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The General Assembly today voted to pass an Overture (Act) based on the ‘mixed economy’ decision of last year, which affirmed the traditional Christian understanding on marriage and sexuality but proposed allowing individual congregations to call a gay minister if they wish.
The legislation now passes to presbyteries who will be asked to make a decision by the end of the year. If a majority of presbyteries accept, it will be debated again at next year’s General Assembly.
The Assembly voted by 369 to 189 to accept the Overture, defeating a counter-motion from the Rev Jeremy Middleton which would have thrown it out.
Mr Middleton described the Overture as ‘risky, ‘ragged’ and ‘wrong’. “The clear acknowledged teaching of the scriptures which is the doctrine of the church is as I set out (in my counter-motion).
“We do not dialogue with God. We listen to Him, to what he says, and then we do it.”
But the Rev Alan Hamilton, the Convener of Legal Questions, which presented the overture, argued that it was the best way to meet the spirit of last year’s decision: “I simply say this overture offers new ways for new challenges in new times.”
He also said: “If we don’t recognise each others’ hurt and respond with grace and mercy, no law can impose peace or manufacture unity.”
The overture also escaped unscathed from three earlier amendments.
The Very Rev Dr Finlay Macdonald proposed removing the requirement for a Kirk Session to meet twice, saying he felt it was discriminatory. However, the amendment was voted down after Mr Hamilton argued that the two-stage process would allow Sessions to consult and get soundings from the whole congregation and community.
Also defeated were amendments by the Rev Dr Paul Middleton, who argued that a Kirk Session could take a decision on whether it would be open to a minister in a same-sex relationship outside of a vacancy; and the Rev Catherine Buchan, who moved that Sessions only be asked the question if a minister in a civil partnership applied for the vacancy.
In the morning, the Assembly considered a report from the Church’s new Theological Forum, which had attempted to give some context to the ‘mixed economy’ idea and pointed out that the church already had a mixed economy in other areas, including infant baptism and re-marriage after divorce.
The Forum convener, the Very Rev Prof Iain Torrance, said in his speech: “The kind of mixed economy of constrained difference voted for at the last Assembly… is understandable within our practices of Bible reading and may be located within our tradition.”
A sometimes emotional session included contributions from the Rev Dr Hector Morrison, who said he mourned the loss of much of his former congregation at Stornoway High Church, who left to join the Free Church earlier this week; and the Rev Lynn Brady, a minister, who said: “I want to tell you about the love of God, and the only way I can share that love of God is if I can be myself.”
Prof Torrance also had strong comments about the sexism row of earlier in the week, in which two former Moderators, the Very Rev David Lacy and the Very Rev Lorna Hood, had spoken about Mrs Hood’s treatment in the Presbytery of Lochcarron and Skye. Prof Torrance said that he felt such ‘name-calling’ was ‘unhelpful’.
Earlier, the Social Care Convener, Dr Sally Bonnar, outlined plans to re-engage the Church with the work of CrossReach.
“If CrossReach is to support the mission of the church as laid out in our remit, then it seems evident that in order to do this, the church needs to know about and own what we do in its name. In the course of our strategic review it has become apparent that the work of CrossReach is less well-known within the church that many of us would wish. Indeed it has been said to us that CrossReach is ‘the Church of Scotland’s best kept secret’. This clearly cannot be helping drive the mission of the church.”
The proposals include appealing for prayer, and better communication with churches to inform that; developing ‘CrossReach Local’ services under which local churches deliver social care services under the CrossReach banner, accessing the national organisation’s expertise in issues such as management, supervision of staff and accreditation; and greater church involvement with national CrossReach services.
A section was added congratulating CrossReach staff on awards they had won.
Dr Bonnar admitted that the committee was not happy with the situation that it cannot pay its staff the living wage, and said it was in discussion with its funders to try to improve pay. An update is due to be delivered to next year’s General Assembly on progress.