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As HRH the Princess Royal, Princess Anne, is Lord High Commissioner, there were greater security precautions. Warmly welcomed to the Assembly, Princess Anne gave an intelligent and well-informed speech to the Commissioners and invited guests. She was followed by the retiring Moderator, Very Rev Russell Barr, who rightly excoriated the tragedy of continuing homelessness in our country.

With no Saturday evening session, the ‘prologue’ continued after the break with the welcome to overseas delegates. This was a good way to ensure they were welcomed before a full Assembly, rather than at the tail end of a long day when many delegates had already gone home. Two notable absences were highlighted with ‘empty chairs’ – Rev Rola Sleiman from Lebanon had been denied a visa, granted a reprieve at almost the last minute, then turned back from Beirut airport on Friday. The delegate from South Sudan was also denied a visa, and the Assembly was clearly frustrated by the immigration restrictions being imposed on delegates from other churches.

As the Assembly settled down to the debates, the Assembly Arrangements Committee report noted the increasing use of electronic media for the dissemination of reports, and of the intention to improve the promotion of the Assembly Hall as a conference venue – something that had not taken off as well as expected. They confirmed that, following consultation and consideration, the date of Assembly is not to be moved from its present May time slot. It was also noted that a trial was taking place this year to allow the full proceedings of Assembly to be viewed online after the event.

The report concluded with Elaine Duncan’s excellent report on the work of the Scottish Bible Society, highlighting the launch of a series of BibleWorld books designed to be used in schools in place of the mobile exhibition which had now been withdrawn after many years on the road. She reminded the Assembly of the centrality of the Word of God which leads us to Jesus and spoke most movingly of distributing children’s Bibles to grateful children in Peru. Louis Kinsey spoke to the winding up of the BibleWorld trailer by noting how it had been welcomed six times to the eight primary schools in his area, staff, pupils and parents always glad of the resource and Assembly accepted his additional deliverance, thanking the Scottish Bible Society for all their work over the years with this resource.

Following some returns and minutes we turned to the Registration of Ministries Overture which had come back to the Assembly after having been substantially approved by Presbyteries. Some words of explanation may have helped to quell lingering concerns among some Commissioners, but the Overture was converted to an Act without any contributions or opposition from the floor.

The Legal Questions Committee report was relatively non-controversial, though Presbyteries will now have to do more work to make choices between buildings rather than going to a Panel of Arbiters, as this form of Arbitration was ended from Saturday. Following a question from Rev Peter Johnstone from Aberdeen, the Convener noted that advice is frequently being sought about the processes around the Act on Same Sex Relationships, and we might expect some guidelines in the near future. This will need to be watched carefully.

The Council of Assembly was the first major Council to report, as usual, since this sets the budget at the start of Assembly Week. The Convener noted in her speech that a call to prayer had come up consistently in feedback from all sixteen roadshows last Autumn, and the first main deliverance was a Call to Prayer to the whole Church. Rev Gordon Kennedy spoke well in support of the deliverance, challenging the Assembly with the need to pursue sustained, corporate prayer (‘Why would we not pray?’).

In other comments, the Convener reported on the fall in congregational income being reported for the first time this year, something she said we can expect to continue over future years. Though little was made of this in debate, it is clear that serious financial challenges will need to be faced by the Kirk as a whole.

With a brief joint report on resourcing Local Church Review quickly approved, the Assembly rose at 3.30 pm with some surprise and relief at being let out early.