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Church of Scotland General Assembly 2024: Building Together

May 28, 2024
Lindsey Sanderson
News | Prayers

The United Reformed Church is represented at the Church of Scotland General Assembly by the General Assembly Moderator and are representative of the National Synod of Scotland. This year, Lindsey Sanderson, the Synod Moderator, represented the Synod and shares some of her personal reflections.

This was the first time I had a full experience of the Church of Scotland General Assembly, having previously attended sessions as an interested member of the public. It was fascinating to be at the Assembly which is in some ways very similar to, but in other ways very different from the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church. One of those differences is that the Church of Scotland Assembly is a court of the church, where as in the URC it is a council of the church and a different culture permeates proceedings. I also hadn’t appreciated that the Assembly itself is the Right Reverend, hence that title being applied to the Moderator of the General Assembly during their term of office. At the beginning of each session, the Assembly is called to order with the Assembly Officer calling ‘Moderator’ and the Assembly standing as the Moderator is led into the Assembly Hall. For the first time in the history of the Church of Scotland the Assembly was called to order by a woman, with Karen Mckay, Depute Assembly Officer, leading the Moderator into the Assembly Hall.

Many of the issues on the Assembly agenda are ones with which we are familiar. There was further discussion about the implementation of the Presbytery Mission Plan and it was good to hear the affirmation of both the Ecumenical Relations Committee and the Assembly Trustees for the necessity of the Church of Scotland to engage with ecumenical partners in this ongoing process. I found a discussion about a new apprenticeship model for training for ministry particularly interesting and look forward to how this develops along with changes to the content of courses offered by the University theology departments, which may have impact on training for EM1 for students of the Scottish College.  

An interim report on the working group on Assisted Dying noted that although the General Assembly has in the past been opposed to assisted dying, there exists a range of positions amongst church members and it committed itself to further listening, and engaging with others, including ecumenical partners before it brings its final report to the Assembly in 2025. The working group intends to bring resource material to help congregations think  about the issues and I am sure these will be helpful to others in Scotland too. The Theological Forum brought a report on Transgender Identities  in the Church of Scotland in which it affirmed that trans people are part of the Church of Scotland and are welcome and no one should be discriminated for holding office in the Church of Scotland on the grounds of their gender identity.

The General Assembly saw the launch of the supplement to CH5, God Welcomes  All and we had the opportunity to sing some of the material from the new hymnbook during the Assembly. All the items have been written in the last twenty years and include contributions from hymn and song writers from Scotland and around the world. In addition to more material from the world church, there are quite a few songs from FischyMusic, which is widely used in primary schools, as well as new contributions from John Bell, Shirley Erena Murray and Stuart Townsend.

On Thursday the Archbishop of Cantebury, who was a guest of the Lord High Commissioner,  addressed the Assembly. In a wide ranging speech he spoke of the relationship between the Church of Scotland and Church of England through the Columba declaration and how it had led to the historic visit of himself, Pope Francis and the then Moderator, Very Revd. Iain Greenshields to South Sudan. He reflected on the roles of the two churches as national churches and spoke of the church’s role in advocating for peace and human rights and the importance of standing again antisemitism and Islamophobia. With the General Election having been announced the previous day he spoke of his hope that people would vote in vast numbers, treasuring the privilege of citizenship and that those elected would seek the common good.

The Assembly was guided in all its work by the Moderator Rt. Revd. Dr. Shaw Paterson who did so with good humour and a very down to earth compassion for people as he reflected on his chosen theme of ‘Building Together' ’in worship and the various addresses that he gave to the Assembly and I look forward to welcoming him to our General Assembly in July.

For me this was a valuable week to learn more about our most significant ecumenical partner and the current issues the Church of Scotland is engaging with in public life as well as ministry and organisation life.  It was a great opportunity to meet with friends from across the Kirk from student days and my working life to date as well as making and renewing friendships with ecumenical partners.