Notes on the General Assembly
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland began this morning Saturday 20th May. Earlier in the week I brought a report to the prayer meeting to seek to explain what is happening and what is discussed at this year’s Assembly.
The following notes are heavily edited from what was shared at the prayer meeting but the purpose behind this post remains broadly the same. My reason I suppose is threefold;
To try and explain what happens at the General Assembly each year
What will be happening and when this year
And most importantly who and what to pray for in the week ahead
In writing this I am conscious like many other people in the congregation and also throughout the Gaidhealtachd the first inkling people will have about what is happening or has been decided at the General Assembly will be through the headlines on Radio nan Gaidheal as well as in newspapers. Like many of us, I am fed up of hearing unceasing propaganda and negative headlines regarding the church, headlines which often do not tell the whole story of the matter. I thought I would produce these notes so that we can at least be informed as to what is coming up at Assembly, and when these things are being considered and more importantly than anything how and who to pray for in the week ahead.
General Assembly The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland like all other Presbyterian Churches is organised as a series of church courts, with the General Assembly being the most senior court of the church, below which are Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions. The General Assembly is composed of Commissioners drawn from the 46 or so Presbyteries of the church , and meet each year to consider reports, cases and appeals and decide law and policy as brought to them by the various councils of the church. Much of what takes place is dry and turgid procedure, which never makes the headlines, but without which the church would cease to function. For example I doubt if any news media will cover the report of the General Trustees or the Housing and Loan fund on Friday morning of Assembly, yet they are very important parts of the week’s business. The media’s attention is always drawn to the controversial and salacious aspects of business. I am conscious that this post does not give much detail with regards to the various Councils and their reports, so I have highlighted the most important councils and the main talking points in what follows, More information can be found here on the week at the assembly .
Saturday The Assembly opened this morning with the usual pomp and pageantry, with the installing of the new moderator, and the arrival of the Lord High Commissioner. It is worth noting at this point that the Lord High Commissioner is ‘commissioned ‘ by the Queen to act on her behalf for the week of the General Assembly. This Commission is read to the Assembly and recorded in the Assembly’s minutes for the opening day. This year the Lord High Commissioner is Princess Anne, and for that reason there will be more security for all those going along to the Assembly.
After the formal pomp and ceremony business commences with some aspects of housekeeping, reports on the hearing of appeals, overtures, cases etc, and the presentation of a Bible to the Moderator by the Scottish Bible society. The meaty reports being presented today are from the Legal Questions Committee re a disciplinary code for ministers etc , and the Council of Assembly (the most powerful council of the church) and others .
Sunday On Sunday the General Assembly service takes place in St Giles’ Cathedral where by custom the new Moderator preaches the sermon.
After the morning service, the moderator by custom attends the Assembly Gaelic service in Greyfriars Tollbooth and Highland Kirk.
On Sunday afternoon there is a large gathering in Princes Street Gardens called “Heart and Soul 2017”. This is more like a big party to ‘celebrate the life of the church’.
Monday Monday morning starts with Communion. This is for many a high point in the week and is noted for the powerful unaccompanied rendition of Psalm 24:7-10 ” Ye Gates lift up your heads..” to the stirring tune St George’s Edinburgh.
After communion and the usual housekeeping the World Mission Council present their report.
Also reporting today are The Social Care Council. The social care council are traditionally one of the more conservative councils of the church, and do a great deal of good work throughout the country through ‘Cross-reach’ .
The Panel on Review and Reform also report today. As the name suggests this panel seeks to explore ways in which both the church and ministry can change to adapt to changing times.
Tuesday The report of The Church and Society Council dominates most of Tuesday. Church and Society are an influential council and have a huge report this year focusing on such things as Brexit, Asylum seekers, gender justice, climate change , and equality.
Wednesday The largest report of Wednesday will be The Ministries Council. As the name suggests The Ministries Council is charged with providing ministers and ministries throughout the country. As can be imagined this is a very challenging role and this year the Ministries Council report will discuss the Tomorrow’s Calling recruitment drive, ‘Hub’ style ministries, the 20/20 vision for ministries etc.
Thursday On Thursday morning the Chaplains to her Majesty’s forces report and all the Kirk’s military Chaplains present themselves to be received by the Assembly. After which the last of the major councils the report of The Mission and Discipleship Council is heard.
In the afternoon the National Youth Assembly report to Assembly.
Tucked away at the very end of the day is the most controversial report of the whole week the report of the Theological Forum. In a very opaque report the theological forum will be bringing amongst other things a deliverance to begin the process to allow ministers to officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies, and to issue a formal apology to homosexual people to individually and corporately apologise for historic discrimination, and ’to seek to do better’. This is without question the most controversial report of the whole week and will be the focus of the media on Thursday night.
Friday The General Trustees housing and loan fund and other non- controversial committees such as the Church hymnary trustees, and the Chalmer’s lectureship trust report on Friday morning and the Assembly closes with a speech from Princess Anne the Lord High Commissioner.
Please pray that God’s will would be done at the Assembly and that his name and His word may be given the pre-eminence in everything that is said and decided.
Please remember the Commissioners from the islands , the Gaidhealtachd and others who will stand for the truth. It can be difficult, lonely and very discouraging to be a commissioner and so they do need our ongoing prayer support
Please pray that those who speak will be given the words to speak, please also pray that those who shouldn’t speak don’t ! ( That is just as important ) .
The first deliverance of the Council of Assembly report on the opening day is really worth noting. We can only pray that this may be acted upon and that this may happen in our dear land once again .
“Issue a call to the Church of Scotland to pray that God will do a fresh work amongst us as God’s people and instruct presbyteries and Kirk sessions to consider how best to respond to this call’. Council of Assembly deliverance 2 20th May 2017.
Ian Murdo Macdonald 20th May 2017