Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: General Assembly 1937

Looking Back

Image: archives-pic_cropped.jpg

Friday May 19 2017

Looking Back: General Assembly, 1937

The opening ceremony of the General Assembly of 80 years ago, as recorded by 'A MEMBER'.

Tuesday 18th May

THE loveliest of May weather greets the opening of the Assembly – bright sunshine and a breeze just sufficient to stir the flags which still wave on tower and dome and balcony after last week’s Coronation festivals1, but with none of the snell, searching bite that makes many an Edinburgh May day so treacherous. Grass and trees in Princes Street Gardens are at their freshest, but the Mound is certainly much steeper than it was when I scaled it, light of foot and heart, at my first Assembly –

Or is the dreary change in me?

Be that as it may, once the Hall is reached the greetings of old friends within quadrangle and corridor are a cordial to heart and spirit.

A full hour before the time of meeting the galleries are crowded, though members drop in more slowly and take their accustomed places. There are no Government or Opposition benches in the Assembly Hall; still less, after seven and a half short years, any lines of demarcation between the different sections of the Church2.

Yet there are certain benches regarded by those who frequent them as peculiarly adapted for members with a vigilant eye and an open mind on all points of church procedure!

Murray’s shout of “Moderator!” brings us all to our feet, and the little procession rocks down the gangway from the north-east door to the platform, where several ex-Moderators are already stationed round the Clerks’ table. Others of their number drift in by ones and twos, for the timing is not so accurate as it might have been, and the Commissioner’s part is also a little late in appearing. However, all soon are sorted out into their appropriate places, and the proceedings begin with

I to the hills will life mine eyes…

There is nothing quite like the singing of the General Assembly at its best, and I don’t think it could have been much grander than it is to-day, even if all the thunder and sweetness of the organ in the gallery could have been released to serve as foundation and background to the mighty volume of praise.

Dr. Lamont3, who happily shows no sign of strain after twelve months’ strenuous labours most punctiliously and acceptably discharged, proposed as his successor Dr. Dugald Macfarlane, Kinglassie.

Dr. Macfarlane is not, as has been sometimes erroneously stated, the first Highland Moderator of the reunited Church; but the minister of St. Columba’s Kingussie has a place all his own in the service and in the very heart of the Church, as was evident from the warmth with which he was received when he was presented to the Assembly and invested by his predecessor with the official ring.

“Compliments pass when gentlefolks meet,” is an ancient saying, but there was a genuine ring of friendliness in the greetings that passed between Moderator and Commissioner, which might so easily have been formal and were not. Lord Kinnaird4 is no stranger among us, and knows by instinct to say what no amount of coaching could possibly teach.

Last Assembly, one could not but remember, another name stood at the foot of the Royal Letter and Commission to “Our Right Trusty and Well Beloved Kenneth Fitzgerald Baron Kinnaird to be our representative.” Much has happened since then to allay anxieties and to deepen loyalty. It was with no merely polite and formal attention that the Assembly listened to the message read by the Commissioners from our own Scottish Queen Elizabeth5, to “those who are so closely bound to her by the ties of race and sentiment, and who will always have an especial place in Her Majestys thought’s and prayers.”

Words like these warm the heart.

Thus with “grait courtessie and dewgard” on both sides, to use old James Melville’s delightful expression, Assembly and Commissioner parted for the day.

1The Coronation of King George VI had taken place on May 12, following the abdication of Edward VIII

2The Union of the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church had taken place in 1929

3Dr Daniel Lamont, Professor of Practical Theology at New College, Edinburgh, Moderator to the Assembly in 1936

4Kenneth Kinnaird, the twelfth Lord Kinnaird, was in his second year as Lord High Commissioner.

5Consort of George VI, mother of the present Queen. She was the daughter of Lord Glamis of Glamis Castle in Angus.

Full coverage of the 2017 General Assembly

Previous: The Road to Emmaus

Looking Back menu