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Friday arrived with the prospect of home; however, the idea of putting the Mission & Discipleship report onto the last morning seems to have borne fruit with a full attendance.

For the second year in a row, the General Assembly was addressed by a guest from the Moslem community – this year Imam Sayed Razawi from the Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society gave a humanitarian address to the Assembly.

Following this, the Nomination Committee reported, with a particular emphasis on the need to develop an IT and communication strategy to improve participation in committees and Councils from beyond the central belt of Scotland.

The big report of the day was from the Mission & Discipleship Council.  There was encouragement to look beyond the statistics of decline to see signs of renewal and growth taking place in some congregations.  Substantial resources are being produced to help with discipleship – which leads to mission.  The Convener encouraged us to think about the care of our souls – discovering faith – and to take courage for the future.

Much of the Deliverance focused on what Kirk Sessions and congregations might do to promote learning, discipleship and faith-sharing, and this was a positive major report to bring on the last day of Assembly.

This was followed by the report of the National Youth Assembly which was warmly received and drew a number of positive comments from Commissioners. 

And so the 2018 General Assembly drew to a close, with the differences and difficulties on the topic of Same-Sex Marriage continuing to pull the Church apart into separate groups, new challenges on the subordinate standards being presented for future Assemblies, but the major focus being the call to a more radical approach to the future strategies of the Kirk, locally, regionally and nationally.

As the Church struggles with the need to revitalise its life, our prayer must be that that life is rooted in faith, in prayer, in reliance on God and His word in the Bible rather than the idea that the Church needs to be more in step with what society thinks and wants in order to grow.

There seemed to be a feeling on Thursday that Assembly getting longer and longer.  A certain weariness was discernible in the Commissioners as each day stretches late into the afternoon; the circulation breaks are really beneficial in helping us catch our breath and meet with other commissioners, but they are also adding to the length of the day.  So too are major and minor issues leading to concern and debate on the floor of the Assembly.

A case in point was the morning’s Committee on Chaplains to the Armed Forces report.  Normally a kind of ‘reviewing the troops' event, but several issues lengthened the debate.  The Registration of Ministries Act seems to continue to cause some Chaplains concern, although it was good to hear of the work and visits that George Cowie has engaged in to help with this and to provide training.

Presbytery Armed Forces Champions and continuing contact through email and Life and Work were the subject of several addenda to the Deliverance, along with a complex debate around Cadet Forces – the latter regarded as youth organisations rather than within the remit of the Committee.  The timetable was already running on by the time we had heard from Maj Gen Bob Bruce to close this section.

Crossreach – the Social Care Council – followed next.  In among the struggles to raise salaries in line with the Living Wage while maintaining pay differentials, and the necessity of closing buildings, this was still a Good News story of a huge level of care and support being given to communities across Scotland.  Dementia support and help for those dealing with loneliness and isolation were two areas of work highlighted by Commissioners.

The Theological Forum reported after lunch, and a question was asked about the responses to last year’s Same-Sex Marriage report.  Helpfully this was not ducked by the Convener and a reasonable level of detail was given indicating some of the concerns and challenges raised by some of the responding denominations.

Much of the report was on the issue of offering Communion to unbaptised persons.  The Forum’s report concluded that this should not be the normal order but may be offered for pastoral reasons in exceptional circumstances.  There was quite a bit of discussion on this, including the shocking admission from one Minister that she thought she may never admit anyone by Profession of Faith, which led to a new section instructing further work on Profession of Faith.

The next item was the Petition from a Presbytery to revisit the status of the Westminster Confession of Faith, led by a former Principal Clerk.  The Confession was scorned by some contributors to the debate, but others spoke in its defence and two commissioners suggested that its abandonment might lead to their departure. After a lengthy debate, the vote to accept the Petition to ask the Theological Forum to review the status of the subordinate standards was passed.  The Petition called for a response by 2020 but the Convener suggested that timetable may slip.  Meantime the Confession remains.

The remaining business would normally be fairly routine, but the Pension Trustees, initially reporting strong recovery in scheme funding, were immediately faced with a challenge from the Council of Assembly, suggesting that their Trusteeship be re-examined.  In a tetchy and lengthy debate which followed, deep suspicion of the Council’s motives was very evident among Commissioners, and eventually, the Council’s proposals were soundly defeated.

Several other small reports followed, but a further attempt to return to Carbon Fuel investments in a Trust report was again defeated.  This was another long day after which Commissioners sang the closing hymn and departed into the evening.

Wednesday was Church and Society day, so Assembly dealt with the various issues of our time.  A major discussion took place on disinvestment of Pension and Investment Trust funds from the oil and gas industry, but after a strong debate and two counter-motions, the Assembly decided to retain its investments for the moment in the belief that this gives the Church a stronger voice and to continue holding discussions.

After lunch, there was a brief presentation to school representatives and a school Chaplain to award excellence in school/Church relations and RME work.

A significant motion was on the horror of the killing of demonstrators inside the Gaza fence by Israel Defence Force soldiers using live rounds on unarmed demonstrators, and strong words were passed without argument.

The day was well on when a short report on the Registration of Ministries Committee led to a full discussion on the feeling of many Chaplains that they were being relegated to second-class ministers.  Given that training is required to move from parish to chaplaincy, it was difficult to see the problem in training being provided for the reverse process.

A strong and inspiring report from the General Trustees reminded us of the need to make sure we had the right buildings in the right places for Mission.  This was a well thought out report illustrating a Department that was well on top of its remit looking for the right way ahead for the Church, seeking to engage with Presbyteries and local congregations, and asking about whether maintenance needed to be taken out of local and brought into regional or national supervision.

Finally, the Assembly returned to the remainder of the Strategic Plan debate.  The rest of Robert Allan’s motion was accepted by the Assembly and now forms the basis for the challenge to Council of Assembly, Presbytery and Kirk Session to take the problems of the Church seriously and plan for a new future.

Assembly began with a complaint from a Commissioner about the poor attendance at the previous evening’s Youth presentations.  However, with a full seven days’ schedule and a very long day, evening events will always struggle to gain support from tiring members of Assembly.  There is a need to find more space, helped this year with the ‘circulation breaks’ mid-session.

The Ministries Council took up the morning and a good chunk of the afternoon.  The Convener gave a challenging and encouraging opening address, which was followed by fielding a forest of questions on subjects like Hub Ministries, tenure, the core of the work of Ministry and competency assessment.  Louis Kinsey tried to alter the first main section of the deliverance to focus on the priority of the Ministry of Word and Sacrament, but his counter-motion was defeated.

Just before lunch, Alistair May brought a multi-section deliverance highlighting the funeral service we offer without charges for the Minister and this was accepted.

Lunch was followed by the Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Act permitting the ordination of women to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament.  A parade of ordained women processed up the Mound to the Assembly Hall and they were seated prominently, with addresses given by some of the first ordained women, Rev Margaret Forrester and Rev Jean Montgomery.

The Ministries Council report took some time to work through but there were no major challenges to the Council’s proposals, other than some serious questioning of the advisory nature of the new Presbytery planning figures.  It felt like there were no clear answers as to how the forthcoming shortage of Ministers would be addressed.

Late in the afternoon, the Ecumenical Relations Committee reported.  A question was asked about the diligence of the Committee in seeking to fulfil last year’s instruction about sharing the Theology of Same-Sex Marriage report with other churches and asking for responses.  It was clear that the committee had passed on some significant responses to the Theological Forum.

A number of contributors from other denominations took up a good chunk of time, and a certain weariness could be detected in the Hall, even before the Panel on Review and Reform reported.  Much of the Panel’s work has been on Path of Renewal, which shows some promise for local congregations although this is still early stages for this movement.

The Safeguarding Committee brought a consolidating Act to the Assembly which brings together legislation and Assembly decisions from previous years, and this was easily accepted before the afternoon concluded with the reports of the Iona Community Board and the Guild.

After communion at the start of the morning, the World Mission Council report was given on the theme of Inter-Faith relations.  In the comments at the start of the Debate, there were some excellent contributions from overseas delegates.  Kien Seng Lee from Taiwan spoke about the importance of the Great Commission and the need to remain in Christ and in His Word, with grace and love to clearly convey the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Assembly was reminded that “conversion is the province of God, but our conversation must be seasoned with salt.” Palestinian Christians reminded us of the struggle to continue their 2000-year witness to Jesus in the Holy Land.

Louis Kinsey raised the issue of Asia Bibi, condemned to death for blasphemy after imprisonment in 2010 for sharing water with Moslems.  Highlighting the way that senior government ministers who spoke out in her support had been assassinated, Louis successfully argued that the Assembly should instruct the Council to raise Asia’s case with Scottish and UK governments.

After breaking for lunch, we took up a special report on Lessons for Scotland from Christian Faith in Africa.  This was an excellent report highlighting the growth of the Church in sub-Saharan Africa, which is a great spring-board for congregations and Presbyteries to learn from their openness in evangelism, bible study, prayer, discipleship and testimony.  There were further excellent contributions from African delegates.

At this point, we returned to the Council of Assembly report to discuss the proposed Strategic Plan.  There were a number of substantial questions asked before a Counter-Motion was put by Robert Allan, instructing the Council to return to next year’s Assembly with a radical action plan for the next three years to achieve much-needed reform within our Church.

Speaking for the counter-motion, the immediate former Moderator was scathing in his attack on the published draft Strategic Plan.  Further trenchant criticisms were added, and after a contrite defence from the Convener, the counter-motion was approved by 439 votes to the Council’s 130 votes for the Strategic Plan.  There was clearly an appetite for substantial and urgent reform – the challenge will be getting the Assembly to agree its shape.

The debate on the future of the Church Offices was more muted after that, although there were some suggestions that perhaps moving to a fresh building might be the best way ahead.

This week we expected much emphasis on women in Ministry as this is the 50th Anniversary of General Assembly’s decision to permit women to be ordained to Word and Sacrament.  It was therefore not surprising that the Rt Rev Susan Brown was elected Moderator today, and a procession up the Mound has been arranged for later in the week.

It was good to hear Elaine Duncan give an excellent Bible Society report again, telling the Assembly about one million Bibles distributed in Cuba over the last five years, and of an elderly Malawian Pastor so excited to get a complete Bible to replace the old tattered one that started late in Genesis and finished somewhere in 1 Corinthians.

A major part of the Legal Questions Committee report was the new Discipline Overture which replaces four previous Acts.  It’s a big piece of work which will require Presbyteries’ approval before returning again next year; though quite technical, this Overture deals with Ministries and congregational Office-bearers so will be important to get right.

An additional motion was included for the debate on conducting Same-Sex Marriages – interestingly this took a minimalist line of seeking to get the Assembly to instruct the preparation of legislation for the 2020 Assembly which would only permit individuals on application to conduct Same-Sex Marriages and to seek to provide protections for those who would refuse to take part.  An early attempt to depart from the matter was easily dismissed, but an early amendment from Peter White was approved which insisted that an Act be brought only if the Legal Questions Committee felt that the legal safeguards were sufficient.

The motion as amended was then debated with calm, clear contributions from both sides. Concerns were expressed that the consequences of bringing forward such legislation would be further pressure on congregations and Presbyteries to depart from the historical and orthodox Church of Scotland position on marriage and, inevitably a further challenge to the peace and unity of the church at all levels. The point was made that the theological case for same-sex marriage has yet to be made but suggestions that this should precede drafting of legislation were rejected. A number of Commissioners were concerned about the legal position that Ministers or others refusing to take part in such ceremonies would find themselves in, despite the previously mentioned amendment. In the end, the motion (as amended) was approved by 345 to 170.

The Council of Assembly had the task of taking up the end of a warm afternoon – reiterating the need for the Church nationally to pray and confirming that there will be another National Day of Prayer later this year. Along with this was a recognition that we are called to pray week by week as we “do less with fewer resources”. The convener ended her report by drawing attention to serious financial matters: a rising national deficit and falling income from congregations giving a warning for harder times ahead.  Other matters in their report will follow on Monday.

The key points of the reports for General Assembly from the Blue Book are detailed below in the order of the draft timetable for Assembly.

You can access the deliverances only for each report by clicking here, OR download all the deliverances as one PDF here OR download the PDF of the full Blue Book here

The summary below can be downloaded as a PDF by clicking on the attachment at the foot of the article.

SATURDAY 19TH MAY:

Legal Questions Committee (5)

  1. Report back on the consultation on membership of Church Courts highlighting the responsibilities and expectations of those who are members of Kirk Sessions, Presbyteries and the Assembly
  2. Present two new acts (Ordination by Presbyteries Act and Parish Ministry Act) which will replace the Ministry Act
  3. Having reviewed the Disciplinary Acts, bring forward a single replacement Discipline Overture for General Assembly to pass down to Presbyteries under the Barrier Act
  4. Bring forward amendments to the Legal Aid Regulations which apply under the Disciplinary Acts
  5. Report back on the study of the matters requiring to be addressed if new legislation were to be proposed to allow Ministers and Deacons to officiate at same-sex marriages
    a) Including a formal “opinion” from the Church’s Procurator
    b) The Legal Questions Committee was clear that they had not been asked to draft such legislation and that there has been no work undertaken to do so
  6. Bring forward a draft Act to permit "virtual attendance" at certain church meetings
  7. Bring back an interim report on the process of Presbytery Review which is currently being trialled

Joint Report from Ministries Council and Legal Questions Committee (6)

  1. Report back on issues that have arisen while implementing the Ministers and Deacons in Civil Partnerships and Same-Sex Marriages Act

Council of Assembly (Part 1) (7)

  1. Report on
    a) Stewardship and Finance (no reduction in requirements from congregations expected),
    b) Work with Refugees,
    c) Interfaith Work,
    d) Gaelic in the Church,
    e) Charitable Governance,
    f) Operational Matters 
    g) Membership of Councils and Committees

  2. Intend to promote a further National Day of Prayer in the autumn

Joint Report from Council of Assembly, Ministries Council, Mission and Discipleship Council, Panel on Review and Reform and Legal Questions Committee (8)

  1. Report on resourcing the Implementation of Local Church Review across all Presbyteries – strengthening the support for the process of LCR which is recognised to impact on a range of Assembly Councils and Committees and will be essential to the progress of the Council of Assembly Strategic Plan. Recognise that there has been variable progress to date in different Presbyteries and seeking to improve the level of participation in, and benefit from the process.

MONDAY 21ST MAY:

World Mission Council (9)

  1. An extensive report, concentrating on what it means to be a Christian in a multi-faith society across the world
  2. Highlights the need to work with other faith groups without compromising the Christian beliefs we hold while reaching out and loving our neighbour in real and practical ways, whoever they are and affording them the human dignity they deserve
  3. Practical involvement and help is highlighted as a visible demonstration of the reality of this approach

World Mission Council Special Report (10)

  1. Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa

Council of Assembly (Part 2) – Strategic Plan (7)

  1. Report back on the work to date on the Strategic Plan "Worshipping God, Inspiring Faith, Connecting People" (separate document) and asking Assembly to adopt it as the basis for the next ten years in the Church. Instruct Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions to study the document and to consider how best to implement its goals and recommendations, especially through the LCR (Local Church Review ) process.
  2. Acknowledge the involvement of the wider church in discussions so far
  3. Keystone “Love God and Love Your Neighbour” leading on to “Worship”, “Active Discipleship”, “Connecting with Communities”
  4. Eight overarching goals – details of these to follow in the text of the Strategic Plan text itself which will be available just prior to Assembly

Council of Assembly (Part 3) – National Offices (7)

  1. Background – very poorly utilised with far too much space for staffing and the wrong sort of space – the infrastructure is ageing and there is a generally poor state of repair
  2. Three options
    a) Basic maintenance
    b) Sell 123 George Street and keep 117-121, while rationalising occupancy on to ground plus two floors
    c) Investigate leaving George Street and leasing/buying elsewhere
  3. Additionally, consider more use of Assembly Hall – NOT COST EFFECTIVE AND NOT BEING PURSUED
  4. Note the listed status of the George Street offices
  5. Costings
    a) £3.2m
    b) Business Plan being costed taking into account potentially rental income and allowing for the upgrading of overall facilities
    c) Searches for suitable properties within a twenty-minute walk of a major transport hub are being undertaken in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling and Perth – information awaited
  6. Key areas which need to be understood regarding Option 2
    a) Culture Change and the Working Environment
    b) Detailed Design
    c) Confirming Funding
    d) Tendering
    e) Statutory Permissions
    f) Logistics
  7. Expect a recommendation to be brought to 2019 General Assembly

TUESDAY 22ND MAY:

Ministries Council (11)

  1. The definition and composition of Ministry, a celebration of Women in Ministry, Legislation to support Ministers
  2. A development Programme for 2018 to 2021 including Continuing Ministerial Development, Training, Hub-style Ministries
  3. Ongoing work including Priority Areas, the Recruitment and Discernment Process, the Diaconate, Pioneer Ministries
  4. Financial including stipend

Ecumenical Relations Committee (12)

  1. Bring forward a new Ecumenical Policy for the Church of Scotland – Local, Universal and Shaped by the Mission of God – and ask Assembly to adopt this and ensure a strategy for implementation is prepared and progressed – Theological Basis presented as an appendix
  2. Consider the interaction of the new policy with the ACTS Review which is currently ongoing
  3. Feedback responses from ecumenical partners to the Assembly decision in 2017 on “An Approach to the Theology of Same-Sex Marriage” (via Theological Forum Report)
  4. Report from WCRC, the visit to the Vatican, other churches interactions.

Panel on Review and Reform (13)

  1. Overall coordination and supervision of how the Church is managing the achievement of its Vision Statement “To be a Church which seeks to inspire the people of Scotland with the Good News of Jesus Christ through enthusiastic worshipping, witnessing, nurturing and serving communities”
  2. Key things identified:
    a) A Missional Mindset, marked by an openness to change
    b) Enabling Leadership in each congregation – not “the Minister does it all”
    c) Good support structures at the regional and national level
    d) Action – not just words – concerted action and prayer on the part of all, wherever they are serving
  3. Areas of work
    a) Local leadership roles (Commissioned Local Ministers, Focal Ministers)
    b) OLM – payment and placement
    c) Kirk Sessions
    d) Leadership for the under 50s
    e) Pioneer Ministry
    f) Widening the range of people who can administer the Sacraments – a report will come to General Assembly in 2019
    g) Path of Renewal
       i. Local teams model including Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers
  4. Considering “Reforming the Kirk – Finances” with a potential model set out

Safeguarding Committee (14)

  1. New Safeguarding Act brought to Assembly for approval

Iona Community Board (15)

Guild (16)

  1. Highlight the new Guild Strategy, Themes and Projects for the period 2018-2021

WEDNESDAY 23RD MAY:

Church and Society Council (17)

  1. A long report with 22 deliverances under the following headings:

    a) Flourishing Local Communities

    b) Building an Economy Driven by Equality
       i. Ethical finance

    c) Caring for Creation
       i. Low carbon economy
       ii. Church of Scotland Investment policy

    d) Doing Politics Differently
       i. Participatory Budgeting

    e) Building Global Friendships
       i. Nuclear Weapons
       ii. Refugees
       iii. Relationship with Europe and the EU

    f) Ensuring the Health and Wellbeing of All
       i. Alcohol
       ii. Long-term future of the NHS

    g) Investing in Young People
       i. Young People Education and Action Group

Registration of Ministries Committee (18)

General Trustees (19)

THURSDAY 24TH MAY:

Committee on Chaplains to Her Majesty’s Forces (20)

  1. Highlight an unintended consequence of the “Registration of Ministries” Act which has left many feeling marginalised

Social Care Council (21)

  1. The report, as in previous years, details the work being carried out by CrossReach, working in the three areas of Children and Family Services, Adult Care and Services to Older People against a background of increasing financial pressure from pension and living wage requirements.
  2. Examples of the work carried out in each area are given, highlighting the real difference that the work of CrossReach makes.

Theological Forum (22)

  1. The report from the Theological Forum this year concentrates on four main strands of work, stemming from the General Assembly of 2017

    a) Some detail on the relationship between baptism and admission to the Lord’s Supper, both for children and adults, concluding that the normal practice should be for baptism to precede admission to the Lord’s Supper but that, on occasion, unbaptised children or adults may be permitted to take communion – noting that this should be accompanied by clear offering of instruction and the offering of baptism

    b) A very short paragraph on the responses received from other churches to the Forum’s report of 2017 “An Approach to the Theology of Same-sex Marriage” with no indication of the content of such responses but a very general undertaking to take the feedback forward into further thinking on the topic of…

    c) The urging from the 2017 General Assembly to “investigate theologically the theme of reconciliation, with particular reference to the divisions within the Church of Scotland, Scottish Churches and Scottish society with respect to same-sex marriage”. This work has started but a final report will not be presented at this stage – indeed no expected date for this is given.

    d) Noting that early work is being undertaken with the Panel on Review and Reform on potentially changing the types of people within the church who can be involved in Sacramental Ministry

Overture on the Westminster Confession of Faith

  1. Brought by The Presbytery of Melrose and Peebles
  2. This overture, in a lengthy preamble, retraces the debates that there have been since the late 1960s and asks that Assembly instruct the Theological Forum to revisit this ground again while reviewing the need for the continuing role of a subordinate standard.
  3. It cites the decision of the 1974 General Assembly that, before such changes should be considered, a new Statement of Faith acceptable to the General Assembly should be drawn up – in the deliverance of the overture, however, this requirement is notably absent; instead it is replaced by the option of drawing together a collection of different statements of faith, creeds and affirmations which could be used as a “resource” for the church

A Number of Further Reports including Pensions Trustees (23), Housing and Loan Fund (24), Church Hymnary Trustees (25), Church of Scotland Trust (26), Church of Scotland Investors Trust (27), Nomination Committee (28)

FRIDAY 25TH MAY:

Mission and Discipleship Council (29)

  1. Focusing on Discipleship and aligning with themes from Strategic Review
  2. Learning about our faith
  3. Elders as Disciples
  4. Pastoral Care as Discipleship
    a) Includes mention of “Diverse Gender Identities” Booklet
  5. Young People as Disciples
    a) Developing a theological framework for Ministry with Children and Young People
  6. The Year of Young People

National Youth Assembly (30)

  1. This is a narrative report with no deliverances which details the topics covered at the National Youth Assembly which in 2017 were Young People and Discipleship, Interfaith and Priorities of the Church
Attachments:
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Download this file (General Assembly 2018 Key Points from Blue Book.pdf)General Assembly 2018 Key Points from Blue Book.pdf 60 kB