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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back - General Assembly 1913

Looking Back

Friday May 17 2013

Looking Back: General Assembly of 1913

With the 2013 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland approaching, we look back at Life and Work's report of the event a century ago.


Moderator of the General Assembly of 1913

The Rt Rev Andrew Wallace Williamson, Moderator of the 1913 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland


The General Assembly of 1913


“One of the best Assemblies I have ever attended,” said a minister of an age between fifty and sixty, as the Lord High Commissioner left the Throne Gallery, the closing ceremonial being ended. “The very best,” replied his friend of about the same age. A lady who has been present at fifty-six consecutive Assemblies (surely a unique record) records a similar verdict:-

“I was much impressed by the high spiritual tone of the Assembly, as well as by the large hearted friendliness of the views on Union. It does seem such a change from other days.”

Why was the Assembly of 1913 so good? Most people would be inclined to answer that it took its tone from the Moderator [the Rt Rev Andrew Wallace Williamson]. Doubtless that refined and genial presence rebuked noisiness or self-assertion and radiated good humour. But there were other contributory causes.

Much of the speaking was excellent. At least four laymen made an impression on the Assembly which should render it inevitable that they be returned as members every year…

Another speech rich in feeling and experience was that of Mr. Steel Maitland, M.P. A Balliol man with a brilliant record, Mr. Steel Maitland has devoted himself in public life to the problems of the poor. No one could have supported the Report of the Social Work Committee with a riper knowledge of the piteous themes which engage that Committee. Not only has he studied industrial questions as a practical politician, but he has gone in disguise to live in lodging-houses and mingle with the most degraded of the people. Out of such sympathetic knowledge he delivered a speech which will be long remembered…

The Union discussion elicited from Dr. Wallace Williamson one of the noblest orations which have been heard in recent times. Impassioned at one moment, colloquial at another, lightened by frequent gleams of fascinating humour, and elevated and worthy all through, the speech was on the classic mould, enough to make a reputation, and a crown of fine gold upon a reputation already made. Too much must not be expected from the resolution which the General Assembly unanimously reached. It only decided that negotiations should go on, and that the next effort should be to frame a constitution acceptable to the Church of Scotland itself, to whose Assembly it is first to be presented for approval; and possibly acceptable also to the United Free Church. To gain this second purpose the Committee who frame the constitution are empowered to consult with the other Church’s Committee. At the best, therefore, Union cannot be brought about rapidly. Seven years is the period named by some as the shortest within which the consummation may be attained. But the outlook is gracious and full of hope.

Another day of fragrant recollections was the Thursday of the Foreign Mission. Magnificent audiences gathered both at the discussion in the morning and at the evening meeting. The sight of the missionaries – some of them of long service, some only buckling on their armour – gathered before the Moderator was one to touch the imagination and warm the heart…

The most interesting feature of the Home Mission Report was the disclosure of the urgent need of Church extension in Fife. Both the Convener, Dr. Martin and Professor Paterson, who moved the deliverance with refreshing originality and vigour, drew attention to this problem. It may be taken as certain that, with the wise advice of the Deputy, Mr. Dunlop, the Committee will secure before next General Assembly that measures are taken to rescue a vast population from the danger of practical heathenism…

Reference has been made to the influence of the Moderator over the Assembly. It would be unjust to omit a tribute to the Lord High Commissioner. In ever-increasing measure Lord Glenconner has been winning the esteem of the Church of Scotland. His speeches are distinguished and tactful, and his personal relations with the Assembly are very cordial. It was with no formal welcome that he was received when the Assembly began; and members parted with him with a sense of real gratitude and regard. The accomplished and charming Lady Glenconner added her full share to the success of an Assembly which will be remembered as sweet-toned and happy, and nearer than many to the ideal of what a court of Christ’s Church ought to be.

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