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Home  >  News  >  'We Are In This Together', Assembly Told

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'We Are In This Together', Assembly Told

Saturday May 22 2021

- Assembly passes £11m deficit budget
- Prince William recalls joy and sadness in Scotland
- Presbytery mergers agreed


The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland opened today (Saturday) with the Convener of the Assembly Trustees urging the Church to keep up its present pace of reform.

The Very Rev Dr John Chalmers issued the warning as the Assembly passed a budget with a deficit of £11m, and approved a new scheme to replace the system of Mission and Ministries allocations.

Dr Chalmers said that progress had been made, including reducing the costs of central administration by 30 per cent, but that it would be for nothing unless the work of reforming presbyteries and ‘radical reshaping of local church’ is completed.

“We are in this together as a Church,” he said. “There is no ‘us and them’. All of us are members of a local congregations which will experience both the pain and exhilaration of the changes that are ahead of us.”

The Assembly agreed to the establishment of a new Pioneer Mission Fund to support local church growth, with a particular emphasis on church planting and the establishment of new worshipping communities. Proposed by the Rev Christopher Rowe, this is intended to partly fill the gap created by the suspension of the Growth Fund following the pandemic. While Mr Rowe suggested the fund would be supported by ‘individuals, businesses and outside bodies’, Dr Chalmers announced that the Church was likely to be able to use some money from unrestricted legacies as ‘seed’ funding.

The Assembly Trustees’ proposal for a National Giving Day during harvest season this year was supported, although some commissioners were concerned that it might clash with local harvest appeals, or that it might not coincide with harvest locally. Dr Chalmers said that it had never been the intention to fix a specific date: “Whatever Sunday or week congregations choose to do this, let it be up to them.”

The Trustees’ deliverance that Presbyteries should be encouraged to use their discretionary funds to help struggling churches meet their mission and ministry contributions was resisted by some Commissioners, who argued that the central church should not be seeking to influence decisions on that money, and that it could mean money being taken away from other projects. However, Dr Chalmers said: “If you don’t have some urgent and imaginative ongoing project that needs to be supported, remember that your national church and congregations across the church needs to be supported as well.” The section passed by 304 votes to 142.

There was also some disquiet expressed over the proposal to delay a decision on the future of the Church’s administrative offices in Edinburgh for another two years, although Dr Chalmers committed that no more than £100,000 would be spent on maintaining the George Street buildings before the end of 2022. He said that nothing pained him more than the lack of progress on this issue.

Earlier, the General Assembly agreed to three presbytery mergers, merging Edinburgh with West Lothian, Hamilton with Lanark, and bringing together six presbyteries in south west Scotland. It rejected an Overture from the Presbytery of Lewis which would have put a year’s pause on the process of Presbytery reform.

The Legal Questions Committee is to bring legislation to a future General Assembly to allow all or part of the Assembly to be carried out online even when meeting in person is permitted. This was amended from the Business Committee’s proposal that Legal Questions ‘explore the feasibility’ of such legislation.

Due to Covid-19, this year’s General Assembly is taking place as a ‘blended’ event, with the Moderator, conveners and officials in the hall in Edinburgh while Commissioners join by video link.

During the opening ceremonies, the newly-appointed Moderator of the General Assembly, Baron Wallace of Tankerness, said: ‘I stand before you humbled and honoured and with feelings of excitement and trepidation’ as he took up the role. He added: “I am conscious of the trust you have placed in me as an elder of the Kirk to hold this office. I pray that I will be worthy of your trust.

“As we meet in General Assembly I believe we should have confidence in God’s loving power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit to look forward in faith”

The outgoing Moderator, the Very Rev Dr Martin Fair, spoke powerfully about there being ‘work for [the church] to do’ while there were still issues such as poverty, sectarianism, refugees, mental health problems, nuclear weapons and violence in the Holy Land, but warned that ‘there will be hardly any church left to do all of that’ if it doesn’t make the necessary reforms and reverse its decline in numbers.

In her letter to the Assembly, the Queen praised the Church’s engagement with other denominations and faiths, and with government. “These bonds have been forged in a time of emergency but will stand the country in good stead” as it recovers from Covid-19, she said.

And her grandson, Prince William, Earl of Strathearn, serving as Lord High Commissioner, said that Scotland held a very special place in his heart. He said it was the source of happy memories including family holidays, training as a pilot in Inverness, studying and meeting his wife Catherine in St Andrews; but also his saddest, as he was staying at Balmoral in 1997 when he was informed that his mother had died. “Still in shock, I found sanctuary at the service in Crathie Kirk that morning, and in the dark days of grief that followed I found comfort and solace in the Scottish outdoors. As a result, the connection I feel to Scotland will always run deep.”

He said that he was grateful for the opportunity to ‘really listen, with humility and compassion, to many people in Scotland’, and praised the Church for embracing change during the pandemic: “I imagine some of us will have been reminded afresh that the true power of the Church, and perhaps its future, lies not simply in the Kirk buildings we all love, but in the values of peace, healing and ‘love for thy neighbour’ that are very much alive in our parishes and communities.”


General Assembly 2021: Full Coverage

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