The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland began on Saturday May 17 and lasts til Friday 23 May and for the seven days in May commissioners from around Scotland and the world assemble atop the mound in the Well known Assembly Hall the first home of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. The issues facing the Kirk as it is fondly known are many and as recent major restructures of the august body the highest court of the Church have meant some adjustments not least in the time spent in debates. The event at one time took two weeks to work through the agenda, however this is not reduced to one week and the formal opening is always well worth seeing if you are a tourist in Edinburgh. The processions first of the Lord Provosts
and then the military escourt to the Lord High Commissioner and his entourage and the colourful Herald court accompanying the Lord High Commissioner who this year was Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex accompanied by his wife the countess of Wessex. In his opening speech he touched on key issues such as the up coming referendum about independence of Scotland. He congratulated the Kirk on the work it did to help those most in need and also took a swipe at politicians underlining that they often are not as diplomatic as they might be..
The agenda on the first day was a full one and debates and decision were discussed til around five in the early evening. The key debate was about the shape of the Ministry in a constantly changing country and culture. Secularism is clearly much stronger and with many more religions and humanist groups the Kirk was under much greater pressure. The types of ministers is expected to change with many more part time and non stipendiary ministers being involved as well as seeking to somehow trim the high cost of training for the ministry and to limit the debt incurred by students who take on this vocation. The use of modern technology too was suggested could take more share of outreach in the Kirk. It was even suggested by Rev. Ken Ross, Argyll Presbytery, that the General Assembly might be held only every second year! The idea was to release the funds that this annual meeting costs for other uses in the Presbyteries.
On Sunday afternoon after the formal Service in St. Giles Princes street gardens became the focus for the commissioners and indeed for church members from all around Scotland who came to attend the event called Heart and Soul. At this event there are many displays and exhibitions showing what the Kirk gets up to in parishes around Scotland. There was a range of music including Jazz and A Pipe band. The afternoon culminated with a large open air Service in the Ross Bandstand. The weather was kind to the event an it went well and was well attended. the tourists on Princes street may have wondered what was going on and were welcome to join in.
The Monday session got underway with the Communion Service always a moving occassion and sets the tone often of the remainder of the week. The Kirk has always been a broad church and even when there is deep division it tends to remain on the whole together. The Type of ministry the Kirk will have may well shock the founder of the National Church, John Knox back in the sixteenth century. Not least that it would allow for gay clergy!