A New Charge Development?
The old Stockethill Church had closed. During the process of closure, however, the parish was set aside to be the location of a 'New Charge'.
New Charge Development was a new project within the Church of Scotland that was seeking to facilitate the creation of new parish churches whose relationship to their local community was from the outset carefully adapted and less encumbered by the traditional forms and practices that can be seen in most conventional churches.
The Church of Scotland had always planted churches, but up until the late nineties, the way of doing this was Church Extension Charges. This was largely a way of creating a new church building and, as simply as possible, reproducing within it the conventional patterns of church life and ministry. Ian recalls that too many people were often involved in the creation of these extensions. Presbytery, the local church and the Church offices were all involved, inevitably making it unlikely that anything distinctive would survive the process.
New Charge Development was formed as a way of giving space for new parish churches to develop and emerge in a way that was right for their community. There was to be space and freedom given for a community of faith to develop in a sensitive responsiveness to the particular civic community they found themselves in and so to find a form of church that was best suited to the people in that community. Churches could grow up, each as unique as the community in which they were birthed.
Each New Charge would have a 'commission', appointed partly by the presbytery and partly by the central committee of New Charge Development. Their role was to oversee the work of the church planting minister and team and to act as the official kirk session for the New Charge until they had developed to the point where they became full status and appointed their own kirk session drawn from their own members.
Ideally the commission's creation should have preceded Ian's arrival and have had a hand in surveying the parish context and determining who would be an appropriate minister to call. For Stockethill the commission first met after Ian had been ordained and inducted into the role. It's composition was diverse, and - New Charge being still a novel idea to many - some had little idea what they were being asked to oversee. Some had a very traditional view of what parish ministry should consist of and there were some who were open to different approaches.
Perhaps understandably, the commission placed some pressure on Ian in the early stages to begin regular Sunday worship. Negotiation was taking place between all involved as the church planting team forged their own path and assumptions of what was truly necessary for a parish church, or for a church plant at an early stage, were tested. Some assumptions were insisted upon, some changed. For a young and enthusiastic minister, eager to test out his new ideas, the questioning of the commission could be challenging. In retrospect though, Ian recognises that it was beneficial that he was called on to explain what he was doing to people who were sympathetic but who were also outside of the parish situation.