A FORMER head of the Kirk has warned the coronavirus pandemic has shown that it has too many churches and needs to embrace a more digital future.

Christian denominations throughout Scotland are making urgent cash appeals after Covid-19 left them millions of pounds out of pocket from closed churches.

The Scottish Government has announced that churches can reopen for worship with guidance covering such issues as limitations on numbers and social distancing. Singing hymns remains banned.

But Church of Scotland congregations were warned in May that they could lose around one-third of their income in 2020, totalling about £30 million, due to the shutdown.

But the Kirk has since said it has now managed to reduce the massive projected loss through measures including getting parishioners to switch their giving to standing orders and furloughing large numbers of staff.

However, it is still facing a significant fall in income. The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland also admitted it was expecting “substantial losses”.

It has 600 priests in 500 parishes across eight dioceses while the Kirk has nearly 800 ministers covering 1,280 congregations.

A spokesman for the Catholic Church said: "The church in Scotland is financially independent and does not receive any income from the Holy See.

“Financial appeals are being made and parishioners are encouraged to give directly – by bank payments – and to join a Gift Aid scheme.

“The church is likely to face substantial losses.”

READ MORE: Church of Scotland loses millions in a year

As well as a fall in cash collections, other income-earners such as weddings and hall hire have hit places of worship hard.

A report issued by the Kirk’s Assembly Trustees in May anticipated that the central church may not receive £20m of the contributions budgeted for from parishes this year.

They also warned that the church is facing reduced income from investments, its CrossReach social care activities and trading.

Half of the Church of Scotland’s administrative staff are at home on furlough. The effect has helped reduce the earlier loss projections of tens of millions of pounds.

“Since then we have taken steps to encourage congregations to make use of reserves, encouraged members and adherents to give by standing order or bank transfer, and we have developed other online methods of giving, such as donate buttons on congregational websites as well as on the main Church of Scotland website,”  said a spokeswoman for the church.

“We are monitoring the situation and will adjust our estimates when the impact becomes clearer.”

“The Covid-19 health crisis has affected income streams for all charities and the Church of Scotland is no exception.

“To respond to the financial challenge facing us a range of mitigating actions is being taken to maintain the income levels as far as possible, reduce our costs and accelerate our plans for structural reform.”

The annual cash from congregations to the Kirk’s central funds is £46.5m - almost half its total yearly income of £105m.

None of the Kirk’s 780 ministers has been stood down.

But a chaplain to the Queen says the Kirk has discovered that “so much of what we do is rooted in tradition and convention rather than relevance and necessity and that has to change”.

Writing in this month’s church house magazine, Life And Work, The Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, warns: “The church too has to learn lessons from our life in lockdown.

“Across the whole Church of Scotland, from the most rural parish to the most ancient cathedral, from our presbyteries to our central offices, we have been offered a tantalising glimpse of a very different kind of church.

“One in which we have discovered that we are not as reliant on buildings as we thought we were and it is one in which we are able, online, to reach a constituency that has been missing from our pews for generations.

“So, as we emerge slowly from this great difficulty we need to make it a prayer that across the church we build on the lessons we have learned and do not slip back into old ways.”

READ MORE:  Coronavirus in Scotland: Church of Scotland cancels General Assembly

Writing before the Scottish Government’s announcement on reopening places of worship, he added: “Right now there is great uncertainty about when we may be able to return to our church buildings, but there is no doubt about the need to expand our online presence. 

While we long for the day when we can once again worship in our sacred spaces, we know that there are too many of them.

“And memories of what we once were are no use to a church that must dream of what we can be in the future.

“We have discovered (if we did not know already) that so much of what we do is rooted in tradition and convention rather than relevance and necessity and that has to change.”