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General Assembly 2013

Thomas Baldwin
Thomas Baldwin

 

Thursday May 23 2013

General Assembly 2013: Day Six

In a week of consistently late finishes, and with the Church and Society Council’s long and varied report facing a number of deliverances, the Business Convener announced at the start of the afternoon session that they would go on until 6pm, at which point they would remainder the rest of the business until tomorrow.

In a perfect demonstration of the unpredictability of the General Assembly, they were all done by 5.10pm.

The controversial ‘Inheritance of Abraham’ Report about the Holy Land had been amended to include a new preface and altered deliverance, explicitly confirming Israel’s right to exist and condemning all acts of terrorism and anti-semitism. This was passed by the Assembly with relatively little debate. One counter-motion requesting the Council to hold further dialogue with the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, and bring a new report next year, was defeated.

The Convener of Church and Society, the Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, said: “The heart and substance of the report is robust and we stand by it... There is a huge imbalance of power in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We cannot forget our brothers and sisters in the Occupied Palestinian Territories who still have to endure the blockade of Gaza, the continued illegal occupation of the West Bank, and also of East Jerusalem. We cannot forget the State of Israel is continuing to expand illegal territories.”

Issues of poverty and food shortages, at home and abroad figured prominently throughout the day. Mrs Foster-Fulton told the General Assembly to: “Challenge the lies used to demonise the poor in our communities... lazy, can’t budget, on the fiddle, addicts, choosing a benefits lifestyle... how dare we? The mark of a good society is measured by how the most vulnerable are treated. The Church is a place where we can begin to change the vocabulary, challenge the mindset that sees neighbours from hell and starts seeing each other for what we all are at times: neighbours in need.”

There was a section added urging the Scottish Government to introduce legislation to make sure no-one is evicted as a result of falling into arrears as a result of the ‘bedroom tax’; and others instructing the council assess the implications of changes to the benefits system, to investigate the issues of food security in Scotland and commending food provision projects throughout the country.

The Rev Stuart Sharp, who is chairman of his local food bank in Falkirk, said: “In four months, we have provided food to over 1000 people. 40 per cent of them are children. They are not shirkers or skivers as some would label them. They are often people in work.”

Poverty issues were also raised by the Iona Community Board. The Convener, Allan Gordon, said: “In most nations today, the gap between rich and poor is widening. In Europe there is a discernible trend to portray benefits systems as burden rather than a safety net and investment which provides social security for all citizens through contributions in national insurance and taxation.

“Part of this attack has been to characterise poverty as a matter of individual responsibility and blame and those living in poverty or with a disability have been increasingly stigmatised.  This has directly affected a number of our members and many of the people the Iona Community works alongside.”

 

The joint report on the implications of Scottish Independence was also passed, with the much-remarked call for a Scottish Coronation for future monarchs slightly revised to ‘investiture’. Mrs Foster-Fulton said of the Referendum: "We are not telling the Scottish people what to think. this decision is for them. It is a time to get as engaged as they possibly can. This will not come around again."

A motion passed recognising the Iona to Westminster Pilgrimage for Peace and Economic Justice, a 756-mile walk of witness against nuclear weapons.

There was time in a crowded afternoon for a speech from Jamie Stuart, the author of the Glasgow Gospel, about the exploitation of tobacco farmers by tobacco companies: “The tobacco companies say they bring benefits to the growers but in fact the majority of profits go to the companies while the tobacco farmers often become trapped in a cycle of poverty and debt.”

The Stevenson Prize for religious observance in school was awarded to Westray Junior High School from Orkney, the second time the school has won the award.

The day began with the report of the Committee on Chaplains to Her Majesty’s Forces. This was dedicated to the memory of General Sir Michael Gow, who died in March this year. He was an Elder of Canongate Kirk who served in the second world war.
The committee convener is the Minister of Canongate, the Rev Neil Gardner. He told the Assembly that the General had been marked by two experiences: on his 21st birthday, visiting the grave of his brother, who had been killed in action; and by being among the first people to witness the horrors of Belsen when it was liberated.

Mr Gardner recalled advice he received in college for dealing with bereaved families: “We were urged not to think or to speak in terms of getting over it, but of getting through it, and over the years experience has only proved that the more traumatic the experience is the more true that is. That essentially is what our chaplains help people do: in the most traumatic circumstances, not get over it but get through it. Whatever it might be. The loss of a friend or a family member, either abroad or in a terrorist attack at home; suffering life changing injuries; the memory of things once seen, never ever to be forgotten. Chaplains helped Mike Gow get through it all those years ago and they do the same again and again today.”

A new section was added to the deliverance, urging ‘all presbyteries to engage with their local authority’s Armed Forces Community Covenant Group and appoint where possible a Church champion to be part of the group’

The Assembly was also addressed by Vice Admiral David Steel, Second Sea Lord, who spoke of the challenges facing the British Armed Forces and the value of the chaplaincy service. He said: “The Armed Forces have rightly to take their share of the pain from the austerity programme... but our resilience will be stretched. We will be one brick thick...

“It’s at times like these that all services are particularly reliant on the ministry of the superb cadre of military chaplains. I am constantly humbled and proud of the never failing dedication, professionalism and humour of these men and women of the church, whatever the colour of their cloth.”