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Act 8, 2014 (VIII) – Act anent Procedure for the Admission of Congregations from other Presbyterian Churches. 20th May 2014.

The General Assembly approve the policy for the admission of congregations from Presbyterian denominations set out in the specifications below. They authorise the Board to make such amendments or additions to the policy as may be required from time to time, with the exception of those specifications relating to legislation governing the following: (a) office in the Free Church (Minister, Elder and Deacon), including election procedures; (b) calls to ministers; (c) communicant membership; (d) the final admission of congregations and ministers; (e) charity registration, property and trusteeship.

POLICY FOR THE ADMISSION OF CONGREGATIONS

1. Introduction

1. Background

It has become desirable and necessary that a policy be provided setting out the main points of procedure to be followed in cases of congregations from Presbyterian denominations, or proportions thereof (included in all following references to congregations) wishing to be received into the Free Church of Scotland. This should be distinguished from the process by which individuals from other denominations wish to join a congregation of the Free Church.

2. Options

There are two avenues presently available to congregations wishing to become Free Church congregations:

a) The first is where a congregation for various good reasons does not wish to join the Free Church immediately on disjunction from their existing denomination and prefers to be associated with the Free Church meantime. This gives a congregation time to make adjustments and make further planning before becoming fully integrated into the Free Church.

b) The second is where a congregation wishes to become a Free Church congregation as soon as possible after disjoining from their existing denomination without a period of association.

3. Congregations and Minister applying

Account needs to be taken of the situation in which both a congregation and its minister wish to join the Free Church. In this case the congregation’s route of application will be separate from that of the minister who is required to apply to join the Free Church ministry on his own behalf. His application will be to the General Assembly or a duly authorised Commission of Assembly, whichever is the more appropriate, through the local Free Church Presbytery and the Board of Ministry. It may be possible to continue his ministry to his existing congregation during a period of association subsequent to his being received into the Free Church ministry (see 2.7 below).

4. Property and other Assets in Dispute

While dispute over property or other assets need not preclude congregations from beginning a process to join the Free Church, the Free Church will not meet any legal or other costs associated with such disputes and will not be responsible for dealing with any repercussions arising therefrom. Congregations should be advised that where such disputes exist their application must follow the route in Option 2 below.

5. Appeal

The right of such appeals as are approved in Free Church procedure is preserved in relation to all applications specified in both options below. There shall be no appeal from the decision of the General Assembly in regard to all applications.

2. The Associated Congregation Option

1. Requirement

A congregation wishing to be admitted to the Free Church of Scotland, but not immediately on disjunction from their existing denomination, shall be required to associate with a Free Church congregation (hereafter referred to as “sister congregation” ) within the local Presbytery of the Free Church (hereafter called “the Presbytery”).

2. Process of Application for Associate status

The application to associate shall be brought to the Presbytery via the Kirk Session of an existing Free Church congregation, with a recommendation as to which congregation within the bounds shall form the sister congregation. The final decision on which congregation shall form the sister congregation shall rest with the Presbytery. The sister congregation must not be a vacant congregation. It shall not be necessary for the formal disjunction to have been concluded for the Presbytery to consider and come to a finding over an application. The Presbytery, having decided upon the sister congregation, shall record the same in their records and shall inform the Home Missions Board.

3. Intent

Adoption by Presbytery of a congregation to associate status shall be regarded by the Presbytery as an indication of intent by the associated congregation to apply for formal establishment as a Free Church congregation as soon as deemed appropriate by the associated congregation, its sister congregation and the Presbytery. The associated congregation and the sister congregation shall endeavour to restrict the period of association to 18 months after which it will be expected that the associated congregation will be in a position to apply for formal status as a Free Church congregation in its own right, subject to all the conditions applicable to existing Free Church congregations (see 2.12 below for procedure). In all cases where an associated congregation is not in a position to apply for full status after 18 months this shall be reported by the Presbytery to the General Assembly or Commission through the Home Missions Board.

4. Elders

Those men who were bona fide acting elders prior to the associated congregation’s disjunction may continue to exercise pastoral oversight and care of the associated congregation during the period of association. It is advisable that they be allowed to attend meetings of the sister congregation’s Kirk Session, particularly when pastoral matters relating to the association are to be discussed. It would also be beneficial if the local Presbytery were to make arrangements to familiarise them with matters of immediate application to eldership in the Free Church during the period of association. They may be elected as bona fide acting elders by the associate communicant members (as described in 6 below) on the Roll, in the first instance under the supervision of the sister congregation’s Kirk Session and in terms of the procedure stated in The Practice, (Chapter 1, Part II, § 3) subsequent to the congregation being formally established as a Free Church congregation. All those elected as elders must answer the Questions put to elders and deacons before ordination and after ordination subscribe the Formula used in the Free Church of Scotland.

5. Deacons Court or Finance Committee or Similar

Those who formed a Finance Committee, or similar body, prior to the associated congregation’s disjunction may continue to administer and oversee the fabric and finance of the associated congregation during the period of association. It is advisable that they be allowed to attend meetings of the sister congregation’s Deacons’ Court or Finance Committee, particularly when matters relating to fabric and finance are to be discussed. The communicant members may elect men as Deacons, in the first instance under the supervision of the sister congregation’s Kirk Session, subsequent to the congregation becoming a formally established Free Church congregation. All those elected as deacons must answer the Questions put to elders and deacons before ordination and after ordination subscribe the Formula used in the Free Church of Scotland.

6. Communicants

During the period of association the communicants of the associated congregation shall be listed on the Communicants’ Roll of the sister congregation as “associate communicant members”, under the jurisdiction of the sister congregation’s Kirk Session, but they shall be regarded as communicant members of the associated congregation. While associated they shall not be eligible to vote in any procedures of the sister congregation requiring a vote by the communicant members.

7. Continued Ministry

If the minister of an associated congregation has also been accepted into the Free Church ministry he shall be eligible for appointment by the sister congregation as “Church Planter”, or in some similar designation, to the associated congregation and thus continue his ministry to the associated congregation. The minister’s name shall continue to appear on the Register of Ministers Eligible for Call. This arrangement shall at all times be subject to the sister congregation providing a written undertaking to the Home Missions Board that all stipend and related costs incurred in connection with the continued ministry in the associated congregation will be met from its congregational funds, these now incorporating the funds of the associated congregation.

8. Minister’s relationship to local Presbytery

It is not possible for the minister, even if he be accepted into the Free Church ministry, to become a member of the local Presbytery while he remains with the associated congregation until the congregation has been established as a congregation of the Free Church of Scotland. However, as an important part of the transitional process the minister ought to attend the local Presbytery where he should to be welcomed and encouraged to take a full part in discussions. He may be formally associated with the Presbytery (see The Practice, Chapter 1, Part II, § 3.1(12), for some or all of the meetings attended, which association shall not include the right to vote. During this period he cannot be appointed moderator of Presbytery, Interim Moderator of a congregation, or convener of any Presbytery committee.

9. Preaching Station

A vacant associated congregation unable to submit the required level of finance to support a full ministry shall be classed as a “Preaching Station” under the immediate supervision of the sister congregation’s Kirk Session and under the oversight of the local Presbytery, in accordance with Act XIII, 1863.

10. Calling a Minister

An associated congregation shall not be eligible to call a minster until such time as they are a formally established Free Church congregation, after which existing regulations for calling a minister shall apply.

11. Charity registration and Finance

During the period of association, the associated congregation shall operate under the oversight of the sister congregation and under its charity registration.

Associated congregations, whether vacant or with a minister, shall administer their funds through the sister congregation’s accounts, using designated or restricted funds as appropriate to retain separate visibility of their finances.

12. Application for Full Status

At the conclusion of a period of association, and provided the associated congregation has formally disjoined from its former denomination, the Presbytery may apply to the General Assembly or a duly authorised Commission of Assembly, through the Home Missions Board, for the congregation to become a formally established congregation of the Free Church. A financial schedule shall be submitted by the congregation to the Home Missions Board as part of their application for full status. The Home Missions Board shall consult with the Board of Trustees before passing the application to the Assembly for approval. No application shall be forwarded to the Assembly without the support of the Home Missions Board and the Board of Trustees. The Presbytery shall include a full report with an extract confirming the Presbytery’s finding in support of the application, and the application shall state the name by which the congregation is to be known. The Presbytery’s report shall include reference to the following matters as pertinent to the congregation applying:

·         The total number of regular worshippers disjoining;

·         The number of communicants disjoining;

·         The number of Elders among those disjoining;

·         The number of Deacons (if any) among those disjoining;

·         The number of Elders (and Deacons if relevant) willing to be elected to office under the terms which apply to the offices of Elder and Deacon in the Free Church of Scotland;

·         The understanding of those disjoining as to the form of worship practised in the Free Church at the time of application;

·         The level of income expected to be raised by those disjoining;

·         The status and condition of assets belonging to, or used by, the disjoining congregation, including whether any of these may be subject to a dispute of ownership in relation to disjoining. Attention is drawn to 1.4 above and especially that congregations with assets in dispute may only follow the Associated Congregation option as detailed in 2 above.

The Presbytery shall be free to explore any other matters it may see as pertinent to the application. The report of Presbytery in support of an application shall include a report on these items.

In the case of a congregation with a minister as in 2.7 above, it shall be competent to include a request that he be retained as the minister of the formally established congregation. The Presbytery shall provide an extract in support of the retention confirming the congregation’s approval.

13. Charity registration, Property and Trustees

Congregations admitted to the Free Church shall adopt the Constitution as embodied in Act XIII, 2007, of the General Assembly, and shall also take steps through their Deacons’ Court to apply to OSCR for registration as a recognised Charity. The Deacons’ Court shall also ensure that property trustees and charity trustees are elected as soon as possible. Property to which a congregation received into the Free Church has legal title shall be taken under the Model Trust Deed wherever possible. The Deacons’ Court shall consult the Principal Clerk of Assembly so that he may ascertain whether there be any impediment to this and he shall advise the Deacons’ Court accordingly.

3. The Immediate Application Option

1. Requirement

A congregation wishing to be admitted to the Free Church of Scotland, immediately on disjunction from their existing denomination, shall be required to apply to the General Assembly or a duly authorised Commission of Assembly whichever is more appropriate, as set out in 3.2 and 3.3 below. It shall not be necessary for the formal disjunction to have been concluded for any Free Church congregation to engage in discussions with the local Presbytery towards joining the Free Church, but no congregation shall be admitted by the General Assembly or Commission until formal disjunction has been completed.

2. The Local Free Church Presbytery

On being approached by a congregation which wishes to be admitted to the Free Church of Scotland the local Free Church Presbytery shall arrange in the first place to consult with those representatives of the congregation who have made the approach and at a later stage with the congregation. The Presbytery shall ascertain the following matters pertinent to the congregation applying to join the Free Church:

·         The total number of regular worshippers disjoining;

·         The number of communicants disjoining;

·         The number of Elders among those disjoining;

·         The number of Deacons (if any) among those disjoining;

·         The number of Elders (and Deacons if relevant) willing to be elected to office under the terms which apply to the offices of Elder and Deacon in the Free Church of Scotland;

·         The understanding of the congregation as to the form of worship practised in the Free Church at the time of application;

·         The level of income expected to be raised by those disjoining;

·         The status and condition of assets belonging to, or used by, the disjoining congregation, including whether any of these may be subject to a dispute of ownership in relation to disjoining. Attention is drawn to 1.4 above and especially that congregations with assets in dispute may only follow the Associated Congregation option as detailed in 2 above.

The Presbytery shall be free to explore any other matters it may see as pertinent to the application. The report of Presbytery in support of an application shall include a report on these items.

3. Process of Application

The Presbytery, having carried out the consultation shall apply to the General Assembly, or a duly authorised Commission of Assembly, whichever is the more appropriate, on behalf of the congregation through the Home Missions Board. The Home Missions Board shall consult with the Board of Trustees before passing the application to the Assembly for approval. No application shall be forwarded to the Assembly without the support of the Home Missions Board and the Board of Trustees. The Presbytery shall include a full report on the application with an extract confirming the Presbytery’s support.

4. Finance

A congregation applying to be admitted to the Free Church in terms of the Immediate Application option shall be expected to meet the full direct costs of ministry at the level specified for Free Church congregations at the time of application, including congregations which are vacant at the time of application and shall be required to complete a financial schedule which shall be submitted to the Home Missions Board. The Home Missions Board, after consultation with the Board of Trustees, shall have discretion to decide in all instances of congregations unable to meet the full direct costs of ministry at the time of application whether or not to support their application for admission.

5. Continued Ministry

The minister of a congregation accepted into the Free Church shall be eligible to continue his ministry to the congregation, provided he has been received into the Free Church ministry through the existing process, and provided the congregation wish his ministry there to continue. The application for admission may include a clause to this effect with accompanying extracts. This arrangement shall at all times be subject to the congregation being able to submit the required level of funding (see 3.4 above). The Home Missions Board is advised to draw up a short Financial Schedule specifically for use in this respect. No congregation accepted into the Free Church may retain a minister without submitting a schedule and until the schedule has been approved by the Home Missions Board.

6. Pastoral Oversight

As soon as possible after acceptance of a congregation’s application by the Assembly or Commission the local Presbytery shall appoint an Interim Moderator, if required, along with Assessor Elders until such time as the congregation elects Elders as set out in 3.7 below. After the Kirk Session has been newly constituted a Roll of Communicants shall be drawn up. Those who were previously communicants prior to disjoining shall have their names listed on the new Roll. The Kirk Session shall proceed to make arrangements for Elders to be elected from among the Communicants listed as soon as possible after the list has been drawn up.

7. Elders

The Kirk Session shall arrange for the communicant members to elect as Elders men whose names appear on the Communion Roll (as referred to in 3.6 above), in terms of the procedure stated in The Practice (Chapter 1, Part II, § 3), subsequent to the congregation being formally established as a Free Church congregation. The local Presbytery is advised to make those who are eligible for election familiar with matters of immediate application to eldership in the Free Church in advance of their election. All those elected as elders must answer the Questions put to elders and deacons before ordination and after ordination subscribe the Formula used in the Free Church of Scotland.

8. Deacons Court or Finance Committee or Similar

The Kirk Session shall arrange for the communicant members on the Roll to elect men as Deacons, in terms of the procedure stated in The Practice (Chapter 1, Part II, § 6), subsequent to the congregation being formally established as a Free Church congregation and a Communicants Roll having been completed. All those elected as deacons must answer the Questions put to elders and deacons before ordination and after ordination subscribe the Formula used in the Free Church of Scotland.

9. Charity registration and Property Trustees

Congregations admitted to the Free Church shall adopt the Constitution as embodied in Act XIII, 2007, of the General Assembly, and shall also take steps through their Deacons’ Court to apply to OSCR for registration as a recognised Charity. The Deacons’ Court shall also ensure that property trustees and charity trustees are elected as soon as possible. Property to which a congregation received into the Free Church has legal title shall be taken under the Model Trust Deed wherever possible. The Deacons’ Court shall consult the Principal Clerk of Assembly so that he may ascertain whether there be any impediment to this and he shall advise the Deacons’ Court accordingly.