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A radical reassessment of Church of Scotland polity is urgently required

Harry Reid hasn't quite hit the nail on the head but he has made a close approximation ("Schism in the Kirk is a distinct reality", The Herald, December 11).

In highlighting the work which is done by parish ministers and congregations at local level, he has revealed the Kirk at its national best. This is true for a number of reasons.

First, the parish minister is elected to office. The people sign the call. The minister has a mandate to fulfil his or her vocation in that locality with the support and in partnership with the people. Secondly, fiscal policy is transparent and, notwithstanding obligations to the wider work of the church, the people have ownership of how money is raised and how it is spent. Thirdly, and crucially, the local kirk is imbued with grace. People know each other not only from their membership but as neighbours, colleagues, workmates and so on. Because of this, allowances are often made for people who are different, situations which don't fit the general trend and unexpected circumstances.

At regional and national level, people are much more detached from the parishes. Our executive is not elected and doesn't hold a mandate from the people. Financial decisions are not being made by the people who actually put the money in the offering bowl. A system of courts immediately raises the Pauline dichotomy of law versus grace.

After 30-odd years in the ministry, I think it is time for a radical reassessment of our polity. What we call "the courts of the church" are not effective in two crucial areas. First, situations that require the application of grace. This is true not only of the present crisis with seceding congregations but also with office-bearers (and especially ministers) who find themselves in difficult situations, sometimes through no fault of their own. Secondly, the application of vision and the accommodation of visionary people who think out of the legal box and other boxes too.

I have just returned from visiting the Naxalbari Pastorate in north India which is twinned with the parish of Traprain. It is in the Church of North India. Its polity is episcopal but because it is the union of several denominations its episcopal polity has been tempered by some welcome Presbyterian insights. This polity may not suit the Kirk but there are other ways of ordering our life together.

Perhaps a more radical assessment not only of present structures but also the theological framework supporting them will harvest something new. Harry Reid's loose confederation of congregations is a radical shift from the centre. While this would be welcome, his idea would compromise two crucial Presbyterian gifts – our commitment to other congregations, especially those that struggle in difficult situations, and our relationship with the nation and the universal church. Both constitute our lifeblood because they articulate our commitment to the fulfilment of Jesus's prayer for unity and his great commission to go out into the world with the gospel of justice and peace.

Rev David D Scott,

The Manse,

Preston Road,

East Linton, East Lothian.

Letters and Harry Reid's well-researched column on the St George's Tron saga in particular and the future of the Church of Scotland in general make interesting reading (December 11).

I was among the 300-plus who attended a meeting at the Tron in May last year. To all intent it was a rallying assembly of like-minded persons (with some exceptions, including myself). The subject was the now well-documented issue of the Rev Scott Rennie continuing to serve in his Aberdeen charge.

Several Church of Scotland ministers addressed the audience. It became clear the concern was not solely about Mr Rennie but indeed the issue of gay persons within our Christian churches and present-day society. I was reminded of the song: "I know where I'm going ... and I know who is coming with me". No tempering comment. No alternative views invited.

Some 12 months later the Tron minister and Session formally indicated their withdrawal from Church of Scotland governance. I find the disbelief and anguish expressed by Tron members and supporters to be somewhat hollow. It was the Tron's decision to disassociate. Once done, Glasgow Presbytery and the Church of Scotland, Edinburgh, had no alternative but to effect conclusion of this self-enforced split.

Sadly, the basic Christian precept of "do unto others" appears to have been discarded by many involved from the outset of this much-publicised dispute.

Allan C Steele,

22 Forres Avenue,

Giffnock.

Wherever sympathies lie in the Tron/Church of Scotland debate I find some comments particularly disrespectful to Christian people in Iran (Letters, December 10).

To liken what is or what might be happening to Christians in Iran orchestrated by their state with the delivery of court papers by the legitimate and orderly means of messengers-at-arms in an action raised by a church is, in my view, contemptible.

Messengers-at-arms and sheriff officers serve court papers every day to folks in all walks of life, they are not the authors of the papers but deliver the order of the court within the rules of court – they are not instruments of intimidation. While when things all around are going awry and emotions are running high, what is happening is nothing compared to those who are persecuted and imprisoned for their faith.

John Walker,

11 Arrol Drive, Ayr.

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