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Assembly 'Will Shape the Future of the Church'

Saturday May 18 2019

General Assembly Day One:
- Outgoing moderator criticises Government

- Eldership rules to change
- Church asked to take part in global 'Mexican wave' of Bible Reading

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was reminded on its first day that decisions made this week may shape the future of the Church for years to come.

Dr Sally Bonnar, convener of the Council of Assembly, told the gathering: “We have been acknowledging for some years now that things need to change and I hope that we are at that place today where change can begin.”

She urged the Assembly to pray ‘and look for the answers from one another as we discuss in God’s presence’ the Radical Action Plan and proposals for structural change that will be debated later in the week.

Today, the Assembly had a discussion on the decline in the number of people joining the Church by profession of faith. The Rev Dr Martin Fair said that in the past six years the number of professions of faith had more than halved, from 1600 to 750. He said: “What are we doing, or what we not doing as a church, that so few people are finding faith in Christ and going on to make a profession of faith? Even if every congregation was to challenge itself to find one profession of faith in a year, we would be able to come back next year encouraged, saying we had a 65% increase in people finding faith in Christ.”

Dr Bonnar responded: “In a report we expected to be dominated by finance, it’s wonderful to have this debate about how to help people find faith in Jesus.”

Earlier, the outgoing Moderator of the General Assembly, the Very Rev Susan Brown, criticised the UK Government for its refusal to grant asylum to a Pakistani Christian family living in Glasgow.

The Church of Scotland has campaigned on behalf of the Bakhsh family, who say they would be in danger if they were sent back to Pakistan, for the past year.

Addressing the General Assembly as retiring Moderator, Mrs Brown recalled that when she had visited Pakistan all the churches had had armed guards. She said: “Our government says Pakistan is a safe place for Christians. Really? Honestly?

“Our world is not ours. It is God’s. It is created for the whole of humanity together. God’s heart is big enough to hold everyone, and ours needs to be too.”

Mrs Brown also criticised the implementation of the Universal Credit benefits system, saying delayed payments ‘are hurting families’. She said that every Presbytery that she had visited during her year as Moderator was involved in running foodbanks, and many with feeding children during the school holidays – “Children who would otherwise not get a hot meal. This in 21st century Scotland.”

She said that her theme of ‘walking with’ reflected that walking was good for both physical and mental health, an ancient spiritual practice and good for the environment; and that her moderatorial year had brought reflections on all of those areas. She spoke about visiting prisons and being shocked by the number of inmates with mental health difficulties, and she also praised the men’s sheds movement combatting loneliness in older men: “We all need to find someone to talk to, because it’s then we discover that we are not alone, and others are feeling what we are feeling.”

She added that the Church needed to find ways of looking after and including people who have dementia.

Also during the opening ceremonies Mrs Brown’s successor as Moderator, the Rt Rev Colin Sinclair, said: “I had no idea, when Jesus said ‘follow me’ all those years ago, how exciting would be the adventure of faith.”

The Lord High Commissioner, the Duke of Buccleuch, said he was ‘deeply honoured’ to be asked to fulfil the role for a second year, and urged the General Assembly to ‘set an important example of how to find resolution at difficult times’.

The General Assembly agreed to a Legal Questions Committee proposal that will allow elders to be appointed to membership of Kirk Sessions for a fixed period, instead of for life, as is currently the case.

The Assembly Arrangements Committee is to bring proposals to next year’s Assembly which will look at reducing the number of commissioners to future Assemblies. Convener, the Rev Fiona Smith, said it wasn’t just about cost-cutting but about making the General Assembly fit for purpose for the future, and would go hand-in-hand with exploring different forms of decision-making such as participatory budgeting. She added that decisions taken later this week would be taken into account in the review.

Elaine Duncan, Chief Executive of the Scottish Bible Society, invited the Church to take part in Bible 2020, a new initiative in which the Bible will be read aloud at the same time each day in every time zone around the world, creating what she called a ‘Mexican wave of Bible reading’ around the world. Resources have been produced with the readings on smartphone apps and a website. She said that church members may wish to take part either at home or their office, or as part of their church community in the local shopping centre.


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