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Saturday began with the Rev Dr Russell Barr’s installation as the new Moderator.  After the opening ceremonies, the first business was the Assembly Arrangements Committee.  This included the trailing of a major overhaul of Assembly business and moving the date to the second week of June – not without concern for some academic communities, but it was good to be able to welcome the engagement with the wider Church in this process.

In the absence of Elaine Duncan, David Laing presented the excellent Bible Society report, focusing on the need to bring God’s Word to every one through translation, distribution and engagement. The aim was for all to have a bible in a language they can understand, in a format they can access and at a price they can afford.

The Returns to Overtures report focussed on the Overture amending the Ministers and Deacons in Civil Partnerships Act.  There was an excellent opening speech from the Rev Prof Andrew McGowan outlining our Biblical, Theological and Confessional roots, and others also spoke strongly in terms of being true to Christ and the Scriptures.  The Very Rev Dr Bob Thomas from Australia highlighted the division this proposal would bring from his own denomination, and others also pointed to the damage this process was doing to our ecumenical relationships.

The debate, however, was abruptly brought to an end and a vote was held – out of approximately 610 voting commissioners present, the vote was For: 339 and Against: 215, meaning that the Act permitting Ministers and Deacons to be in a Same Sex Marriage was approved.  A call for dissent was made and arrangements were made to allow people to record their dissent.

The change to the Act does not alter the Church’s position that Ministers are not allowed to conduct or solemnise same sex marriages. The Theological Forum is likely to bring a report to the 2017 General Assembly around the whole issue of the theology of same sex marriage.

That was only the morning session.  After lunch the Council of Assembly gave its report.  A new set of Roadshows was agreed to discuss the future of the Church, its ministry and its discipleship – this will be an important process with which we should all seek to engage.  There were serious warnings about the finances of the Kirk, with the note that income has stopped rising, and that this is not expected to be a blip – but that the shortage of Ministers will enable us to adjust future budgets to fit.

The Legal Questions Committee brought a number of new pieces of legislation to Assembly, but the most contentious was the Registration of Ministries Overture, which sought to provide a kind of licencing of different kinds of ministry in the Kirk – Parish, Chaplains, OLMs, Deacons, and Retired Ministers.  This Overture seeks to recognise the need to make sure that people are adequately equipped to return to Parish Ministry if they have been away from it for a period of time. There was a lot of concern about creating different ‘classes’ of Minister, but overall Assembly passed the Overture.