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Friday May 19 2019

Looking Back: Church Union Agreed

Extracts from Life and Work's report of the General Assembly of May 1929, when the Church of Scotland agreed to union with the United Free Church of Scotland

Friday 24th May. - As Dr [John] White [Moderator of the General Assembly in 1925, and later of the reunion Assembly, pictured] stepped towards the desk to submit the report on Church Union, he received a great ovation. This was the last act, but no one felt any doubt about the result. The days of discussion and argument were over. The Basis and Plan had received the approval of the Church in every Presbytery. Nothing remained but to get the imprimatur of the Assembly on work done. So the prevailing mood was one of satisfaction and thanksgiving.

Dr. White commented on the new atmosphere in the Church to-day as compared with twenty years ago. Then, everybody was ultra-cautious; they were at the stage of academic discussion, and studied Church History with a purpose. Later, goodwill grew stronger, until finally they took their common stand on the religious need of Scotland.

With a word or two on the possibilities of wider union, he came to the needs of the present and the challenge of the future. This new day, with its new needs, calls for a reunited and re-enforced Church, which shall have the utmost freedom to grapple with the new situation. They did not expect the perfect mechanism to operate of its own accord. The message of Whitsunday had to be studied anew. They might be admirably equipped, but they were waiting the rushing mighty Wind and the irresistible impulse of God.

Lord Sands, his colleague in the Convenership, seconding the deliverance, told of the man who, on the occasion of the Disruption, looking down from the gallery on those who remained, remarked that it was like looking into a grave full of dry bones. “We will not accept that as just; but suppose it was – look around this Assembly!”

He considered the years of negotiation well spent, for “one of the most difficult things to overcome is tenacity of memory – especially of grievances,” and illustrated it, amid laughter, with a story of the animosity between the Macleans and the Campbells. (Here, to the great amusement of the house, Dr. Montgomery Campbell solemnly shook hands with Dr. Norman Maclean.) He quoted a dictum of Dr. Reith: “If we argue about responsibility, we shall never agree. But there is one thing: whoever was to blame for the disruption, he’s dead now.”

The Moderator then asked if there was any counter-motion, and the house was noticeably surprised when Rev. P. R. Landreth (Perth) rose to move “that the Assembly do not resolve upon an incorporating union.” He began adroitly by saying that he knew how difficult it was to address men who were already convinced; and he was cheered ironically when he remarked that he would be brief. The extravagance of his denunciations was entertaining, but the seriousness of his arguments began to be suspect when he asserted that there had been no real consideration of Church Union, that the Act would be a prelude to disintegration, and that Presbyterianism always prospered on splits.

The Moderator then asked Dr. White if he had any desire to reply. “A great desire,” he said, “but no intention.” On a vote being taken, Mr. Landreth’s motion received three votes, and immediately the Assembly burst into loud cheers, members rising and waving their papers. When quiet had been restored, the Moderator offered an appropriate prayer of thanksgiving, which was followed by the spontaneous singing of the Doxology.

Wednesday 29th May - Closing day! The words have a pathetic significance; for they stand for the close of an epoch in our Church's history. This is the last time we shall go through the ancient ritual within the Tolbooth walls; the last of the Assemblies as we have known them and as our fathers were familiar with for so many years. Memory was busy, and sentiments and emotions that had been held in check by the routine of the Assembly were rising perilously near the surface as we sang our opening praise.

Shafts of sunlight were falling through the south windows as the Moderator [the Rt Rev Joseph Mitchell] rose to deliver his address, closing with words of high hope. "The step which we have taken is not 'the end of an auld sang'; it is the beginning of a new movement in the great symphony of the approach of the human to the Divine - a movement with a fuller harmony and with a more inspiring theme."

After prayer by the Moderator, we sang with strangely jumbled emotions Psalm 122;

Pray that Jerusalem may have
    peace and felicity:
Let them that love thee and thy peace
    have still prosperity.

Followed the Benediction and the National Anthem; after which we filed out into the sunlit streets feeling like them that dreamed.

The reunion assembly took place in October 1929

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