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March celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women
March celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women

Review of the Year

Friday December 28 2018

Thomas Baldwin looks back at the key events of 2018 in the Church of Scotland, as reported in Life and Work


The headline from a fractious General Assembly in May was the rejection of a proposed a 10-year strategic plan for the Church. Instead, the Council of Assembly was instructed to return in 2019 with a three-year radical action plan.

Later in the year, a Commission of Assembly instructed a review into the governance structures of the church after the Council of Assembly admitted ‘tensions and difficulties within its own operation’. The Presbyteries of Aberdeen and Shetland pre-empted possible changes in the radical plan when they announced plans to merge.

Also at the General Assembly, the first steps were taken towards Church of Scotland ministers being permitted to marry same-sex couples; and the Assembly agreed to review the role of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Church's subordinate standard.

Arguably the high point of the Assembly was the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the decision to ordain women to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Life and Work marked the occasion with a series of reflections by prominent female ministers.

Appropriately, the Moderator of this year’s General Assembly is a woman - the Rev Susan Brown, minister of Dornoch Cathedral. In her pre-Assembly profile interview, she talked about her love of walking, of creative worship and of the need to just ‘get alongside people’: “You can’t be a top-down person when you are five feet tall!”

Sadly, one of the pioneers of women’s ministry – the Rev Effie Irvine, the first woman to be called to a parish – died in February.

There was another significant milestone for women in the Church of Scotland when the Rev Professor Susan Hardman Moore became Principal of New College and Professor Helen Bond Head of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh – the first time that women have held both posts.

There were several other significant anniversaries over the year: the World Council of Churches celebrated its 70th year, Tearfund marked its half century, Bethany Christian Trust its 35th year and Fischy Music hit 20.

There were also celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the National Health Service – marked in Life and Work by interviews with healthcare chaplains.

In November, the world marked the centenary of the end of World War One. The chair of the Scottish Commemorations Panel said that the Scottish remembrance would be ‘earthed and realistic’. The Church of Scotland in London remembered its role in helping thousands of Scottish troops passing through the capital during the War - the BBC health editor Hugh Pym, a member of the St Columba's Church, told how he came to be involved in the project.

Over the year, the Church of Scotland found itself embroiled in disputes about who should be allowed in to, or to stay in, the UK. In the spring, the Church protested after visitors from South Sudan, visiting for peacebuilding training, were initially denied visas. Then over the summer, Glasgow churches were at the forefront of campaigns to prevent several asylum seekers being deported. The Church also joined other religious leaders condemning the government’s so-called ‘hostile environment’ policies on immigration.

The Church has also continued to speak out on issues of poverty and hunger, urging reform of the Universal Credit benefit. In March, former Moderator, the Very Rev Dr Russell Barr, welcomed Scottish Government plans for eradicating rough sleeping.

2018 was also the year when the warnings about climate change became ever more urgent. Although the General Assembly rejected calls for the Church to divest from fossil fuels, the Church has put pressure on oil companies to change their business plans to align with the targets of the Paris Agreement.

A busy year for the Church of Scotland Guild included the announcement that the organisation had raised over £750,000 for its project partners over the last three years. The Guild also announced the six partner projects for its next three-year cycle. At its annual gathering in September, the Moderator praised the Guild for its role in tackling isolation and loneliness.

In October, the Rev Colin Sinclair, minister of Palmerston Place Church in Edinburgh, was announced as the Moderator-Designate to the General Assembly of 2019.


Happy New Year to all our readers!