Reforming The Kirk (Chalmers Lectures 2017)

Chalmers Lectures have been given by many distinguished speakers since 1880.  They have dealt with aspects of church life, history, theology and structures, often with a topical importance for their time.

This year’s lecture series was titled ‘Reforming the Kirk: the future of the Church of Scotland‘ and lecturer Rev Dr Doug Gay, Practical Theologian and Principal of Trinity College at Glasgow University, offered

a candid, forthright and bold analysis of the state of the Church of Scotland and the choices facing it

For the first time ever, the Lectures were made accessible online to a global audience: broadcast live on the night, and made available for catch-up viewing on YouTube, where they have been seen thousands of times since.

Lecture One – Walls Without Church?

(Glory without power…)

The first lecture explores ‘what just happened?’ tracing the decline of the Kirk as a national institution since the 1960s and asking about the spiritual and psychological effects of this on those who have lived through it.  It also asks ‘what’s left?’ – exploring the Presbyterian inheritance means in today’s Scotland, in terms of values, ideas and concrete presence on the ground across the Kirk’s parishes.

Lecture Two – Call and Response

(I don’t know but I’ve been told…)

The second lecture explores the relationship between the church’s understanding of its own calling and its response in terms of organisation and resources.  Arguing that the economics of the Kirk is a key area for spiritual and theological reflection, it questions how resources are raised and allocated for the work of the Church of Scotland.  It also looks at the looming deficits in human resources, as numbers of ministerial vacancies continue to increase and asks what a missional response to church decline might look like.

Lecture Three – Grand Designs

(the architecture of reform)

The final lecture makes the case for radical structural reform of the Church of Scotland over the next decade, suggesting that a reformed Kirk should aspire to a creative reinterpretation of reformed identity, rather than hold to a narrowband presbyterianism.  It argues that where recent attempts to reform key areas of the Church’s life have been unsuccessful, it is because they have failed to address the architecture of the system as a whole.  While recognising the limits of what structural reform can achieve, Dr Gay makes the case for a new balance of power and initiative between local, regional and national bodies, arguing that the case for reform should be based on how it will serve the church’s mission.