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Thursday begins with the report of the Armed Forces Chaplains Committee so there was a smart display of uniforms as the Assembly opened. It was clear that the work of Forces Chaplains is greatly valued by the forces themselves, but there is now a serious shortage of Church of Scotland Chaplains in the services, with only two (soon to be one) left serving the RAF. With the rising number of ministerial vacancies in parishes, recruitment in this area is facing an uphill battle.

There was some discussion on the Armed Forces Covenant, which has been tweaked to fit in with Presbyterian polity. The Committee merely wanted this approved, but the Assembly agreed that it should be implemented.

As the report concluded, a minute’s silence was held at 11 am as we joined the nation in mourning the loss of life and remembering those who suffered or were bereaved in the suicide attack in Manchester.

The Mission & Discipleship Council report began with the observation by Rev Norman Smith, the Convener, that while the overall picture of the Church of Scotland was one of decline, there were still people discovering faith and growing in faith all over the Church. This tied in with the announcement of a new Sharing Faith resource, part of some excellent work continuing to be done through the work of the Council.

Rev Louis Kinsey offered a rather complex motion on a full examination of the theory and practice of children taking communion, and this was accepted by the Convener and by the Assembly. Following this, there was a debate on exploring the future of the National Youth Assembly, where the Convener successfully resisted an attempt to guarantee the future of the Assembly beyond the life of a major review of its work. As the Convener came to the end of the report, he highlighted the Stories E.T.C. (Encounter, Transformation, Celebration) resource, suggesting that this was much more significant than the ongoing things that continue to divide us.

The report of the National Youth Assembly had some interesting issues to debate, and there was some discussion of Gender Justice and Mental Health issues, but the report brings no deliverance and by this time the Assembly was preparing for the next report.

The Rev Prof Iain Torrance presented the report of the Theological Forum late in the afternoon, and as the heat in the Assembly Hall rose Commissioners began to wilt. His quietly spoken, lengthy introduction would have been difficult for many Commissioners (particularly those without theological training) to follow.

The Moderator initially indicated that all decisions would be taken by electronic vote, and this led to a lengthy process of examining every proposal brought to the Assembly. Even the opening ‘Receive the Report’ deliverance was challenged, although this challenge fell fairly easily. A full motion from Rev Dr Alan Hamilton attempting to frame the Forum’s report in the context of recent decisions of the Assembly was defeated narrowly by a briefer deliverance ‘recognising the Church’s doctrine and practice in matters of human sexuality and marriage’. It should be noted that, in spite of being moved by Rev Peter Johnston in fairly revisionist terms, this achieves almost the same as Dr Hamilton’s motion.

Another amendment seeking not to commend the Report for study at all was withdrawn in favour of Rev Hector Morrison’s proposal to remove the few paragraphs that were particularly concerning and seen as a caricature of conservative understanding of Scripture. This was also defeated, but this was an opportunity missed by Professor Torrance to bring two sides together. The objective of getting away from a binary approach to the wider debate, which he had mentioned several times in his speech and during questions, was clearly lost in an attempt to gain a victory for the Forum's report.

An amendment to instruct the Ecumenical Relations Committee to invite comment and feedback from ecumenical partners was agreed, and this should give some helpful input on the debate from other denominations.

The apology that the media made a great deal of was passed fairly easily in spite of attempts to provide a broader nuance to the subject.

So the Legal Questions Committee have received their instruction, again in spite of an attempt at blocking it. But this instruction is to consider what might need to be addressed in any new legislation – not an instruction to begin framing that legislation, in spite of the spin from the revisionist side.

A final additional deliverance urged the Forum and others to do more work on reconciliation on this issue in the Church of Scotland and beyond.

It was a heavy day, with difficult results for those committed to a Biblical view in the Church of Scotland; and it illustrated the continuing wide division within the Kirk. We should take courage, however, from the knowledge that we have not been whittled down to a small minority and be thankful for many new faces speaking out in support of the conservative view. Meanwhile, the battles on this issue continue, even while the Kirk herself faces huge challenges on her buildings, finances and ministries.