This morning saw the historic occasion of the first time an Archbishop of Canterbury has taken part in a debate at the General Assembly. He was there as part of the Ecumenical Relations Committee to address the Columba Declaration which builds the foundation for closer cooperation between the two churches as well (and I hadn’t realised this) as the first time that the two churches had actually officially recognised one another. The Archbishop made an excellent speech in support of the work of the ecumenical relations teams and committees of all churches involved and as the declaration as a whole. He also noted that it was his fault that the press release of the agreement was released in such a way as to upset the Scottish Episcopal Church and this was accepted and agreed to move forward in an inclusive way by Rt Rev Mark Strange (Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness). It was noted with sadness that relations had broken down with the United Free Church of Scotland and also the Presbyterian Church of Ireland but noted that there is still dialogue, however this is limited at
Following this came the report of the safeguarding committee who reported on all matters to do with the protection of vulnerable adults and children.
This was followed by the report of the Ministries Council, who reported on the changing face of the Church of Scotland and the fact that we need to look at new ways of operating as the number of ministers declines. It was noted that the number training for the ministry was higher in the relatively new Highland Theological Institute than at any other university and that a large proportion of these candidates were taking courses off campus. I was also noted how disconcerting it was for people who were starting out on the process and not knowing what support there would be if they were unsuccessful. Many recent (and not so recent) ministers took part in the discussions with some important decisions made on various items.
Day 4 started with an excellent service led by the Moderator with children from the Gaelic school in Edinburgh reading of Ruth 1:1-18 in Gaelic and an excellent violin solo by a pupil of the school where the Moderator is chaplain.
This was followed by the Church and Society council led by Sally Foster-Fulton who was engaging and concise as always on complicated issues. She began with the Speak Out 10,000 voices for change campaign and the themes which the council have distilled from this process. She then moved on to the issue of corporal punishment of children, this proved controversial with several people speaking against the first deliverance “Recognise that corporal punishment of children is a violent act, and that violence is damaging to mental and physical health” with it eventually heading to an electronic vote with a very close result of 275 for and 259 against, the other deliverances in this section passed without trouble. She then moved on to climate justice and fossil fuel disinvestment with many of the deliverances passing without issue. However, one commissioner moved a counter motion stating that science showed “no evidence” for man-made climate change, this was quickly defeated and all other deliverances approved. The council also noted that the Kirk continues “as it has done for many years” to support the UK remaining within the EU. A position which was seen by some as the Kirk telling people how to vote.
During lunch I headed to the Church and Society fringe event “The Church in Europe” where two speakers (including a Scottish QC who is a judge on the European Court in Luxembourg) explained the issues with the current stance of Brexit and the issues that were not being raised by either side including the fact that even if we leave the European Union we will still, more than likely, have rulings made by the EU which we have to adhere to but would no longer have any say in how these decisions are made.
Also, during the Lunch break I had a chance to see the progress of the artist in residence of the Assembly Iain D. Campbell with his stunning (so far) people of the way painting.
The afternoon session saw the Guild report with report of the work carried out by the Guild and the Iona Community on the work being carried out by them and their volunteers.
Sunday started with the assembly service at the beautiful St Giles Cathedral. The service was led by the minister of St Giles with the sermon by the Moderator and prayers by delegates from other denominations and churches around the world. This was then followed by the ever popular Heart and Soul event in Princes Street Gardens. With over 70 stalls from various CofS Councils and Committees and church related organisations the Gardens were packed from before the official opening time until the end. I spent my time on both the Embrace the Middle East and Nazareth Trust stands (with a browse of other stalls in between) where we had a great deal of interest and some very valuable conversations about the activities of both charities (a linked Olive Picking trip between Embrace and CofS World Mission Council and a retreat at Gartmore House led by Andrew McLellan for Embrace and SERVE, a bike ride and a trek through Israel/Palestine for The Nazareth Trust).
Monday morning was they Sacrament of Communion in the Assembly Hall. A very special occasion where, as the Moderator pointed out in his address, we are not with our normal people sitting in our normal pews but we are within a mix of people we do not necessarily know, who speak languages we may not understand, but we were all there to celebrate this special communion as one community of people.
The Communion was followed by the report of the World Mission Council which had a major focus on caring for creation. The presentation of the report was very engaging and was ended with comments from delegates from Zambia, South Korea, Sumba (Indonesia) and others. They mainly reported on how climate change was affecting them. The Rev Andrew Chulu (Zambia) gave a detailed explanation of how the lack of rainfall in recent rainy seasons was affecting the people of Zambia as their main dams do not have enough water to produce hydro-power needed to power homes, agriculture and mining (the country’s main source of income) and that it is anticipated it will take 3 good rainy seasons before the dams would be filled to a suitable level to provide power. Rev Marlin Lomi (Sumba) gave, through a translator, an explanation of the drought problems they are having but also the tree planting initiatives they are taking part in. She gave the example of the Church on the top of a hill who’s name translates as “from here you can see everything” had planted so many trees and they had been so successful in growing that all you can see now are trees!!
We then broke for lunch and I had planned to attend the Learn session with the Mission and Discipleship council but after hearing the World Mission Council report I decided to head to their session which was full to bursting and standing room only. We had presentations from Rev Andrew Chulu (Zambia), Rev Tamás Kodáscy (Hungary) and Mr Durga Upadhyay (Nepal) on how climate change is affecting them and what churches in their countries are doing to try and help the situation. They all spoke very clearly on what was happening and made the point that the time to do something to help this situation is now and if we leave it much longer it will be too late for many people.
Following this the afternoon consisted of the Social Care Council on the brilliant work of Crossreach and the point was made that this is something of a hidden gem and something the Church should be shouting about. Next was the Panel on Review and Reform who spoke on the Path of Renewal scheme and also on a question as to whether people who are not Ministers of Word and Sacrament could conduct the Sacraments in certain situations. This question will be referred to the Theological Commission, however on standing to answer the question Prof. Iain Torrence said that this was an answer the Commision would probably come up with very quickly and the answer is unlikely to be positive. This answer did not go down very well with certain Comissioners as they pointed out that this is likely to be Prof. Torrences own thoughts, however, it was mentioned that this has been looked into before.
This evening I attended the launch of Steve Aisthorpe`s new book The Invisible Church where building on research he looks at people who have left the established Christian Churcch but still have a strong faith and the reasons behind their leaving.
Photograph courtesy of @cofslifeandwork
So it begins…
After a morning of pomp and ceremony as the new Moderator (Rev Dr Russel Barr) is appointed and consecrated and letter from the Queen read we moved on to an address by the Lord High Commisioner (Lord Hope) who Spoke on words and how powerful they are. Using the example of his cat who can’t speak but can still show its emotions! He noted the requirement of the Church to continue to evolve but take care not to loose sight of its rich history in the process.
This lead (almost although it had been planned) on to the report of the Assembly Arrangements Committee (1/1 if you have a Blue Book) who are considering the evolution of the GA. These considerations include whether it should be moved to the start of June to allow more students to attend (apart from the youth delegates there seems to be a lack of younger people in attendance). It also noted that as of next year there will be no paper copies (unless requested) of the daily papers or the Blue Book as these are all now available online (http://www.gapublications.co.uk) or the through the GA app. This discussion was followed by a report from the Scottish Bible Society highlighting the good work done by it and its partners in supplying people worldwide with Bibles in a language (and format) which is suitable to them.
We then moved on to the difficult question of whether current Church legislation with currently allows vacant congregations to depart from the position of the Church and call a minister who is in a civil partnership should be extended to allow for ministers who are in same sex marriages. After passionate speeches on both sides a vote was taken and it was agreed that this should be allowed (the final vote was 339 for and 215 against) with dissent to be noted on paper in confidence.
This was then followed by the Council of Assembly who discussed the accounts of the Kirk and Stewardship and then followed by the Legal Questions Committee who discussed various things, among them was the somewhat controversial change to the licensing of Ministers which would result on Parish Ministers, Chaplains, Deacons and others being categorised depending on their recent experience and of what the Kirk thinks they are suitable to serve without further development. There were various chaplains who spoke against this and my personal feeling was also against this and from the feeling of the hall I understood that this was going to fall, however I was wrong and it was approved. They also (more importantly for us in Inverurie) approved changes to the Vacancy procedure requiring various items to be included in the Parish Profile along with other changes.
This concluded the afternoon’s session and this evening will be a session led by the outgoing Moderator.