The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland began this morning and a couple of things have jumped out at me already.
The first is the presence of ‘The Queen’. She’s not there in person this year but when she can’t make it she sends someone in her place, a Lord High Commissioner. The Queen or Lord High Commissioner sit outside the Assembly, technically. They sit on a throne in the gallery behind the moderator.
The State being outside the Assembly is important. The General Assembly is separate from the state and yet this morning found itself discussing whether or not business could be done at Assembly on Saturday afternoon because it clashed with the Garden Party at the palace.
Now, I’ve been to the Garden Party, so I speak from experience… (I have an invite for this Saturday but I’m not going) when I say that the cosy relationship between the church and state seems to be one the Church of Scotland should be wary of. The Church of Scotland has for almost all of its history believed its own press that when Scotland had no parliament that the General Assembly was the next best thing. Well it wasn’t and isn’t. There must be a role for the church in holding the state to account. I sometimes wonder if the cosy relationship helps or hinders that.
The second thing to note from a procedural debate this morning is that it seems to be an Assembly with some sense of what is being asked to do this week and the importance of the decisions it will make.
There was much discussion about the order of the Overture from Lochcarron and Skye and the case being brough against the Presbytery of Aberdeen for upholding the call of Scott Rennie, an openly gay minister to Queen’s Cross Church. Common sense won I think and the case will be heard first.
It seems nonsensical to legislate in hindsight and then hold people to that new rule for something that happened before its introduction. I’m glad the case will be discussed in full rather than being potentially curtailed by a previous decision.