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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.