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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.