Kirk too poor to build churches or hire clergy

The Church of Scotland will be unable to build churches or recruit ministers until the Kirk's cash crisis is addressed, according to a report published today.

The report prepared by the Kirk's board of national mission says the situation is so dire that the £2m held in reserve for new churches, each costing about £1m to build, will be exhausted by the end of next year.

Its findings will be discussed at the general assembly later this month.

The Rev James Gibson, convener of the board, said that traditional methods of funding, such as money bequeathed to the Kirk, were drying up.

He said a new approach was needed. Some committees and boards may be merged; presbyteries should become more flexible and imaginative when grouped together; and the lay ministry expanded, he said.

He added: "Those of us who are representing the various boards and committees are trying to find new ways where we work together and where we reduce the likelihood of duplicating our work and hence drastically reduce wastage of capital."

Last year, two new churches were built to add to the 1200 around the country, despite close to 20,000 people deserting congregations. In most cases, the new facilities replace outdated buildings.

Mr Gibson said the funding squeeze may mean that more projects are funded directly, rather than through the existing board structure.

"This will mean that the boards themselves will have to take on a new look and merge together and their work come together in new groupings."

Broader areas of funding expected to be looked at include projects such as the controversial Tiberias complex, a £13m plan for a development for pilgrims visiting the Holy Land. Last week, it emerged that a substantial part of the 150-bedroom complex by the Sea of Galilee would remain on the drawing board until a peace accord was reached in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the board of mission's capital has fallen from £25m in 2001 to just over £19m last year.

Mr Gibson said: "One of the great sadnesses that we have at the moment is that we have depended upon the receipt of legacies in order to fund the new charges that the church has created.

"The resource for these legacies was not what it was, hence the decline in financial reserves there. This is a particular example of an area of financial funding that we are looking at again to see how it can be better resourced."

The building programme is not the first victim of financial pressures. Last year, the board announced it would be shutting the Scottish Churches Open College, which offers a range of diploma and degree courses, and the future of 30 care homes for the elderly run by the Kirk is also under review.