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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Transcript


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

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

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

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For the first time ever, the Archbishop of Canterbury

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We have welcomed an archbishop before as a guest speaker.

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

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and Church of England, they are working

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The retiring Moderator took part in Lambeth

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A report on what Justin Welby says next Sunday.

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Tonight, we will be reporting on yesterday's debates

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and previewing what is coming up this week.

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

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People spoke about having questions they needed to ask,

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doubts they needed to explore, but not finding an environment

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in the congregation where they could really do that.

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

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social welfare department, which is one of the biggest

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providers of social care in Scotland.

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It has grown tenfold and has been tremendous.

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We have seen huge differences in people.

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

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none more so than the refugee crisis, to which according

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

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

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They have been driven from their homes.

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

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

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project and through generous partnering by some councils has

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

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

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We were given exclusive access to an English-language class

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for Syrian new Scots families who arrived just

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It's organised by the Aberdeenshire Partner Refugee Group,

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of which Aberdeen Mosque and a couple of Church of Scotland

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

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

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I took the opportunity to get involved through the Aberdeenshire

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Refugee Partner Group to represent the Presbytery of Gordon.

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

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My congregation have since been involved in working to welcome

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Everything from preparing welcome packs and welcome cards

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

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

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As they were arriving early in the year and the temperatures

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were perhaps not what they were used to.

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It is a transition through language but also through culture.

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A very different experience from many of our other new Scots

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new Scots in the country, who have come from Eastern

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

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But the difference of coming from an Arabic speaking culture

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

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

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

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Yes, of course I do miss home so much.

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

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

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The families that have come to Aberdeenshire have come

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from settlements bordering around Syria.

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They have been resettled through the Syrian VPR process

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because they have a particular vulnerability.

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Families have been split up, with some of them

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

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

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And we came here with only one child.

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

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

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

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That vulnerability can include a number of things from medical

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

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

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

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

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

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Emirates and he is ill with a disease, haemophilia,

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and they feel like the regulation here does not allow them

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

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to see him or to Lebanon to meet him there.

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

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

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

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

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here because of my critical medical situation, because being elderly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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need our support to overcome the barriers associated

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

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is so precious, so we miss it so much.

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It is a full house at the General Assembly and it

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certainly does not seem like a church in decline,

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yet we continuously read press reports of falling

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

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

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the relaunch actually - the first edition sold out.

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

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After spending years abroad in mission he came home and noticed

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

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despite the fact that they lived locally.

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So he set about some serious research asking - why?

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

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for Easter Sunday morning as they had done for

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

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and equipping them for living as Christians in the rest

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

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for annually in their congregation, because they were involved

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

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not children of church families, just all of the children

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from the community, and yet the church had never,

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had never really got behind them in that.

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What we now know through the research we've been

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doing is many of those people, about two thirds,

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would say their faith is still really important to them.

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So yes they've drifted away from the congregation.

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They've not drifted away from the Christian faith.

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Dave Foster was an elder and regular Sunday attender,

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

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I think today the Church seems to have largely settled down

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

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focus inward on running quite a refined operation.

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

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

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

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

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

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in homes, breaking bread together, praying together.

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Colin Wilson runs a website, Christians Together,

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

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Colin has noticed what Steve says in his book -

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people who don't fit in as conventional couples can

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

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

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of women who either had no husband or had spouses

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If you can imagine you are a believing wife

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with an unbelieving husband, they may not want to leave

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

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

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

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Steve's report also tackles the feelings

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

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We all have doubts and questions at different times.

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People spoke about having questions they needed to ask,

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doubts they needed to explore, but not finding an environment

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in the congregation where they really could do that.

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

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from the church, so after they finally disengaged,

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stopped attending the local congregation, nobody had

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

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The church likes to do things by consensus,

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so it can take time, sometimes years,

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

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

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Last year the Kirk agreed to allow congregations to call ministers

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The Scottish Government last year introduced same-sex marriage.

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So the Church has happened to consider the question

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This has been discussed by presbyteries across the country.

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And their decision in favour, by a narrow majority,

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was brought to Assembly for final ratification.

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There is not a single positive reference to homosexual acts

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

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

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There are literally thousands of members and adherents who have

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left the Church of Scotland over this matter.

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Sometimes the members and adherents are virtually

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And it has been particularly damaging in the Highlands

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and Islands where I serve as a minister.

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And not just those congregations which have divided or whatever,

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

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the Free Church because they cannot understand why the General Assembly

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of the Church of Scotland would act contrary to

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It has damaged our ecumenical relationships.

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

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

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Assembly, because his Assembly decided that that was the only

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

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

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

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

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

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when it was the situation of one minister.

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And then it was those in civil partnerships.

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

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something next year to take the matter further.

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

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

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

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overview of those arguments this morning, but presbyteries have also

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

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

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assembly might this morning move to a vote quickly without rehearsing

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

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

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the old Testament teachings, including clear statements about

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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understanding of Christian marriage. It allows us to allow congregations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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emotional arguments that are being employed. Emotional guns are being

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:21:38.:21:42.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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that simple illustration shows you that already in the Christian

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communities there are different definitions of marriage. And in the

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

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Tomorrow the social care Council reports. It employs over 1000

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

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

:23:07.:23:14.

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

:23:15.:23:18.

with learning difficulties. A few decades ago people with learning

:23:19.:23:21.

disabilities would have been confined to an institution, but

:23:22.:23:24.

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

:23:25.:23:30.

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

:23:31.:23:37.

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

:23:38.:23:43.

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

:23:44.:23:47.

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

:23:48.:23:55.

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

:23:56.:24:00.

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

:24:01.:24:04.

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

:24:05.:24:09.

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

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

:24:14.:24:21.

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

:24:22.:24:27.

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

:24:28.:24:32.

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

:24:33.:24:41.

The care provided here is entirely focused on giving service users

:24:42.:24:47.

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

:24:48.:24:51.

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

:24:52.:24:55.

Giving people choice gives them confidence to be more independent.

:24:56.:25:01.

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

:25:02.:25:07.

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

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

:25:14.:25:18.

tremendous because we see huge differences in people. People are

:25:19.:25:24.

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

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

:25:30.:25:34.

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

:25:35.:25:38.

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

:25:39.:25:43.

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

:25:44.:25:47.

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

:25:48.:25:51.

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

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

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

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

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The care provided here is entirely focused on giving service users

:26:19.:26:21.

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

:26:22.:26:25.

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

:26:26.:26:29.

Giving people choice gives them confidence to be more independent.

:26:30.:26:34.

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

:26:35.:26:38.

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

:26:39.:26:46.

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

:26:47.:26:51.

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

:26:52.:26:55.

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

:26:56.:26:58.

people and the outcomes could achieve through the use of those

:26:59.:27:03.

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

:27:04.:27:09.

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

:27:10.:27:15.

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

:27:16.:27:28.

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

:27:29.:27:33.

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

:27:34.:27:37.

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

:27:38.:27:42.

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

:27:43.:27:47.

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

:27:48.:27:50.

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

:27:51.:27:56.

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

:27:57.:28:00.

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

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

:28:05.:28:08.

cooperatively and flexibly with local authorities to see if we can

:28:09.:28:12.

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

:28:13.:28:17.

authorities face funding issues and we believe as a voluntary

:28:18.:28:22.

organisation we have the flexibility and creativity and imagination to

:28:23.:28:25.

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

:28:26.:28:31.

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

:28:32.:28:38.

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

:28:39.:28:40.

harmony. The animals are in

:28:41.:28:42.

for the long haul, as the Highlands are on

:28:43.:28:44.

the cusp of winter. for a live debate tackling the

:28:45.:28:52.

EU Referendum issues You know, the last time there was

:28:53.:28:52.

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

:28:53.:28:55.

EU Referendum issues that will have the biggest effect

:28:56.:29:04.

on your future.

:29:05.:29:08.

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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