Interim Ministry Accompaniment Report for
St Mark’s Church, Rosemount Viaduct, Aberdeen, Aberdeen City Centre, and the wider West End Cluster (Grouping)
Revd Ian Murray, Interim Minister, East of Scotland
- St Mark’s Background
- St Mark’s Exploration
3.2 Financial Resources
3.3 A new model of Church and City Centre Outreach
3.4 Wider Question
4. St Mark’s in the context of the City Centre and West End Parish Grouping.
4.1 Sponsorship Model
4.2 Shared Model
4.3 United Model
4.4 SWOT Analysis
4.4.1 Sponsorship Model
4.4.2 Shared Model
4.4.3 United Model
5. Where are we now concerning St Mark’s?
6. Further Questions
7.1 The Importance of St Mark’s in the City Centre
7.2 The Fragility of Ministry
7.3 The Options of Union
7.3.1 St Mark’s United with Holburn West
7.3.2 St Mark’s United with Holburn West and Rubislaw
7.4 The Importance of Communication and “grass roots up” consultation.
Although Interim Ministry Accompaniment has been ongoing with KSN (formerly KSNU) since June 2019, my appointment with St Mark’s on an Accompanying Basis commenced in June 2020. During this time, with the exception of a window of 4 fortnightly services between 15th Nov and 20th Dec, there has been no opportunity to meet in person with members to explore in any depth, future options for the congregation and building in the context of new expressions of mission and outreach to Aberdeen City Centre.
However, there has been a great deal of discussion amongst members of the Kirk Session and also between the Ministers serving in the City Centre and West End of Aberdeen via internet Zoom and Microsoft Teams Meetings. In particular, with the Revd Tanya Webster, the Revd Dr Robert Smith, The Revd Duncan Eddie, Mr Jason Thomas, and prior to December, the Revd Scott Rennie. Also, in recent months, wider discussions have been facilitated by the Revd Dr Robert Smith amongst the Ministers and representatives throughout the West End Cluster, specifically to look at the process of moving towards a formal Parish Grouping, but also taking into account wider issues concerning the future of the City Centre and the role of St Mark’s. The overall proposal is to move from the current model of individual parishes in the City Centre and West End to a Parish Grouping with a covenant in place which allows for shared territorial and pastoral responsibility throughout. The aim is to develop a wider, shared responsibility and ownership of ministry throughout the City Centre and West End of Aberdeen.
- St Mark’s Background
Following two years vacancy, the Right to Call at St Mark’s was suspended by Presbytery in November 2019. Combined with the situation at KSNU, Presbytery recognised the need for radical change to enable future ministry and new expressions of mission and outreach to the City Centre of Aberdeen.
Historically, the model of mission and outreach used by St. Marks and the former South Church has been along the lines of OAK (St. Marks, North St. Andrew and Methodist Crown Terrace) using the kitchen and halls to provide breakfasts for the homeless, coffee mornings, raffles and lunches to help build a community between the congregation and the wider city centre community. This is Mission as most church members understand it, and the hall provides a crucial part of this, as well as outreach to drama groups.
In the Spring of 2020, application was made to Faith Nurture for Interim Ministry at St Mark’s as well as continuing at KSNU, with a remit for:
- Providing Stability through Pastoral Support and Leadership as the City Centre Congregations in Aberdeen transition to a new model of ministry and collaboration in mission and outreach.
- Work along with Presbytery to help establish a new shape of ministry across the city centre of Aberdeen and encourage and lead the existing worshipping congregations to have a stake in this work and actively engage with it.
- Work with a group of city centre congregations in reshaping their relationship as part of new defined future as proposed in the draft Presbytery Plan.
The now approved Presbytery Plan states that by the end of the Plan, “the aim is to have one congregation, with four full time staff, including three Ministers of Word and Sacrament with 3 or 4 buildings, sponsoring and staffing the new City Centre Initiative”.
Following the dissolution of the former KSNU congregation and KSN CofS congregation, the former KSN Parish has been absorbed into the Parish of St Mark’s. Clearly there are questions concerning the future use of the KSN building in the context of the wider City Centre Initiative, however, focusing specifically on St Mark’s, these have not been included in this report. It’s also worth noting that the former KSNU Treasurer, Mrs Morag Ledgerwood has also recently been appointed Treasurer to St Mark’s, relieving a significant burden from the joint Session Clerks.
- St Mark’s Exploration
Based on the agreed Presbytery Plan, Interim Ministry Accompaniment was for the purpose of discerning whether there is a long-term future for ministry in the St Mark’s building, in the context of exploring new opportunities for mission and outreach for St Mark’s congregation within the City Centre, supported by the West End Grouping. The aim of this was to draw up aims and objectives, and a clear remit for Transition Ministry to see the process through to completion, if it is considered there is a future for the St Mark’s building and congregation. The building is category D (Presbytery is unable to make a determination in relation to a building) and its future retention is subject to repurposing the building to make it fit for the needs of today’s congregation and future mission and outreach to the city centre of Aberdeen.
Although there’s enthusiasm and commitment within St Mark’s to explore new opportunities for mission and outreach, this is an undertaking which necessitates the wider support of the whole Parish Grouping. Initial discussions (based on the Presbytery Plan) focused on a model of Sponsorship (see 4.1). Regardless of whichever model is used, there is a core group within St Mark’s, who are enthusiastic and keen to be part of new expressions of mission and outreach in the City Centre.
3.2 Financial Resources
It’s still not clear as to how the St Mark’s building might be repurposed. Clearly, discussions of this nature require an input from the whole congregation and membership, and this has not been possible since June 2019.
Essential to any redevelopment or repurposing of the building is a financial budget.
St Mark’s have at present approximately £1.3M in funds, some of which are restricted. If the Sponsorship Model from the wider Parish Grouping is the favoured option, might that sponsorship include financial sponsorship of mission in the City Centre, possibly even contributing to the cost of redevelopment of the St Mark’s building?
Having looked at other options, applying for financial support from funds such as The Gilcomston Fund, are possible given St Mark’s financial reserves. However, it may be possible to apply for financial support from Aberdeen City Council City Centre Development Fund, and discussions are ongoing with City Centre Councillor, Marie Boulton, albeit, mostly in connection with KSN.
3.3 A new model of Church and City Centre Outreach
One model which has been explored is that of the Heart Edge Model from St Martin’s in the Fields, London. When I shared this with the Kirk Session at St Mark’s, I wasn’t aware that it was familiar to some who previously attended a seminar hosted by Heart Edge at Queen’s Cross Church.
The Model develops mission around four key areas.
3.3.1 Congregation – Inclusive approaches to worship, witness (living out our faith) and day-to-day communal life throughout the City Centre and West-End Grouping.
3.3.2 Compassion – models of outreach serving local need and addressing social justice, taking into account the key issues which exist within Aberdeen City Centre, ie, homelessness, drug addiction, alcoholism, but also depression, isolation, and loneliness amongst older people, particularly in these present times. What if this is the new normal? How does the church reach out to its members and the wider community? Where are the opportunities to build upon that which works well at present, and develop new ways of reaching out and supporting others?
3.3.3 Culture – recognising that St Mark’s is ideally placed in the heat of the city between His Majesty’s Theatre and Aberdeen City Library, a stone’s throw from the Art Gallery. Thinking about art, music and drama, how do we re-imagine the Christian narrative for the present moment? How do we share new expressions of Christianity through the arts?
- His Majesties Theatre – is there a possibility of repurposing the sanctuary of the church to make it a more flexible space for smaller performances? This would require the removal of the pews downstairs but possibly leaving the upper galleries intact. Certainly worth exploring whether there’s an option of working with HMT, utilising some of the space at St Mark’s for either performances or rehearsals.
- Union Terrace Garden Development – What role might St Mark’s have in connection with the £20M Union Terrace Garden’s Renewal Proposals?
Following discussions with Councillor Marie Boulton, one possibility might be a meditation garden with short readings or poems which could be changed on a regular basis.
Or a prayer walk labyrinth which provides a metaphor model of our Christian life journey as we face many turns we did not expect in our search for a quiet centre. Some gently curving sections of the prayer walk allow us to move easily and quickly; others slow us down and catch our attention as they turn us abruptly in the opposite direction.
Or a biblical garden corner following some of the stories found in St Mark’s Gospel, with various plants which are found in the bible.
There’s also the opportunity of opening the church to visitors to the garden. What is it that attracts people into churches, thinking about the churches and cathedrals we might visit when on holiday
A place of peace for quiet meditation?
A sense of history?
A short lunch-time service?
A lunch-time cafeteria during the summer months?
Can we develop these areas?
Following COVID, will more people search for spiritual meaning in their lives?
- Are there any areas of culture we can explore with Aberdeen City Library or The Art Gallery?
3.3.4 Commerce – Commercial activities that generate finance, creatively extending and enhancing mission and ministry through social enterprise. One of St Mark’s greatest assets are significant basement halls, presently used by an amateur dramatic group and the Big Issue sellers.
How can these halls be repurposed and developed? What are the demands for office accommodation in Aberdeen City Centre? If the Presbytery of Aberdeen & Shetland is planning on relocating, is there any possibility and commitment to relocate to St Mark’s in the heart of the city? Again, how does this relate to the Union Terrace Garden’s Renewal Proposals?
3.4 Wider Questions
In looking at this model, there were a number of wider questions raised concerning opportunities for mission and outreach to the City Centre involving the West End Grouping:
- How can we work more closely with other denominations?
- Would our mission and outreach be stronger and more effective if we entered into discussions with other city centre denominations to ask what they are currently doing, and whether we can work together? This might include supporting existing mission and evangelistic projects such as, The Street Pastors?
- How can we be more involved in supporting Work Place Chaplaincy? What work do they currently do? How do they reach-out to those who come into our city centre for work in shops, offices etc?
- What about the Kirk of St Nicholas building, now in the parish of St Mark’s – do we have the capacity and desire to do something with the KSN building or be involved in the proposed Steering Group?
- Do we acknowledge that the CofS is not the only denomination trying to reach into the city centre, and not even the lead player? Consider for instance, The Street Pastors, the work of the Evangelical/Pentecostal churches, Trinity Church’s work with young adults and children etc. The Salvation Army, who have a refurbished worship space and café and income from the let of flats in the converted building. “Anything the CofS does in the City Centre needs to carve out a new niche. Just providing a copy of any of the above with less commitment is not going to be sustainable.”
- To what extent will the effects of the pandemic, in closing down indoor activity for a year, result in a break in a pattern of behaviour and use of the halls? To what extent is there, or might there be, a demand for hall lets at St Mark’s? Before investing in the refurbishment, ought there to be a feasibility study carried out?
- St Mark’s in the context of the City Centre and West End Parish Grouping.
A prerequisite of any discussions concerning the future of St Mark’s congregation, building and opportunities for new expressions of mission and outreach to the city centre, is an understanding of what the Parish Grouping will look like and how it will function.
Based on the agreed Presbytery Plan, which states “three Ministers of Word and Sacrament with 3 or 4 buildings, sponsoring and staffing the new City Centre Initiative”, we have been looking at a Sponsorship Model of supporting St Mark’s and City Centre mission and outreach.
However, it’s becoming increasingly apparent from wider discussions with the ministers and representatives from the West End congregations who have attended various meetings, that a preferred model is one which focuses not simply on the City Centre, but seeks to encourage new expressions of mission and outreach throughout the whole of the City Centre and West End.
Clearly, there’s merit in this, but there’s also a concern that it’s widening the focus of a new mission and outreach too far, and risks achieving less than if that focus is specific to the city centre. I’ve covered some of these issues in the SWOT analysis below.
Finally, I presented a third model which is in keeping with the model of reform used in Shetland, as well as the model of reform our presbyteries are undertaking. The model is of a single parish with multiple ministries.
4.4 SWOT Analysis of these three models
4.4.1 Sponsorship Model
4.4.2 Shared Model
4.4.3 United Model
- Where are we now concerning St Mark’s?
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve had to step back from various duties at St Mark’s to concentrate on the administrative tasks as agreed in the application for Interim Ministry, and partly as a consequence of other commitments to the National Church through Faith Nurture. The Revd David Stewart continues as Interim Moderator, in a more active role than previously when I opted to moderated all Session Meetings. And the Revd John Watson, retired minister of St Mark’s, has been appointed Locum by the Kirk Session and oversees pastoral care and worship.
In recent weeks, I’ve confirmed that I will conclude my current position in Interim Ministry (and consequentially, St Mark’s) on 7th May. This raises the question, where do we go from here concerning the future of the congregation, building, and wider city centre mission?
My role has been to prepare the way for a longer Transition Ministry for St Mark’s and the wider City Centre. The three models of Parish Grouping all refer to the appointment of a 3-5 year Transition Ministry Post, which would be centred at St Mark’s with a remit for helping the congregation look at new opportunities for mission and outreach, possibly based on the Heart Edge Model (Congregation, Compassion, Culture, Commerce). This would account for 2/3 of the Transition Ministry appointment.
1/3 of the appointment would be working with the other congregations and ministers throughout the West End to discover and realise a new model of ministry, mission and outreach, based on the Presbytery Plan and the allocation of 3 Ministers of Word and Sacrament and 1 Ministry Development Staff post. Although this is the anticipated outcome by the end of the Plan (2030), it may well be achieved much earlier in the event of any of the current serving ministers in the West End and City Centre demitting or retiring.
Whatever plan is decided for the City Centre and West End, it needs to be workable and manageable for 3 MWS and 1MDS, unless there’s an amendment to the agreed Presbytery Plan which allows St Mark’s to call another minister.
It is also important to note that before Presbytery can make an application to Faith Nurture for a Transition Ministry post, the precise remit of that post needs to be understood and agreed. Is this a post specifically for St Mark’s and the City Centre? Or is this a post for St Mark’s and the whole of the West End Grouping? It is essential that some agreement is reached concerning the three proposed (or alternative) models.
- Further Questions
What are the options for St Mark’s?
Faith Nurture have confirmed (23/03/2021) that there will not be an immediate Interim or Transition Ministry replacement. This however, does not preclude Presbytery from applying for a future Transition Ministry as soon as possible.
Following on from the revised Ministry figures, there’s little doubt that this will lead to further cutbacks for the National Church, and might even necessitate a revision of the agreed Presbytery Plan. In this light, I’m not convinced that the congregation is sustainable on its own, given its size, average age, and (rightly or wrongly) assuming the negative impact of the past 12 months on regular church going and commitment.
I would also resist returning the Right to Call to them. In the greater scheme of current change and re-formation, this might be a retrospective step. Had a greater number of former KSN members moved their lines to St Mark’s, I might have had a different opinion, but given that only 3 took that step, has made little or no difference to the size and strength of the St Mark’s congregation.
I would also resist the option of Presbytery Guardianship. Although both current Interim Moderator and Locum are doing a great job, the task of transitioning a congregation to new models of ministry, mission and outreach in the wider context of the City Centre and West End, is a significant role which requires full time attention. I doubt very much that this could be achieved under Presbytery Guardianship.
7.1 The St Mark’s building and congregation ought to be retained for the following reasons:
- Existing Mission and outreach – whether through occasional coffee mornings, connections with the Big Issue sellers, or various hall users, there is both the opportunity and potential, with encouragement and leadership, to build upon these existing connections.
- With membership of 422 (2018 figures, although 32 deaths in the last quarter), St Mark’s has the second highest membership of any church in the City Centre and West End, behind Midstocket with a membership of 423. There is clearly a very committed, enthusiastic, and hard-working core of people in St Mark’s, who have shown great resolve in serving their church through a prolonged vacancy and following the sudden death of their Treasurer and Finance Convener, Mr Alex McConochie, who played a hugely significant role at St Mark’s. With support and encouragement from the wider West End, there is, in my personal view, clearly a future for both the congregation and the building of St Mark’s.
- Strategic position – particularly in relation to the Union Terrace Garden project and surrounding cultural sites. St Mark’s is also in a strategic position for new expressions of mission and outreach into the city centre.
- The last remaining CofS presence in the City Centre of Aberdeen – following the recent dissolution of the Kirk of St Nicholas Uniting and earlier departure of Gilcomston South. If it was perceived that the CofS had completely withdrawn its presence from the City Centre, this might have an adverse effect on the CofS as a whole in Aberdeen.
- Condition of the building – in relatively recent years, a significant amount of money was spent on the dome, and overall, the fabric of the building is in good condition and well maintained by the property committee.
- Opportunities for repurposing the building – in particular, the basement halls. Although structurally sound, they would benefit from a refurbishment and possible repurposing to increase their commercial potential. However, it would be sensible to carry out a feasibility study into the potential demand and commercial return from refurbishing the halls.
7.2 There needs to be an honest recognition of the current state of fragility within ministry in general, and in this context, amongst the serving ministers within the West End. We currently have one minister absent through ill health, and in the event of another of the three remaining ministers falling absent for whatever reason, this could potentially result in crisis point. Whatever decisions are made concerning the future, the model for the City Centre and West End Grouping must be achievable and result in easing stress rather than compounding it. At the risk of repeating myself, ultimately it needs to be achievable with the proposed allocation of 3 MWS and 1 MDS allocation of ministry.
Any plan must also take into account the possibility that Faith Nurture may or may not have the resources to offer Transition Ministry to St Mark’s and the City Centre. I would encourage Presbytery to apply as soon as it becomes clear as to whether this remit is to St Mark’s and the City Centre, or St Mark’s and the wider West End Grouping. Either way, the assistance of a Transition Minister would be of considerable benefit, and in the event that Faith Nurture rejects the application for a Transition Minister, is there an option for Presbytery to appoint a transition “style” ministry, revising a current MDS post allocation?
7.3 It might be worth exploring the possibility of readjustment through Union sooner rather than later.
Although not included as one of the options mentioned above, one proposal might be a Union (rather than a Linkage) with another congregation in the West End. St Mark’s has in recent years, the experience of Uniting with Queen Street, and although there may be resistance to another union, we cannot ignore the harsh reality of the situation the National Church faces. There will, no doubt, be a significant number of unions and readjustments over the next few years before we reach a sustainable number of congregations and buildings.
7.3.1 Option 1 would be a Union with Holburn West (the building is category B in the Presbytery Plan).
The current serving minister of Holburn West (The Revd Duncan Eddie) would become the Minister of the United Charge. St Mark’s Church would become “the place of worship” for the United Charge. There would be one Kirk Session for the United Charge. Holburn West Church would be closed and disposed of, along with St Mark’s Manse, and the Minister of the Charge would continue to reside in the Holburn West Manse which would become the Manse of the United Charge.
- The Revd Duncan Eddie is already known and appreciated by the St Mark’s Congregation, having previously been the Interim Moderator of this charge.
- There is a reality that possibly as many as 50% of the Holburn West Congregation may choose to move their lines somewhere other than St Mark’s in the event of the closure of Holburn West.
- Even with a Union between St Mark’s and Holburn West, would there be the capacity to “lead” on a new City Centre Initiative supported by the wider City Centre, West End Parish Grouping?
7.3.2 Option 2 would be a three-way Union between St Mark’s, Holburn West and Rubislaw, creating a new worshipping community in the St Mark’s building, with Holburn West and the Rubislaw Church building being disposed of, while still retaining the Rubislaw Church Centre. The manses of Holburn West and Rubislaw would be retained for the Team Ministry.
Based on the Presbytery Mission Plan Act (coming to the 2021 GA), which allows for a 2nd and 3rd Charge, as above, the Revd Duncan Eddie would be appointed as the Parish Minister. This would mean a Team Ministry and one Kirk Session. According to the draft Act:
“An Additional Charge shall not have a congregation or a Kirk Session of its own, shall not be a registered charity and shall not hold property or funds. The minister inducted to an Additional Charge shall occupy the Manse provided for their use.”
The Revd Robert Smith would be appointed to the 2nd Charge on a Basis of Reviewable Tenure with the following remit:
- The geographical area the minister of the 2nd Charge would be the whole of the Parish Grouping with a responsibility for enabling closer working relationships between all the congregations, with the initial formation of a Parish Grouping (if this hasn’t already been achieved) and eventual formation of a single Parish of the City Centre and West End and a single Kirk Session.
- Along with the wider Parish Grouping, explore new models of mission and outreach to the City Centre with St Mark’s at the centre. Possibly, based on the Heart Edge Model.
- Assist in the conduct of worship and pastoral care throughout the whole of the Parish Grouping.
- Assist in moderating Kirk Sessions, and generally supporting the whole of the Parish Grouping.
Questions and issues concerning Option 2.
- If both Holburn West and Rubislaw congregations already feel the threat of closure (Category B in the Presbytery Plan), is there merit in accelerating the process to achieve a new worshipping community in the heart of the city instead of delaying the inevitable process for Holburn West and Rubislaw? There is of course, the reality and potential for a significant number of members from these two congregations relocating elsewhere (50% from each?) but this may well be the inevitable outcome at whatever time we proceed with the closure of Holburn West and Rubislaw Church buildings.
- To what extent are kirk sessions and wider congregations aware of the national situation within the CofS and in particular, the recent revised FTE figures from the Chief Officer? Without an understanding of the background and a further 20% cut in ministry allocation, will kirk sessions and congregations appreciate the necessity for change and the incentive behind these proposals? future?
In all our considerations, we cannot underestimate the challenges currently facing the Church of Scotland, evident in the revised ministry figures sent from the Chief Officer, Dave Kendal on 26th Jan 2021.
Future presbytery plans currently suggest that we would be looking to further increase the number of ministers and other roles in ministry as compared to our current numbers. That is simply not feasible given the financial situation and the fact that 40% of serving ministers are approaching retirement. If we take affordability based on projected trends in congregational income into account, our future target number for all ministry posts in five years’ time would be in the region of 600. This is a reduction of around 20% on the advisory figures produced by the Ministries Council in 2018 for the number of ministers (611) combined with the target number of MDS posts (120).
With this in mind, I believe significant change is required concerning the current model of ministry for the City Centre and West End of Aberdeen, as soon as possible. Although the proposals set out in the Presbytery Plan are in the context of “the life of the Plan”, it’s clear that we do not have this time. In the event that any of the current serving ministers in the City Centre and West End demitting or retiring, in aiming to achieve the agreed allocation of ministry to the City Centre and West End Grouping, they will not be replaced until the allocation of 3 MWS and 1 MDS is achieved, unless there is an amendment to the current Plan. However, in these difficult and challenging times for the Church, in trying to create a sustainable future, it’s hoped that these proposals offer an exciting opportunity for the congregations of St Marks, Holburn West and Rubislaw, along with the others in the Parish Grouping as we endeavour to explore new opportunities for mission and outreach in the City Centre and West End of Aberdeen.
7.4 I cannot overstate the importance of good communication and working with church members, Kirk Sessions and congregations, to achieve the desired outcome. This is hugely challenging in the current COVID situation when we are dependent upon Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft Teams, but hopefully, this will ease up as the year progresses.
Any sense that change is being imposed from above will have a detrimental effect, and likewise, any sense that people at grass roots level have been excluded from the discussion and decision-making process will result in hurt, anger and frustration, and inevitably cause difficulties in moving forward.
The issue of good communication also relates to the necessity of making clear the reality the National Church currently faces in presbytery and parish reform as part of the Radical Action Plan. We are primarily working towards creating a reformed and sustainable model of Church throughout the City Centre and West End, and ultimately, recognising that God is doing a new thing which requires our trust in his guiding Holy Spirit.
Revd Ian Murray
Interim Minister Accompanying, St Mark’s
25th March 2021
(Amended 30th March 2021)