Episode 1 General Assembly

Episode 1

Sheena McDonald reports from Edinburgh on the first day of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

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Hello, it is May, we are on the Mound in Edinburgh.


It must be the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.


It is an historic Assembly this year and it all kicked off yesterday.


For the first time ever, the Archbishop of Canterbury


We have welcomed an archbishop before as a guest speaker.


Now with the new agreement in place between the Church of Scotland


and Church of England, they are working


The retiring Moderator took part in Lambeth


A report on what Justin Welby says next Sunday.


Tonight, we will be reporting on yesterday's debates


and previewing what is coming up this week.


A new report on the people who are no longer in church


People spoke about having questions they needed to ask,


doubts they needed to explore, but not finding an environment


in the congregation where they could really do that.


And a look at the work of one small part of Cross-reach, the Church's


social welfare department, which is one of the biggest


providers of social care in Scotland.


It has grown tenfold and has been tremendous.


We have seen huge differences in people.


From the outset of formal business, contemporary issues loomed large,


none more so than the refugee crisis, to which according


to the Council of Assembly report, the response from individuals and


Others have set out on journeys across Europe fuelled by despair.


They have been driven from their homes.


Sometimes even well-planned budgets take second place to human need.


Aware of the plight of millions, the Council established a refugee


project and through generous partnering by some councils has


sought to enable the Church to take a leading role amongst faith groups


in Scotland as our nation responds to this continent-wide challenge.


We were given exclusive access to an English-language class


for Syrian new Scots families who arrived just


It's organised by the Aberdeenshire Partner Refugee Group,


of which Aberdeen Mosque and a couple of Church of Scotland


Today we have a film crew here, so we will say welcome.


As a Christian, I have been very aware of the plight


I took the opportunity to get involved through the Aberdeenshire


Refugee Partner Group to represent the Presbytery of Gordon.


I cannot describe in words how delighted I was from people who came


My congregation have since been involved in working to welcome


Everything from preparing welcome packs and welcome cards


by our families, so that every family coming into their home felt


I like living in Scotland, but, I don't like the weather.


As they were arriving early in the year and the temperatures


were perhaps not what they were used to.


It is a transition through language but also through culture.


A very different experience from many of our other new Scots


new Scots in the country, who have come from Eastern


where they have had a connection with a northern European culture.


But the difference of coming from an Arabic speaking culture


to the north-east of Scotland is really quite dramatic.


We've also been raising funds to enable them as a group


to be able to go and see other parts of Scotland.


Yes, of course I do miss home so much.


I do miss my house, my street where I have grown up.


I miss everything there, even though I feel now this country


The families that have come to Aberdeenshire have come


from settlements bordering around Syria.


They have been resettled through the Syrian VPR process


because they have a particular vulnerability.


Families have been split up, with some of them


We do have from our immediate family three sons living in Lebanon,


one daughter is still in Aleppo, and another daughter in Turkey.


And we came here with only one child.


Because of the situation in Syria, plus I do have special needs son,


In Lebanon there was no care for him but on the other hand,


in Scotland, he is getting lots of care and attention.


That vulnerability can include a number of things from medical


Some of our families we have fought with terminal illnesses and others


have been victims of violence or even torture in some cases.


In the past, we were scared when we were in Syria.


During the war we were afraid of getting killed, bombed,


They are having a child, a son living in the United Arab


Emirates and he is ill with a disease, haemophilia,


and they feel like the regulation here does not allow them


Even for myself, I am not allowed to go to the United Arab Emirates


to see him or to Lebanon to meet him there.


Her daughter's son is ill, they miss each other so much


so she wonders if there is any way she can bring her daughter here.


The need for family is more acute when facing serious illness.


My ultimate hope, one of them at least, is to come


here because of my critical medical situation, because being elderly


here, I would like them all to be here, or if not all,


at least one of my sons to be here to help me.


How do they access our health systems, if somebody is ill at home


at two o'clock in the morning, how can they phone NHS 24


Some of the basic things we take for granted are incredibly difficult


They are very capable people, resilient people, but they just


need our support to overcome the barriers associated


Indeed, we did miss our beloved country and the soil of our country


is so precious, so we miss it so much.


It is a full house at the General Assembly and it


certainly does not seem like a church in decline,


yet we continuously read press reports of falling


So what happens to people who no longer go to church?


Tomorrow sees the launch of this book, the Invisible Church,


the relaunch actually - the first edition sold out.


It is the result of four years' work by Steve Aisthorpe.


After spending years abroad in mission he came home and noticed


that a lot of his friends were no longer in church,


despite the fact that they lived locally.


So he set about some serious research asking - why?


So yes, it was here, Easter 2007, our congregation gathered together


for Easter Sunday morning as they had done for


What happened on a Sunday morning did not seem to be inspiring


and equipping them for living as Christians in the rest


of the week, so one person spoke about how they were prayed


for annually in their congregation, because they were involved


But how they actually spent most of their week teaching children,


not children of church families, just all of the children


from the community, and yet the church had never,


had never really got behind them in that.


What we now know through the research we've been


doing is many of those people, about two thirds,


would say their faith is still really important to them.


So yes they've drifted away from the congregation.


They've not drifted away from the Christian faith.


Dave Foster was an elder and regular Sunday attender,


but working abroad in oil and gas showed him there were other ways


I think today the Church seems to have largely settled down


and a lot of the activities, although they are very good,


focus inward on running quite a refined operation.


Whereas in the Bible, there was a big outward thrust.


People read the Bible and look at the churches and say, these


I see in the Bible a revolutionary people who took the message


and truth about Jesus and his life right across the Roman Empire


within decades, and they were just ordinary people that largely met


in homes, breaking bread together, praying together.


Colin Wilson runs a website, Christians Together,


and is a founder member of a coffee shop that is a point of contact


Colin has noticed what Steve says in his book -


people who don't fit in as conventional couples can


We have hosted what we call house groups, house churches.


In fact, for several of these, the group members comprised mainly


of women who either had no husband or had spouses


If you can imagine you are a believing wife


with an unbelieving husband, they may not want to leave


They may want to stay at home at the weekend but then maybe meet


I sense the house group thing, it helped me to realise Christian


faith is seven days a week, and not just Sunday morning


Steve's report also tackles the feelings


What often starts that journey is to do with doubts and questions.


We all have doubts and questions at different times.


People spoke about having questions they needed to ask,


doubts they needed to explore, but not finding an environment


in the congregation where they really could do that.


About 90% of people, just over 90%, said nobody had followed them up


from the church, so after they finally disengaged,


stopped attending the local congregation, nobody had


I think that was a cause of disappointment for some people.


The church likes to do things by consensus,


so it can take time, sometimes years,


For instance, it seems to have been talking about same-sex


It is seven years since the question of ministers in same-sex


Last year the Kirk agreed to allow congregations to call ministers


The Scottish Government last year introduced same-sex marriage.


So the Church has happened to consider the question


This has been discussed by presbyteries across the country.


And their decision in favour, by a narrow majority,


was brought to Assembly for final ratification.


There is not a single positive reference to homosexual acts


in the entire Bible and the teaching is clear that human sexual


relationships are to be between one man and one woman in marriage.


There are literally thousands of members and adherents who have


left the Church of Scotland over this matter.


Sometimes the members and adherents are virtually


And it has been particularly damaging in the Highlands


and Islands where I serve as a minister.


And not just those congregations which have divided or whatever,


even in my own congregation, about 40 people have left to join


the Free Church because they cannot understand why the General Assembly


of the Church of Scotland would act contrary to


It has damaged our ecumenical relationships.


It is a matter of great sadness to me that for the first time,


the Moderator of the Presbyterians church in Ireland is not at this


Assembly, because his Assembly decided that that was the only


action to take in response to the decision of last year.


We are not changing the position of the church on who may be married


It seems to be the case that our position is we do not


recognise same-sex marriage, unless you happen to be a minister.


This has been a slippery slope in the church from 2009,


when it was the situation of one minister.


And then it was those in civil partnerships.


And we have already had indication that the theological forum may bring


something next year to take the matter further.


I would urge the Assembly to stop the matter here, before we travel


The General Assembly the church has debated not just this matter, but


this over Chur many times. Professor McGowan has helpfully given us an


overview of those arguments this morning, but presbyteries have also


spoken and given their views, and members have had chance to debate


this on many occasions. I would hope therefore, Moderator, that the


assembly might this morning move to a vote quickly without rehearsing


the same old arguments again. The Christian faith is based on Jesus


Christ. Jesus Christ, the incarnate son of God. Jesus Christ endorsed


the old Testament teachings, including clear statements about


homosexuality. I'm sure those have all been debated before so I don't


propose to take the assembly's time repeating them. What I do want to


say is this. Anyone who votes in favour of homosexuality is, in


effect, voting against Jesus Christ. A vote against Jesus Christ is


incompatible with the Christian faith. I believe a number of people


were mistaken in the way they voted at the previous assembly. Saint


Peter denied Jesus Christ. He was forgiven, because he recognised his


error. We have time to do the same. I believe that anyone who has


previously voted in favour of this should reconsider. There's an


opportunity today to at least make a statement in favour of the Bible's


teaching. My message to this assembly this morning is to vote for


Jesus Christ, and vote against this resolution. Thank you. May I remind


the assembly that this over Chur is yet a further step in that agreement


to disagree. It does not, at this point calling question our


understanding of Christian marriage. It allows us to allow congregations


where they are clearly minded to take a decision that they feel is


right. We allow people to descend from what is still the view of the


church. What we have been discussing, as a church, is whether


it is possible for us, even in some small degree, to expand our


understanding of who and under what circumstances we might ordain to the


Ministry of sacrament. We have come to a conclusion after long and hard


discussions that we disagree and agree to disagree and make room for


liberty of opinion to congregations that all of us do not accept. I


would hope that we would put an end to this stage of the debate. And I


hope we would tidy up what we fail to tidy up last year and pass this


over Chur which has been approved by a majority of presbyteries. I hope


we can move on to other subjects. People will walk out of their doors


and will be jumping with joy and others will be angry and frustrated.


I just ask that when we walk out of those doors, we work together. We


have to work together as a body in Christ and we have to get on. When


we come to the boat, before we actually vote, I would ask the


committee to dismiss from your mind what seems to be some serious


emotional arguments that are being employed. Emotional guns are being


held to the head in this vote. Reference has been made to members


and ministers and congregations that have left the church over this. Then


it has been mentioned after that we will lose more again if we go down a


certain route with regard to this boat. We have been spoken of as


possibly voting against Christ if we vote in favour of this motion. That


is no help to anybody. And it does no good in the eyes of the church to


the others around the world. It does no help to the men, sisters, women


and brothers who wrestle with issues regard to their sexuality. There is


no grace in that whatsoever and this is the first time I have ever spoken


at an assembly and I am profoundly disturbed that some of the language


that has been used and I would ask you to dismiss that and reflectively


exercise your vote when it comes to it. Number 143999. Number two


against. 215. The over Chur is carried. -- the over Chur. That


debate was not about people marrying the same sex, it was about


appointing ministers who have had a civil marriage according to the law


of the land. What the Church believes about marriage we will hear


a the assembly next year. Here is a taste of what is to come. What the


theological fora might do in the report it brings next year he show


the range of current discussions and analogies and the ways in which


marriage itself is being absorbed. I will give you an example. The


marriage between a person who has a living spouse and the marriage of a


person who has a living spouse to someone else is not actually


considered a marriage in the Roman Catholic Church. With us, it is.


Because we accept that there may be a valid marriage between two people


where one of them, or both, have spouses who are still alive. But


that simple illustration shows you that already in the Christian


communities there are different definitions of marriage. And in the


report which we will bring next year, we will explore some of these.


Tomorrow the social care Council reports. It employs over 1000


members of staff and is one of the largest providers of social care in


Scotland and faces a broad section of needs via Cross reach. This is


threshold in Glasgow which is a base day centre for caring for people


with learning difficulties. A few decades ago people with learning


disabilities would have been confined to an institution, but


since the last half of the 20th century, the policy has changed and


care is now in the community. Susan McGregor manages the care provided.


I always felt that I had a heart for some thing I wanted to do and I


wanted to do something for the church and I did not just want to be


a minister or anything like that, and I felt I was drawn to this type


of work. How are you? All right? I had never worked with people with


learning disabilities before, so my biggest fear was what if they don't


like me, maybe everything hinges on that I have to do things right for


them because it is their life and I just felt when I came into this kind


of work that it was the right thing to do. There are times when it's


really difficult. There are times when you face really difficult, hard


times with people. You lose people that you become attached to. And you


couldn't do this if it wasn't a vocation. It has to be a vocation.


The care provided here is entirely focused on giving service users


independence and choice. Rather than what happened in the past when the


service providers would have decided what was on offer. And it works.


Giving people choice gives them confidence to be more independent.


This service changes everyday. It started that we had a very small


service but since the introduction of the support, the groups and


community groups in the day service has grown tenfold. And it has been


tremendous because we see huge differences in people. People are


much more confident at using public services and more confident in who


they are as people that they have a in society. Which is really


important, because before they would have been in the background, but now


they have a voice and that has been one of the biggest changes is that


people have a voice and they feel they have a right to be here and


have something to say. Part of going out into the community and going


into the group is that there are people who lose their us passes and


then they go to football and different places, and that has been


really great, because for people who never used a bus pass, they have


gone home and showing people that they can do it, which is tremendous.


The care provided here is entirely focused on giving service users


independence and choice. Rather than what happened in the past when the


service providers would have decided what was on offer. And it works.


Giving people choice gives them confidence to be more independent.


We had to think about how we might support people with a smaller


budget, so we looked at being able to give people the basic needs and


social needs, and how we might do that so the social groups, the bus


trips and variety of ways of giving that. Although the hours were less


on the budget was less, the focus was more on what we provided to


people and the outcomes could achieve through the use of those


hours. The service users seem happy with the changes. I enjoy coming


here. You meet a lot of new faces. All the staff are brilliant. I have


done a lot of charity work and volunteering. I do the healthy


eating group. I am more independent now and I'm doing a lot more things


for myself now. But of course, the cuts have meant less money to pay


staff salaries. How has the team reacted? Because we are part of a


Christian group, it is fantastic and everybody apart from one or two


people losing their jobs, everybody dropped their hours pro rata so


nobody had to make the choice and it was such a humbling experience and


the tremendous team and I'm very fortunate to work with such a great


team. I'm extremely proud of the start but there are the limits to


how they can make sacrifices and what we want to do is work


cooperatively and flexibly with local authorities to see if we can


find joint solutions to the funding crisis. We are aware that local


authorities face funding issues and we believe as a voluntary


organisation we have the flexibility and creativity and imagination to


come up with solutions that will serve the people of Scotland who


need our services. Nothing is easy. So, we'll harmony if not unity


maintain over the weekend? Join us next week and find out -- we'll


harmony. The animals are in


for the long haul, as the Highlands are on


the cusp of winter. for a live debate tackling the


EU Referendum issues You know, the last time there was


a public vote on Europe, for a live debate tackling the


EU Referendum issues that will have the biggest effect


on your future.


Sheena McDonald reports from Edinburgh on the first day of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which included ratifying the decision in 2015 about ministers in same-sex marriage. The programme also looks forward to a report on new ways of expressing faith beyond conventional church services.

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