Unitary Constitution Information

On Sunday 24 March the congregation voted to adopt a Unitary Constitution.

We hope this will be approved by Inverness Presbytery on 2 April, after which the new constitution will come into force.

Here is some information about the new consitution.

Frequently asked questions about the Unitary Constitution

Everything must be done in a proper and orderly way (1 Corinthians 14.40)

It used to be that every Church of Scotland congregation was encouraged to have a way of working using a Kirk Session and a Congregational Board. This was called the Model Deed of Constitution. We have operated with the ‘Model Constitution’ for many years. Recognising this model did not always suit congregations a different model introduced at the General Assembly in 2003. Under a Unitary Constitution, everything is governed by the Kirk Session. It is up to us to find the best way of managing ourselves to enable us to fulfil our mission.

Q. What are we being asked to decide?
A. The Kirk Session and the Congregational Board recently voted overwhelming to change our congregation’s constitution from our current ‘Model Constitution’ to a new ‘Unitary Constitution’. This requires a vote of the congregation, which will take place at our annual business meeting (ABM) following the service on 24 March. The vote will be on whether to abolish the Board and allow the Session to take over its responsibilities. If passed at that meeting, the new Unitary Constitution would come into effect after being approved by Inverness Presbytery.

Q. Why would we want to do this?
A. Currently the responsibility for running the Church is split between the Board and the Session. The office bearers believe that ending that division of responsibilities will make for more effective decision making, and allow us to move forward positively as a congregation. The Board and Session considered whether to adopt the new constitution in great detail, voted overwhelmingly in favour of it, and strongly recommend that the congregation votes in favour of it.

Q. What are the main differences between the Model Constitution and the Unitary Constitution?
A. Under current arrangements, Old High St Stephen’s operates under the Model Constitution whereby spiritual matters are the responsibility of the Kirk Session and temporal matters (finance and property) are the responsibility of the Congregational Board. In the case of Old High St Stephen’s, all Elders are members of the Kirk Session and the Congregational Board. In addition, the Congregational Board is supposed to have a large number of non-Elders elected by the congregation (in practice, we only have around 15). If the congregation of Old High St Stephen’s decides to adopt a Unitary Constitution, then the Kirk Session will have responsibility for spiritual and temporal matters, and there will not be a Congregational Board. The Kirk Session will operate with various groups or committees in order to ensure that all appropriate business and activity is conducted. It’s planned that the present work of the Congregational Board will be handled by a Property and Finance Committee.

Q. Will there be opportunities for non-Elders to participate in the running of Old High St Stephen’s?
A. Definitely yes. All current non-Elder members of the Congregational Board will be invited to join at least one Kirk Session group or committee. In addition, other members of the congregation will be encouraged to join the groups or committees. It will be essential to maintain the very high level of volunteering from the congregation in the future work of Old High St Stephen’s. Members will be asked to serve for a fixed period on groups or committees with the possibility of extension if desired.

Q. How many Kirk Session groups or committees will there be?
A. We will require to have a Property and Finance committee under the new constitution. At the moment, the Kirk Session has groups on worship and education, care and events and mission. However, as a result of our Future Focus decisions, it is likely that the Session will wish to alter the number and nature of the groups and committees in order to take forward our priorities. These groups and committees will include non-elders. Each group or committee will have devolved powers to take forward routine work, being accountable to the Kirk Session for their actions, and with the Session setting overall priorities.

Q. Will there still be an Annual Business Meeting?
A. Yes. Annual Business Meetings will be held to consider the Annual Financial Accounts, and report on the life and work of the congregation and its various organisations and activities.

Q. How will we obtain information about the Church’s finances?
A. As well as consideration of the Annual Accounts at the Annual Business Meeting, it is proposed to have regular updates on our finances in the Church Newsletter and Church website.

Q. Will the Unitary Constitution help to attract new Elders?
A. The age profile of our Kirk Session is becoming increasingly older and it is sometimes difficult to recruit younger members to the eldership. In recent years, a number of Elders have found they are no longer able to carry out the traditional Elder’s duties with regard to district visiting. It is felt that the Unitary Constitution, together with the actions arising from Future Focus, will help to attract new Elders.

Q. Will the Unitary Constitution help to strengthen our congregation’s life and work?
A. Very recently, the Inverness Presbytery conducted a Local Church Review of Old High St Stephen’s church. This approach replaces the former Quinquennial Reviews. The Presbytery Committee responsible for the Local Church Review commented in its report that it welcomed our congregation’s proposal to adopt the Unitary Constitution, suggesting such a move could help to strengthen the union (which has now been in place for over eight years) and make the work of the congregation more effective.

Q. How will the Unitary Constitution enhance pastoral care?
A. While it is recognised that a constitutional change will not directly enhance pastoral care, it is fully expected that actions arising from Future Focus will enable an enhanced pastoral care system to be established during this year. This is a priority matter which is currently being considered by the Kirk Session.

Q. Will all decisions be taken by a small group of elders?
A. In the light of Future Focus and the Local Church review, the Session is considering whether we could be more effective with a different kind of leadership team to take an overview of the various activities in respect of the life and work of the congregation. It’s likely that the Kirk Session will make decisions about this during the next few months, after very careful consideration. Whatever is decided, the priorities will be effective decision making, better pastoral care, and a strengthening of our congregation’s mission. However the vote at the ABM is not concerned with these matters, only with the matter of the abolition of the Board. But please do speak to your elder about these other matters, and let him or her know what you think.

Q. Where can I find more information?
A. Please feel free to ask your elder, the Minister or any other officebearer.

Here are some other relevant documents:

A sample Unitary Constitution.

The Church of Scotland Law Department’s guidance for operating under the Unitary Constitution.

The Law Department also offer an overview of current charity law for officebearers.

Congregational Constitutions are governed by this Act of the General Assembly.

See how the new constitution works! Visit Lanark Greyfriars and St Andrew’s Blantyre.

Feel free to leave a comment about the proposal!

2 thoughts on “Unitary Constitution Information

  1. In Park Church Helensburgh, where I was a member before moving to Inverness, we changed our constitution 2 years ago to the Unitary model. We found the process very straightforward and our administration in some ways became less complicated. We relied on the committees much more to do the work and although that meant more committee meetings there were fewer formal meetings as there was no need for Board meetings as well as Kirk Session meetings.
    We worried that Kirk Session meetings might become business meetings with a lesser spritual content and the Monister and I tried to make sure that this was not the case when producing the agenda for meetings. We worried that former Board members might feel “discarded” but this did not happen. Kirk Session meetings became much more open, with committee members who were not elders attending, but we did have a part of the agenda which was for elders only if there was a confidential matter to discuss..
    We were trying to organise a method of making sure that committee minutes were always up to date and accessible, with copies going immediately to the Minister, Session Clerk and a location within the church premises for anyone to read. This we found to be the most challenging part, as we did not want Kirk Session meetings to become bogged down with the minutiae of Committee meetings, but we had to have main discussion and action points in reports to the KS. Administration of all this can become overly reliant and heavy on the Session Clerk, but it was working reasonably well.
    Overall, though, we found the Unitary constitution much easier to work with and more people became involved as individuals did not need to be Board or Session members to take responsibility for something.
    Hope these rambling thoughts are helpful.

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