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Wednesday morning began with the arrival of the bones of the Archbishop of Canterbury – fully clothed in flesh and bone, and very animated.  The Most Rev Justin Welby was welcomed into the Assembly Hall and invited to sit at the reporting council’s table for the duration of the Report of the Ecumenical Relations Committee.  I couldn’t help wondering, as the debate wore on, whether the ‘honour’ weighed a little heavily on the poor man!

What the Archbishop had to say was well worth listening to – a significant emphasis on Jesus Christ at the heart of our worship and witness; the challenge of what do we do now; noting that doctrine is not sufficient – but it is essential.  In a strong bid to mend fences, Justin took personal responsibility for the earlier rift with the Scottish Episcopal Church over the Columba Declaration, and made a fulsome apology.

It was encouraging to hear such a prominent – and eloquent – Church leader speaking of the importance of unity and witness to the one Lord Jesus Christ, to hear of him recognising the sufferings of the persecuted Church, and stating that in Christ we have the good news that is the only way.

It was inevitable, after several warm speeches in favour, that the Columba Declaration would be approved and, to my mind, this presents us with greater opportunities for standing together with evangelicals South of the border in mission and service.

Other Church relationships were not so positive.  It was noted early on that talks with the Free Church had ceased in 2009, and the Moderator of the United Free Church gave warning that we should not underestimate the difficulties we face in relationships since last year’s decision on Civil Partnerships.

We then faced a long debate before lunch on the matter of the Council Secretaries.  In spite of substantial concerns expressed on the floor of the Assembly, a motion to set up a Committee to report to a meeting of the Commission of Assembly on the governance and management issues was eventually (and narrowly) defeated in the face of assurances of proper processes and secure means of management in the future.

The Safeguarding report was on sure ground – questions for clarification, but everyone wants this to work, and to work well, but we were part way through the afternoon before the Ministries Council brought its report.  Commissioners are getting into the habit of making long speeches in the process of getting to a question, which prolongs matters before we can get into the deliverances.

In spite of a positive message on the Tomorrow’s Calling programme, it is clear that the whole church is concerned about falling numbers of Ministers over the next few years.  A lot of time was spent on the concept of Hub-style ministry, which could be a significant way forward for congregations in multiple linkages.

Substantial new pieces of work were agreed with the establishment and noting of Ministerial Development Review and Continuing Ministerial Development, which should provide support and supervision for our Ministries from Ordination to Retirement.

A move was made to re-open the question of manse provision, which was defeated, but it is clear that the issue of ensuring manse standards are maintained will be revisited – probably through the General Trustees.  Other issues, regarding Guardianship and pulpit supply were also considered and some taken forward.

It was a long day, finally ending just before six with the passing of a number of Acts without argument and by the end of the day the Convener seemed to be worn out.  We should pray for those who have to carry the responsibilities of our major Councils in the face of difficult issues.