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Assembly Opens With Call for Missional Church

Friday October 2 2020

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has called on the Church to be outwardly-focussed as it faces the challenges of both Covid-19 and its own historic decline.

Speaking at the opening of this weekend’s virtual General Assembly, the Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair said that the church must be missional, both in its justice and peace work and in making new disciples of Jesus.

And he warned that if the church were to become overwhelmingly concerned with its own survival, it would fail.

Dr Fair said: “To be outwardly-focussed means, in our language, to be focussed on mission rather than maintenance.

“It’s understanding that the same Jesus who calls us to Him sends us out for Him. The Jesus who says, ‘Follow me’ goes on to say ‘Now go and make disciples… be fishers of people as I have shown you.’ And it also means refusing to become a self-preservation society.

“It’s understanding that if we succumb in any way to trying to save our life, we will surely lose it, and therefore missional is a commitment to giving our life away. That is the attitude of being more outwardly-focussed than ever. And it’s gospel through-and-through.

“But what does that look like in practice?

“Missional, outward-focus, is saying and doing, doing and saying - refusing to separate these two, knowing full well that the one demands the other, as the ‘heads’ of the coin can hardly exist without the ‘tails.’”

He said that the ‘doing’ included ‘sitting silently with the bereaved and the broken’, ‘taking climate justice seriously’, and ‘refusing to brush aside racial injustice’: “It’s all that we do because we care, because we’re moved, because we mean it when we pray ‘thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’

“So mission, being outwardly-focussed, is engaging, acting, working, doing. But it is also saying. Sharing, proclaiming, speaking a word in season, always being ready to give an explanation for the hope that is within us. It’s pioneering, finding new ways to express timeless truths. We must find our voice, friends, be ready to articulate the good news about Jesus.

“…we all know that organising, managing, restructuring are not - must not - be ends in themselves. The internal mechanics count for nothing if they don’t lead us to being more outwardly-focussed, more missional than ever.”

The General Assembly, which opened this evening (Friday) and will continue throughout tomorrow, replaces the full meeting which should have taken place in May but was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Moderator, officials and committee conveners met in the Assembly Hall in Edinburgh, with over 730 commissioners taking part remotely. It is being streamed on the Church’s website and Facebook page.

In her letter to the Assembly, the Queen praised the Church’s response to the pandemic, both in moving services online and in providing practical support. The letter states: “We greatly admire the ways in which the Church of Scotland has responded to these difficult days.

“Care has been offered to the bereaved whose grieving has been constricted by restrictions on funerals while churches have kept open their doors to feed  the poor and offer safe space to the children of key workers.

“Many congregations have taken their worship on-line and touched the lives of people who did not in normal times attend church services.

“The Kirk’s care workers have remained faithful in sustaining the services upon which so many older people and their families depend.”

In a first session which mostly dealt with ceremonial, technical and legal matters, youth delegate Tara Shannon expressed concern about whether the number of youth representatives would be maintained as the number of presbyteries is reduced in coming years. The convener of the Legal Questions Committee, the Rev Dr Grant Barclay, committed to keeping youth representation at the General Assembly at at least current levels, although responsibility for this will lie with the Faith Nurture Forum, which is responsible for the Church’s youth and children’s work at national level.

The convener of the Safeguarding committee, the Rev Adam Dillon, emphasised to the Assembly that the Church was responsible for making sure individuals working with partners abroad, and people recruited from abroad to work in Scotland, are subject to the same checks as other employees. He also urged churches to make sure that safeguarding forms are kept up-to-date: "They are essential to ensure that there is a check and balance in place to understand who in the Church is undertaking regulated work at any given time and that they have been trained appropriately for the role."

The General Assembly will continue at 9.15am tomorrow (Saturday). It will be streamed on the Church’s Facebook page and website, from where you can download assembly papers and speeches. There are also updates and discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #ga2020, and full reports on this website.

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