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Women Ministers March to Celebrate Anniversary

Tuesday March 22 2018

 

Hundreds of women ministers and supporters today processed to the Assembly Hall to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the decision to permit the ordination of women to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Church of Scotland.

Around 500 people sang 'We are Marching in the Light of God' as they walked up the Mound and gathered in the quad of New College, under the statue of John Knox. The Moderator, the Rt Rev Susan Brown, told them they were celebrating 'when the community of women and men were given their place in the church, not because they deserve that place but because it's the place to which Christ himself has called us'.

In a special session in the hall, the Rev Dr Margaret Forrester, one of the campaigners for women's ordination 50 years ago, received a standing ovation. She paid tribute to fellow campaigners Mary Levison and Elizabeth Hewat, and called for the work of women’s equality around the world to continue.

She said: “There is much still to be done. Where girls are not permitted to be educated, we must speak out. Where women are abused or marginalised, we must speak out. Where sister churches withhold ordination from women, we must encourage them to think again.”

She added: “My overwhelming memory is not of frustration but of joy. Joy, delight and thanksgiving that God was using us for the renewal of the church for these 50 years and more thanks and more. Thanks and praise be to God.”

The Rev Jean Montgomerie, who was the first female minister to convene a committee of the General Assembly, said: “If there were moments when my gender affected folks’ attitude to my ministry, these are now drowned in the sea of God’s grace and 50 years on I am still passionate about women and men hearing the call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament.”

And the Rev Aquila Singh, the Church’s first Asian female minister, said she wanted to pay tribute to Margaret Forrester, Effie Irvine (the first woman minister to be called to a parish, who died earlier this year), ‘and all the women who have helped me forge my path in ministry’.

The Moderator concluded by recalling a time when, newly installed in her first manse, she answered the door to someone asking if her father was in; but more recently the comment of a female colleague that one of the children in her church hadn’t realised men could be ministers.

She finished: “Today we give thanks to the living God for the way he walks before us down paths we have not yet seen, to lead us in directions we have not yet thought of, in order to further His Kingdom in ways in which we have not imagined.”


The lion's share of the day’s business was spent on the report of the Ministries Council. There was a lengthy debate in the morning on the ongoing work to create a definition of ministry. The Council accepted an amendment from the Rev Alan Sorensen asking it to produce ‘a short description of ministry’, which he said would prevent it from being an exhaustive list which could be used as ‘a stick to beat ministers with’.

However, the Assembly rejected a countermotion from the Rev Louis Kinsey which placed a greater emphasis on Ministry of Word and Sacrament.

A section affirming the Church’s commitment to performing parish funerals, without charging for the minister, was proposed by the Rev Dr Alistair May and accepted.

There was warm praise for the Rev Professor David Fergusson, who is retiring as Principal of New College, Edinburgh, this year; and the appointment of the Rev Professor Susan Hardman Moore as his successor was affirmed.

There were also questions around whether the number of charges indicated for each presbytery should be compulsory rather than advisory; whether there could be more support for ministers transferring in from overseas; pastoral care for ministers who are facing disciplinary procedures; and the role of the Diaconate.

The Panel on Review and Reform reported on the early stages of the Path of Renewal project, which focuses small groups within congregations on mission. Convener, the Rev Graham Duffin, quoted one person who said ‘I’m still not sure what Path of Renewal is about, but I can see the changes in the people’.

The report of the Iona Community included a tribute to Ian Masson Fraser, who died earlier this year aged 100. Joint Community leader Kathy Galloway said he had been ‘a living rebuttal of the heresy that religion and politics don’t mix’.

There was applause for the Church of Scotland Guild when it was announced that the total raised for the six partner projects over the past three years is £725,091.50 – which was taken over £725,100 with the sale of the last ticket to tonight’s Big Sing event.

Earlier, a minister expressed disappointment that few commissioners had attended the Walking Together youth event the previous evening. The Rev John Macgregor said: “I am afraid that this General Assembly may inadvertently yet still disappointingly have sent a message to these young people that what they had to say was unimportant and perhaps even irrelevant.”

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