The Church of Scotland General Assembly will be reflecting this week on the loss, over half a century, of 63% of its membership since its peak in 1957 of 1.32 million communicants. Its numerical decline is now so steep that the pre-Reformation parish system is collapsing. This week, the kirk in my local parish was the latest victim.

Kilmadock parish at Doune in Perthshire is of medieval origin. But the congregation has thinned to a very small number and the church building needs extensive repairs. So the Church of Scotland general trustees put the church on the market in February.

Large numbers of local people, including from the congregation, were horrified at the prospect of losing it. They got together with the community trust to obtain pledges of money from individuals and charitable funders, secure a bank loan and two weeks ago put in a realistic financial offer. The aim was to preserve the kirk as much as possible while converting it into a multi-function community centre - including for religious worship.

Last week, the Church of Scotland general trustees decided to turn down this people's bid, choosing instead an offer from another party, presumably for a larger sum. Though locals don't yet know its future use, the church is almost certainly going to be turned into a commercial development. The community is stunned at its loss.

Important issues arise. As an institution, the Church of Scotland continues to want to speak for the community of the nation upon its future development and upon the evolution of the moral concerns of the day. The values of our society, and its well-being, remain the interest of Church ministers, elders and members. At its General Assembly, the Kirk continues to offer to speak for us all on the many issues shaping the ethics of our country and our age. This is laudable.

But this aspiration to speak for the community beyond its walls comes with obligations. The Church of Scotland, in its contraction, needs to have regard to the ethical heritage it is leaving in its wake.

When the Kirk pulls out of a parish in which it has been present for a millennium, it needs to reflect on the condition of the people and their next millennium. It is a moral leap when volunteers put in time and effort to mount a business-like financial bid to assume responsibility for the church building as a facility for family groups, children's organisations and religious, educational and sporting activities. This is the community seeking to fill the moral vacuum. This is also laudable.

I believe that the Church's general trustees should have regard to this.They need to recognise moral obligations as well as pecuniary ones. In return for a short-term financial gain of, at most, a few tens of thousands of pounds, the general trustees are going to leave my parish bereft for generations, probably for all time to come, of a church building that could have remained a moral beacon.

Callum Brown, Professor of religious and cultural history, University of Dundee, Argaty, Doune, Perthshire.