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Act 5, 2020 – Use of Technology in Exceptional Circumstances

The General Assembly, recognising the need to make use of audio-visual technology in the carrying out of Church business in exceptional circumstances, enact and ordain as follows:

  1. General Principles. The General Assembly declare that the following general principles apply for the purposes of this Act.

1.1.         The General Assembly declare that exceptional circumstances for the purposes of this Act are circumstances where, due to restrictions on public gatherings imposed by the Government or other legislative authority, Presbyteries are unable to meet physically in one location to constitute a meeting in the normal way.

1.2.         Where such exceptional circumstances exist, a Kirk Session may proceed to appoint a congregational meeting to elect a minister to fill a vacancy, and a Presbytery may proceed to hold a meeting to moderate a call, license a student, and conduct an induction or an ordination using audio-visual technology without the need for people to be physically present in one location.

1.3.         Such a meeting will be governed by the principles in Act 33, Class 2, 2010 – Use of Modern Technology in Conducting Church Business alongside the additional principles outlined in this Act.

  1. The Signing of the Formula. The General Assembly declare that, where, during a meeting of Presbytery conducted using audio-visual technology, a person is required to answer the Questions and sign the Formula the following procedure will be used.

2.1.         The Clerk will provide the person with a copy of the Formula in PDF in advance of the meeting.

2.2.         The Moderator will ask the person the Questions via videoconferencing at the appropriate time during the meeting.

2.3.         On giving satisfactory answers to the Questions, the Moderator will then instruct the person to sign the Formula.

2.4.         The person will show the unsigned Formula to the Camera.

2.5.         The person will sign the Formula on Camera.

2.6.         The person will show the signed Formula to the Camera.

2.7.         The signed Formula will then be posted to the Presbytery Clerk.

  1. Congregational Meetings to Elect Minister. The General Assembly declare that, in exceptional circumstances, Kirk Sessions of a vacant congregation may proceed to appoint a congregational meeting for the purpose of electing a minister to fill the vacancy using audio-visual technology.

3.1          The Kirk Session shall meet using audio-visual technology to consider steps to filling a vacancy in the congregation. If they consider the time is right for this, they will appoint a congregational meeting for the purpose of electing a minister.

3.2          The Kirk Session will give due intimation of the congregational meeting to all communicant members and supporting adherents and shall ensure that they are all informed of the meeting and of its purpose.

3.3          The Kirk Session shall explain to members and adherents that the meeting will take place using audio-visual technology. They shall ensure that arrangements are made for members and adherents who do not have access to audio-visual technology to connect with the meeting using landline or mobile telephone. They shall issue a separate document explaining how to join the meeting and how to participate in the meeting for the purposes of the election.

3.4          At the congregational meeting, the Moderator will call for nominations to fill the vacancy in the usual way. Communicant members and supporting adherents will show their support of nominations when asked to do so either by raising their hand and keeping their hand raised until such time as the Moderator and Clerk have recorded the number of votes, or by the use of the polling function when this is available on the audio-visual platform in use at the time. Communicants and adherents participating in the meeting using landline or mobile telephone will declare their support verbally.

3.5          On the successful completion of the election process, and on there being a clear majority support for one nomination to fill the vacancy, the Kirk Session shall decide to ask the Presbytery to moderate in a Closed Call.

3.6          The Kirk Session shall report to the Presbytery on the congregational meeting, giving details of the process of informing all communicant members and adherents of the meeting and also giving details of the process of informing the regarding participation in the meeting.

  1. Meetings to Moderate a Call. The General Assembly declare that, where a Congregation requests Presbytery to Moderate in a Call, and Presbytery agrees that exceptional circumstances exist, the Presbytery shall conduct the meeting to moderate the call via audio-visual technology.

4.1.         The Presbytery shall receive a report from the Kirk Session and shall satisfy itself that the steps outlined in Section 3 above have been followed without any detriment to the rights of the people in electing a minister. The Presbytery shall record its satisfaction with this report before proceeding to appoint a meeting to moderate in a Call.

4.2.         In order for a meeting to Moderate a Call to be conducted by audio-visual technology, the call must be a Closed Call with the name of the Minister or Probationer agreed and elected by the congregation and inserted in the Call.

4.3.         A form of Mandate should be prepared and circulated to each communicant member of the congregation and any adherents who wish to sign the Concurrence in Call.

4.4.         The Form of Mandate shall authorise one of the Elders of the congregation to sign the Form of Call or the concurrence in Call on behalf of the member or adherent.

4.5.         During the meeting to Moderate the Call there should be a facility for the Presbytery to meet apart from the wider congregation (either a separate conference or placing the congregation on Hold while the Presbytery meeting).

4.6.         The Kirk Session will submit to the Presbytery written confirmation that every communicant on the Roll has had the opportunity to complete a mandate form before the Presbytery proceeds to moderate in the Call. The Kirk Session shall also report on the opportunity given to adherents and regular worshippers in the congregation to sign a mandate for concurrence in the Call.

4.7.         The meeting to Moderate the Call will be conducted as normal via audio-visual technology.

4.8.         At the point where Members and Adherents would normally be invited to sign the Form of Call or the Concurrence in Call, the Elder authorised to sign mandates will sign on behalf of all members and adherents who have granted authority to do so.

4.9.         The Presbytery shall consider the Call and, if they decide to sustain the call, the Presbytery Clerk will report to the Congregation and call for any dissents which can either be made via the technology or if some members of the congregation are merely watching a live-stream a telephone number of the Presbytery Clerk can be provided for dissents. If the Presbytery Clerk provides a telephone number for dissents, they must wait 5 minutes before proceeding in case there are any delays in the technology.

  1. Licensing. The General Assembly declare that, where exceptional circumstances exist, a Presbytery may decide to conduct the Licensing of a candidate to preach the Gospel via audio-visual technology.

5.1.         The Presbytery may carry out both the trials for licence, and the Presbytery meeting to license the candidate, via audio-visual technology.

5.2.         The Presbytery shall carry out the trials licensing process in line with the recognised practice with meetings conducted according to the general principles outlined in Section 1 above.

5.3.         On successful completion of the trials for licence, the Presbytery will proceed to the signing of the Formula in accordance with the procedure outlined in Section 2 of this Act.

  1. Inductions. The General Assembly declare that, where exceptional circumstances exist, a Presbytery may decide to proceed with the induction of a minister using audio-visual technology.

6.1.         The Presbytery shall proceed with the induction service according to the Church’s recognised practice with two exceptions:

6.2.1.     Firstly, when the Presbytery Clerk reads the Second Edict calling for anyone who is prepared to substantiate objections to the life or doctrine of the Probationer or Minster, he shall provide a telephone number for the raising of any objections and wait 5 minutes before proceeding in case there are any delays in the technology.

6.2.2.     Secondly, asking of the Questions and signing of the Formula will be conducted in accordance with the procedure outlined in Section 2 of this Act.

  1. Ordinations. The General Assembly, notwithstanding the fact that the laying on of hands is an essential element in the Church’s current process for ordination to the office of the holy ministry, declare that in exceptional circumstances it shall be competent for Presbyteries to proceed as follows:.

7.1.         When the Presbytery has sustained a Call to a Probationer according to the process outlined in Section 3 of this Act, the Presbytery may decide to proceed with the ordination process with the use of audio-visual technology.

7.2.         The Presbytery shall then follow the procedure outlined in Section 5 of this Act with regard to trials for licence for students for the purpose of completing the trials for ordination.

7.3.         The induction service will be carried out as outlined in Section 6 of this Act.

7.4.         Having satisfactorily answered the Questions and signed the Formula, the Presbytery shall proceed with the prayer and declaration of ordination after which the person is formally inducted to the congregation and granted a seat in the Presbytery.

7.5.         As soon as possible after the exceptional circumstances have ended and the Presbytery is able to meet in the normal way, they shall conduct a service of dedication when the Moderator will lead the Presbytery in prayer and when they will lay hands on the individual before the gathered congregation.

  1. Additional Regulations. The General Assembly declare as follows regarding additional regulations:.

8.1          In exceptional circumstances where people are unable to physically gather for constituted meetings, the Assembly Clerks’ Office is empowered to make regulations consistent with this Act for the conducting of any Church business via technology in accordance with the principles of the Free Church of Scotland making suitable accommodation to the exceptional circumstances.

8.2          Such regulations must be communicated to each Presbytery Clerk and made widely available to the Church.

8.3          Any regulations made under this Act will be reviewable by the General Assembly or the Commission of the Assembly.

  1. Restrictions. The General Assembly declare that the provisions of this Act are for exceptional and emergency situations only and not to be adopted for meetings of Church courts in normal circumstances.