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Yesterday’s events included services in St Giles, and then the Heart and Soul event in Princes Street Gardens which has been a feature of the General Assembly for the last few years, replacing the dreary Saturday afternoon Garden Party whose demise is little lamented. Lots of stalls from Councils and church organisations of various sorts, though I felt that there were fewer individual congregations represented – possibly a sign of the weariness of gearing up to the event each year. Yet it is a good way of ‘meeting and greeting’ folk throughout the Church, and of a significant presence in the heart of the capital city. Currently under review, Heart and Soul is planned to return next year, but I suspect the format will need some kind of revamp if it is not to become a little tired.

Monday morning began with the usual traditional celebration of the Lord’s Supper, led by Moderator, Clerks and Moderator’s Chaplains. Dr Morrison expounded on Peter’s declaration of the Lord Jesus Christ as the stone rejected by the builders but made the chief corner-stone.
The World Mission Council’s report was then given by the Convener. Mention was helpfully given of the work of the Vine Trust by Jim Stewart, showing that evangelical interest in the Assembly was not just on one issue or solely on matters of criticism. Much was said about the anti-Human Trafficking work of the Scottish Churches, but I was sorry not to hear mention of the similar and current Tear Fund campaign, ‘No Child Taken’.

There was good mention of the suffering of Christian martyrs, with a section of the deliverance on the subject being strengthened and testimony being given from overseas delegates; however many of the contributions thereafter on other subjects began to get unnecessarily long, not least the promotion of Hadeel that seemed to be missing an end-of-time bell.

As the afternoon continued, the report of the Committee on Ecumenical Relations was given, which struck me as being riddled with clichés – ‘what we hold in common is greater that what divides us’. Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well was given as an example of ecumenical conversations and mutual respect, in a poor display of forcing a text away from its central meaning.

Mention of new and welcome moves towards mutual recognition of the Church of England highlighted some of the difficulties of the form of legal establishment that that church is under, as full recognition would have to await legislation in Westminster – Parliament not Abbey. Problems in relationships with other denominations arising from the decisions of the Assembly on same-sex matters were mentioned but not highlighted.

The day concluded with the report from the Panel on Review and Reform, which had some worthy suggestions to make but little of real substance, and debates seemed wearisome to many of the commissioners. The use of ancient light-bulb jokes provided little relief.

All in all, there was a sense of wariness among evangelicals, as the impact of Saturday’s vote began to sink in. A paper of dissent had been made available over the weekend and some 70 or 80 had signed before it was concluded. Some, I suspect, hadn’t bothered to sign due to a sense of futility in a gesture that would make no difference to the legislation, but many commissioners felt it was important to register their deep and fundamental unhappiness with the decision of the Assembly.