HOPES are high that a Sutherland minister, who was facing redundancy at the end of this month, can continue in one of his two charges following a backlash against the move.
Brora and Golspie minister Rev Eric Paterson (57) has been working part-time for the past three years under an Alternative Ministry Arrangement (AMA).
But church managers decided earlier this year that the arrangement was not working and, despite there being a development plan in place, there had been “very little development”.
Both congregations are understood not to be self-supporting and are being financially propped up by the wider church – although Rev Paterson maintains this is not the case.
Numbers of worshippers are growing at Brora, with the congregation now standing at around 50, but Golspie is said to be in decline with an average of between 20 to 30 worshippers, mostly elderly.
Rev Paterson disputes the decline in Golspie, claiming that there are signs of growth.
Rev Paterson, a former police officer who was inducted to the Golspie charge in 1991, was told that his contract would not be renewed. It is due to end on September 30.
Church spokesman Rev David Robertson, said at the time the news was made public: “The arrangement was for Eric to be a part-time minister. The Free Church does not think that is a suitable arrangement and would want full-time ministers in both Golspie and Brora.”
However the revelation that Rev Paterson, who is highly regarded locally, was effectively being “axed” caused a stir in the affected communities.
Around 500 people have signed an online petition registering their disappointment at the decision not to renew the Alternative Ministry Arrangement.
Other petitions have circulated in local shops.
A public meeting was also held to discuss the situation.
Now Rev Robertson, who pointed out that many of the petition signatories did not attend church, has revealed that talks are ongoing to find a way forward – but that Rev Paterson will definitely not continue his ministry at Brora.
He said: “The Mission Board of the Free Church continues in discussion with the local congregation in Golspie and the Northern Presbytery.
“There is an alternative option whereby Rev Paterson could continue on a part-time basis funded by the Golspie congregation alone. This will be decided by the various parties involved.
“Our hope is that we will see revitalised and growing congregations, not only in Golspie and Brora, but throughout Sutherland.
“The Golspie congregation would be greatly helped if even a small percentage of those who signed the petition came along to the church to support the work there.”
It is understood there will be a meeting next week between the Presbytery and the Golspie congregation.
Rev Paterson said: “The proposal of the Free Church Mission Board is that, due to the measure of growth over the past three years, Golspie can fully fund the current level of ministry without any recourse to other sources of funding. “Golspie could retain its minister under alternative ministry arrangements and I would continue to devote my time and effort to the Golspie congregation.
“I would like to reiterate my heartfelt gratitude to those who have fought for the continuation of our church in Golspie.”