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Church Extends 'Open Hands, Not Clenched Fists'

Tuesday May 23 2017

The General Assembly during this morning's minute's silence. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

General Assembly Day 3

Sympathy and solidarity with Manchester
Condemnation of FGM
Support for refugees and asylum seekers
Call for Church to 'reinvigorate relationship' with Guild


Today’s General Assembly proceedings inevitably took place in the shadow of last night’s Manchester bombing.

Following the morning’s statement, prayers and minute’s silence,  the Church and Society Council debate included expressions of sympathy and solidarity, and calls for relationship-building between communities.

Convener, the Rev Dr Richard Frazer, whose speech was themed around the contrast between meeting people with a raised fist or an open hand, said: “We have seen in the last 24 hours the consequences of the raised fist. How are we to react – with more clenched fists, or with that vulnerable open hand?

“We refuse to raise the clenched fist. We hold out open, asking hands. It’s in that space that we continue to meet the living Christ.”

He added: “It is important for us to recognise the immense courage of those who do not run away, but run towards chaos, offering that open hand of care, support and love.”

A new section was added to the deliverance: “Express profound sympathy at the attack at Manchester Arena and the tragic and pointless loss of life, affirm the courage and grace with which Manchester is already responding; call on the Church to continue to foster deep relationships across communities, and commit us to pray for all those affected.”

Among the contributions from the floor were thanks from several delegates from England, including the youth commissioner for the Presbytery of England, Iris Maxfield, who said: “It’s our duty to keep going out, keep going to concerts and to have that open hand; and every so often have that open hand up in the air dancing.”

Dr Jamie Harrison, a lay Canon of Durham Cathedral , who is representing the General Synod of the Church of England at the General Assembly, spent his early life in Manchester. Dr Harrison spoke during the discussion to thank commissioners for their words and prayers.

“I wanted to express gratitude for the very profound, helpful and kind words of the Moderator and for his prayers for the people of Manchester,” he said afterwards.“Many people across Manchester will be shocked and I too am saddened and shocked,”

Speaking after the session, the Moderator added a further statement to his earlier words, in which he spoke of concern about a backlash against Muslim communities: “The whole of the General Assembly is reaching out to the communities within Manchester. One of our commissioners from Dunfermline, who has connections with local mosques, has said we must remember at this time that many moderate Muslims will be very frightened and very nervous about any potential backlash.

“We, of course, hope this doesn’t happen. We in the Church of Scotland know that these type of activities are not perpetrated by moderate Muslims, but by extremists.

“We stand as a Christian community alongside our Muslim sisters and brothers at this time as well as with the victims in Manchester and hope that we can move forward from what must be a hugely traumatic event.”


The Rev Dr Richard Frazer, Convener of the Church and Society Council. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

Also during the Church and Society debate, the Assembly passed statements ‘deploring the reported rise in xenophobic attacks on people following the result of the EU referendum’; called on the UK government to increase the target number of individuals to be resettled under refugee humanitarian programmes; and urged the government to abandon the policy whereby asylum seekers whose applications have failed are made destitute.

There was condemnation of the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) and a call to the government to consider the risk of FGM when assessing asylum claims. The Rev Christopher Rowe spoke of feeling unable to change the nappy of a two-year-old girl, the daughter of asylum seekers in his congregation, who faces the prospect of FGM if they are returned home. He said he was speaking ‘for the sake of that one wee girl, who I love like my own, whose nappy I could not change for fear, not of what I would see, but because I could not bear the thought of what could happen to what I would see’.

The Assembly also approved a call to the UK Government to block ship-to-ship crude oil transfers in the Moray Firth; and welcomed the development of prison visitor centres.


Rosemary Johnston, convener of the Church of Scotland Guild, said the organisation has over 20,000 members and a presence in 801 congregations; and had raised £467,665 so far for its six current partner projects. The deliverance passed encourages the church to ‘consider reinvigorating their relationship with the Guild at all levels’. Churches without a Guild were encouraged to consider setting one up, but also reminded that they could support the work of the Guild through its partner projects.


A joint report was brought by the Guild and the National Youth Assembly into intergenerational work in the Church of Scotland. The Assembly commended the Guild and NYA for their commitment to developing intergenerational initiatives; and encouraged ministers and churches ‘to consider how intergenerational work and ministry might be of benefit in their congregations and parishes’.

One of the NYA members who worked on the report, Naomi Dornan, said: “At a local level, much work is being done to ensure all truly are ‘welcome in this place’.”


 


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