder from performing any of the
functions of the eldership, even though remaining officially an elder. When the Kirk
Session considers that the circumstances merit more severe action, it will deprive the
elder concerned of his or her status as an elder. Absence from Kirk Session meetings
without sufficient reason for more than a year calls for disciplinary action by the
Meetings Of Session
Kirk Session meetings are called as they may be required. Some Sessions meet at
regular pre-stated intervals. Timeous notice of meetings must be given to each elder
personally or by pulpit intimation. A Kirk Session has to meet at least once a year, as
each year it has to appoint one of its number to represent it in Presbytery. A Kirk
Session does not have to meet in connection with the administration of the Sacrament
of the Lord's Supper, though the impression is often given that it has to meet on these
occasions. It will be required to meet if first communicants are to be admitted to the
Lord's Table, but the Sacrament is a ministerial act that does not of itself necessitate the
presence of the elders.
Meetings are normally chaired by the minister of the charge, designated as 'Moderator'. A minister of another Church may act as Moderator of a Kirk Session. With the prior approval of the minister and the Kirk Session another current member of Session, a member of the Diaconate, or a minister associated with the Session may moderate a meeting, and shall have a casting vote only. Only elders who have adequately completed a prescribed course of training may moderate. The Session
Clerk may moderate provided a substitute acts as Clerk. If present, but not moderating, the minister has a deliberative vote.
These arrangements can also apply in the foreseen or unforeseen absence of the minister. Authorisation shall be in writing and the business stated unless this is
impossible, the facts minuted, and the Presbytery Clerk informed. Any decision taken shall not take effect until agreed in writing by the minister and minuted or ratified at a meeting where the minister is present.
A meeting can be called for if at least one-third of the elders (not less than five if there are more than nine) request it. In these circumstances the Moderator must comply within ten days, unless he or she judges the business proposed to be incompetent. The Quorum of a meeting is three, of whom the Moderator is one. In the absence of the minister the quorum is three elders.
As of 2001 Kirk Session meetings shall no longer be presumed to be held in private, but shall normally be held in public unless the Session decide otherwise on any specific matter. Meetings are constituted and closed with prayer, but there could be fuller worship, possibly including Holy Communion.
Nowhere in the Church's legislation is detailed guidance given to Kirk Sessions to help them to decide how to go about their work. Some set up Committees to deal with different areas of concern. Some co-opt to these committees, either on a regular or on a temporary basis, members of the congregation with appropriate expertise. There is nothing to prevent a Kirk Session acting in this way. We in Sherwood Greenlaw have used both approaches with success. (See handout on Committees of Session).
Powers of The Moderator
The Moderator may introduce items of business, is bound by the court's decisions but may dissent, or dissent and complain, from them, cannot make a motion or veto a decision, and has only a casting vote.
A Clerk is appointed by the Kirk Session and holds office at the pleasure of the Session. The Clerk is usually an elder, but need not be. On appointment the oath de fideli administratione ("I promise to carry out faithfully the duties of Session Clerk") is taken. If the Clerk is absent from any meeting, a temporary appointment has to be made, and the oath administered.
The Clerk is responsible for keeping a record of each meeting in permanent form (The Minutes) and for issuing Extracts from the Minutes as required and instructed.
Responsibilities of The Kirk Session
The responsibilities of the Kirk Session are detailed in Act III, 2000. In general they
(a) concern for the spiritual welfare not just of the congregation but also of the
parish as a whole;
(b) the provision of Services;
(c) concern for the organisational life of the congregation.
The Act also lists among the duties of a Kirk Session the need to -
(d) maintain good order;
(e) administer discipline;
(f) judge and determine cases;
(g) see that Assembly legislation is observed;
and further lays on the Kirk Session the need to -
(h) judge the fitness of those who desire to receive the Sacraments;
(i) maintain both a Baptismal Roll and a Communion Roll;
(j) appoint the Organist, the Church Officer, and one of its number to represent it
The responsibilities of the Kirk Session to its parish have become increasingly difficult
to discharge. The break-up of the traditional parish, the growth of denominations,
the increase of those not interested even nominally in the church, have all played a
part in making it difficult for the Session to exercise that degree of spiritual oversight
that traditionally and constitutionally is its duty. Ministers continue, however, to be
approached by parishioners for their services particularly for funerals, weddings, and
The spiritual oversight of the congregation is largely exercised by the congregation being divided into districts and each district being allocated to an elder. Where there is a large Kirk Session, some elders who have other particular duties may not have responsibility for a district. Elders who have districts allocated to them are expected to do much more than deliver Communion Cards to the homes of members. They are expected to take a personal interest in each family in their district. They should encourage active participation in and support for the life of the congregation, and they should take a special interest in the young and the housebound. If their district is within the parish, they should enquire about neighbours who have no church connection, and they should encourage members to befriend such people and invite them into the fellowship of the congregation. They should show particular concern for those whose commitment appears to be lessening, and they should seek to ensure that members who are about to move to another address receive their certificates of transference before they leave and leave behind their new address so that notice of removal may be sent where possible to the appropriate parish.
The keeping of a Communion Roll is part of the Kirk Session's spiritual oversight of the
congregation. The Communion Roll contains the names of all who have been
accepted as communicant members of a congregation (a) by Profession of Faith in that
congregation, (b) by Transference of membership from another congregation in the
Church of Scotland, or (c) by Special Resolution of the Kirk Session.
The acceptance of new members of a congregation is a matter for the Kirk Session, not
Congregations are obliged to keep a Supplementary Roll listing the names of members, still resident within the parish, whose names have been removed from the Communion Roll because they have not "shown sufficient interest or taken an adequate share in the worship, mission and service of the Church". Such individuals may not participate or vote in congregational meetings. Nor can they be elected as office-bearers. However, they may still take Communion.
Provision of Services
While the responsibility for the conduct of public worship rests with the minister , subject to the control and direction of the Presbytery, it rests with the Kirk Session "to determine the hours of public worship and the times of dispensing the Lord's Supper". The sacrament of the Lord's Supper may now be administered "privately in church or elsewhere at the discretion of the minister."
The Kirk Session has ultimate responsibility for the establishment and the control of every branch of a congregation's activity. All organisations within a congregation are under the supervision of the Kirk Session, even those that have their own central or national organisational framework like the Boys' Brigade and the Guild. The Kirk Session has a particular responsibility for the Junior Church because of its concern for the care of the young. The minister, however, is head of the Junior Church even where, as is generally the case, someone else acts as Superintendent or Leader.
MATTERS TEMPORAL M
We, like most congregations, operate under the Model Deed of Constitution, which means that the body administering our temporal affairs is the Congregational Board.
The Board has an equal number of Elders and non- Elders (currently 20 of each).
Board members serve for a period of 3 years but can be re-elected without a gap
period if willing and nominated. The minister (or Interim Moderator in a vacancy) is Chairman ex officio.
If the Chairman is absent from any meeting, the Board shall elect one of its own number to be Chairman for that meeting. The Chairman has a casting vote only.
Inter-Relation Of Kirk Session, Financial Board And Congregation In Property Matters
Another potentially contentious issue concerns the respective interests of the
congregation, the Kirk Session, and the Congregational Board where work on
property is concerned. The ordinary day-to-day care and maintenance of church
property and its funding is the sole responsibility of the Congregational Board.
However, where extraordinary property expenditure is envisaged, the congregation
and the Kirk Session are also involved. The Kirk Session is involved because of its
being the governing body in the congregation, and it will also have an interest if what
is proposed impinges in any way on its particular responsibility for things spiritual in
the life of the congregation; and the congregation is involved because it is from the
congregation that the money necessary to carry out the work will have to be found.
In such a situation the ultimate decision rests with the Kirk Session, but in reaching its
decision it must ascertain and take account of the views of the Congregational Board
and the congregation - the Congregational Board with regard to technical property
considerations and the financial implications of the project, and the congregation with
regard to the merits of the project as a whole and how it might be funded. Once all
these views have been expressed, the Kirk Session will then take its decision, the
Congregational Board will set about implementing that decision by taking estimates
and putting in place a fund-raising packet, and hopefully the congregation will give
the project its full financial backing.