General Assembly 2023 Supplement

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Church Urged to Deepen Ecumenical Relationships

Saturday May 20 2023

The Rt Rev Sally Foster-Fulton is appointed Moderator of the General Assembly by the Very Rev Dr Iain Greenshields. Picture: Andy O'Brien/Church of Scotland

The Church of Scotland has been urged to build on its relationships with other denominations, as its 2023 General Assembly convened this morning.

At the start of a gathering that will consider the institution’s deepening challenges in financial and human resources, and with the Ecumenical Relations Committee due to report this afternoon, the Church was praised for its ecumenical work both at home and abroad.

In his first letter to a General Assembly, King Charles said he had been ‘especially heartened’ to hear of the ecumenical pilgrimage of peace to South Sudan, undertaken by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope in February. He added: “Messages of justice, peace and reconciliation made all the more powerful by their visible presence which signified both the unity and the diversity of the church.”

The King also said that he had been ‘greatly encouraged’ by the signing of the Saint Margaret Declaration of friendship between the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church in Scotland.

King Charles’ representative at the assembly, the Lord High Commissioner, Lord Hodge, also urged the church to continue its ecumenical work, saying that by working together, in a time of people  being willing to promulgate fake news, the Christian denominations could ensure ‘that the Christian voice is heard in the market of ideas in Scotland and more widely’.

The new Moderator of the General Assembly, the Rt Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, echoed his call, saying that by working together with other churches ‘we amplify our voice calling for love, justice and equity, we embody values Christ called us to’.

At the presentation of ecumenical and overseas visitors, the Assembly was addressed by the Rev Fiona Bennett, Moderator Designate of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church. Minister of Augustine United Church in Edinburgh City Centre, which works in ecumenical partnership with neighbouring Church of Scotland and Scottish Episcopal Church congregations, she said that her own denomination was facing similar organisational challenges to the Kirk, and developing similar approaches to address them.

Recalling the Lund Principle, that states churches should work together at all times except where there are deep differences of conviction, she asked: “How much of the activity of our churches which we are running in parallel is really rooted in deep difference?”

She particularly praised the Church of Scotland’s mediation charity, Place for Hope, and said “I wonder what other treasures we could be sharing?”

Representing overseas delegates, the Rev Lydia Neshangwe of the Uniting Presbyterian Church of South Africa (Presbytery of Zimbabwe) said: “We come because the love of Christ compels us. We want to accompany you to try to discern what God would have you do and what God would have us do.”


Earlier, Mrs Foster-Fulton said she was ‘beyond humbled, inexpressibly honoured and more than just a wee bit excited’ to be appointed Moderator. She said that it was an ‘extraordinary time’ for the planet, the country and the Church; but that throughout history the country and the church have experienced challenges and have surmounted them due to ‘the great determination and imagination of individuals and communities who have risen together to these challenges’.

She added: “The body of Christ has work to do, love to share, justice and equity to seek. When I look at you wonderful people I see an audacious hope, so General Assembly, Right Reverend, let’s roll up our sleeves and bring it.”

Her predecessor, the Very Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, said in his final sermon as Moderator that he feared that the Church was ‘drifting with no clear sense of where we are going what God wants for us’.

However, he struck a more upbeat note in his speech as retiring Moderator, in which he said that he had visited 140 churches and projects. “I have visited many, many churches that are on the edge, living in communities that socially are on the edge, yet what I have seen again and again is a Church making a difference. Food projects, warm spaces, working with other supportive and innovative Christian agencies. Mental health projects, addiction recovery services, family support services. Where would many of our communities be without the support of our church?”

He said that the Church was still valued ‘in Holyrood, Westminster and at the top of our Armed Forces… for the fact that we speak the mind of Christ and are unapologetic for doing that’.

While acknowledging the pain of the mission planning process, he urged all congregations to ‘take a long, careful look at who we are’.

He added: “Out of lament and grief comes new life and new identity.

“Am I pessimistic? No. Never. This year has convinced me otherwise. But there is work to be done within the spirit of God. Turn that finger that points outwards at other people, turn it inwards to look at yourself, and upwards to look at God.”

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