Episode 2 General Assembly

Episode 2

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

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There is a rash of word C-words at every meeting of the General


Assembly of Church of Scotland - this week, two stand out - "change"


and "challenge". Climate change dominated the week.


The way we manage our creation indicate how much disaster we will


experience. History was made when the Archbishop of Canterbury joined


the debate. Historically, we are united in witness to Christ as


Church is shaped by the Reformation. The 50th anniversary of women elders


was marked. The only reason they did not appoint any women elders was


that their dress was more important than the women elders. We found out


what an artist has been doing here. The World Mission Convenor reminded


Commissioners of the burning bush that was not consumed. What does


that symbolic image have to say about our attitude to creation


today, he asked? The commissioners from sister churches shared his


concern. The problem for this planet, which is our only physical


home, is that it is being consumed by us in all sorts of ways that are


quite unsustainable. Sometimes it seems like we are trashing our own


living room. Yes, there are practical issues, things that need


to be done, like changing the way we generate and use energy. But if the


only motivation to do any of these things is fear of the future, those


of us who are richer and better protected will always find ways of


avoiding the issue, or at least of protecting ourselves. And those who


are poorer and less protected will continue to suffer the most and


there will be no climate justice. 96% of our energy comes from our


hydropower and it will take at least three rainy seasons to fill those


dams if we will produce electricity to capacity, to meet the demands in


the mining sector, agriculture and other areas. God, I want to believe,


according to the account of Scripture, did not begin by creating


us in our human form, per se, but created the habitat first before the


inhabitants and, therefore, the way we manage our creation will, to a


great extent, indicate how much disaster we will experience. I would


like to share an observation made a number of years ago by an Inuit in


Canada's Arctic, and very active in her own part of Canada. She observed


- and she has written a book - because of the rise in temperatures


in the Arctic there are many, many changes that are having a direct


impact on the Inuit people in the Arctic. What's happening is because


of these changes, our right, she says, our right to be cold is being


taken away from us. The health of the youngest country in Africa


concerned many in the Hall. It is hard to describe how traumatised


they are and their people are and how the infrastructure of this, the


newest nation in the world, has completely fallen apart. And while


international leaders may meet around peace-making tables, what


they produce are perhaps cease-fires, they produce moments


when there's a little bit of calm but who is doing anything to rebuild


the community and the communities at grassroots? We hope that when we are


able to go there, some time later this year, that there will be an


opportunity to spend the Church's money well, to use its resources, to


help the frail and faltering peoples and the frail and faltering Church


at the moment. Everything is relying on the Churches in South Sudan to


provide education, to provide children's homes, to provide


hospitals, to provide medical aid, to provide everything. And that's


the situation there. It is absolutely horrendous and I would


commend every church to become involved in helping in any way


whatsoever. Thank you Church of Scotland for what you are doing.


Kirk Action prioritises the education of girls. Malawi has about


80% Christians, but gender violence is one of the issues that is very


high. In addressing it, any other institution cannot succeed if the


Church is left out. It is for this reason that Moderator I want to


thank the Church of Scotland and the UK Government for engaging the


Church in fighting against gender-based virus. I want to


congratulate the Church of Scotland for continuing to highlight issues


of gender violence. This has been a grave concern in north India, in


different parts of India, violence of women has been increasing and I,


on behalf of the Diocese of Calcutta, ask for your prayers and


your support so that we can further this kind of a campaign to stop


violence against women. Thank you. Violence towards women hasn't been


eradicated in Scotland, either. But in other ways, Scotland has been in


pole position. For instance, it is 50 years since it started ordaining


women as elders. And that was commemorated in an afternoon of


memories here at the Assembly. We have had a few changes and


challenges. Problems as a female elder, well perhaps one or two, if


I'm going to be honest, I well remember offering to speak to


persuade them to convert our tenure into full status. I suspect I looked


up at the right moment, or the wrong moment. I did it and whether it was


because of my speech or not we were successful. I was congratulated by a


number of my colleagues including one of my male fellow elders,


shaking his head. Well done, but I'm still surprised we couldn't get a


man to do that! I know that some people in the Church may be


uncomfortable with the idea of women elders. I can only speak for myself,


it feels right for me to serve in this way. I have weaknesses and


blind spots, don't we all? But I, like so many women, have some skills


that God has given me. I have opportunities to deploy those skills


in his Church and I believe he expects me to use them in his


service. I'm immensely grateful to that General Assembly of 1966 for


having the foresight, the courage and the faith to allow that route to


open up for me and for so many other women. I was a student minister, I


was the first woman they had ever had as a student in the pulpit. The


Kirk Session wore the striped trousers, the frock coats and the


white bow ties. And I went to the Kirk Session and this was a big


thing that I was allowed into their Kirk Session, all-male Kirk Session.


They were discussing having new members to the Kirk Session and they


had a big discussion about women elders. And the reason, the only


reason they did not appoint any women elders was that their dress of


the white bow ties and the striped trousers and the black frock coats


was more important than the women elders. So that Sunday, at that


communion, with my black gown - your sleeves go right through - I wore


the brightest red, blue and white-striped shirt that I could


find... As ever, a wide range of nations and


names were gathered here. This year, for the first time ever, they were


joined by an artist-in-residence. What is an artist doing here? The


theme for the week is 'People of the Way'. Jesus meets disciples and asks


them what is it that you are talking about as you are walking along the


way? The people here in the painting raises the question, what are these


people talking about as they are walking along? One of the most


interesting parts of the process for me is the interaction with folks


when I'm working so we wanted to give people at the Assembly an


experience of what it is like to have an artist-in-residence. Lots of


curiosity, lots of people wondering why we would be having an artist


working at the General Assembly. And some folks start to wonder how would


this work in my own Church context? I started as artist-in-residence in


Glasgow, folks come in for a coffee, for a scone, but then notice there


is an artist working in the corner. And I have worked on a Last Supper


piece. Lots of folks would come up and start a conversation and they


were curious about what was going on and they start asking me questions


about Jesus. The Church and Society Council's


report was wide-ranging. It also included reference to climate


change. It stimulated lively debate.


Moderator, there is no doubt that our overdependence on fossil fuel


has wreaked havoc on our planet home. We have a responsibility to


reduce our carbon footprint and forge a path free of fossil fuels.


We must untie ourselves from that dependence. The Council brings a


report. We call for consideration of how we need companies to move away


from fossil fuel dependence. There have been many warning calls from


sources as diverse as the Governor of the Bank of England and Pope


Francis saying that a move to renewable energy is a crucial part


of the mix. The Church can either be a signpost pointing the way or a


weather vane swaying with the status quo. My fear is, that man-made


global warming has been added to the Westminster confessional faith, as


part of the crux. I speak now as a professional scientist, who has been


involved in this stuff for over 40 years. Climate change depends on so


many variables. It would almost be better not to use computer models,


which can't handle clouds or water vapour, which are the key greenhouse


gases. Carbon dioxide is just a trace gas. The Pope would have us


believe that global warming is the cause of everything, but the fact


is, in all the years since Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth, that ridiculous


disaster movie, none of his predictions have come true and, in


fact, for the last two decades, there has been no global warming at


all. If you look at the figures, you will find that this is not rubbish.


Even supposing we were responsible for climate change, there is an


arrogance about thinking that we, as human beings, can change that and do


anything about it, when it is a far more complicated thing than about


how much carbon dioxide we are pumping into the atmosphere. There


are many things out there over which we have got no control whatsoever


and there is an arrogance there and we need to be aware of that. I


didn't want to speak. But I can't believe we are having this debate


now. This is long past debating, whether there is any climate change


or not. I would urge the General Assembly simply to support the


Council's work because how can we look the people who are suffering


the consequences of this wealthy society in the eye when they are


suffering for our comforts? I wish first of all to apologise for


making an outburst during a previous speech by Doctor Kamran, it is not


acceptable I understand for commissioners to do so, but I was


astonished by his claim of science on the comments that he had made. We


have seen in the last two years all global temperature record broken,


both of the last two years, 2016 is expected to break them again. It is


a scientific reality. And the rise in carbon dioxide in the past


century is measurable, significant and a major factor driving climate


change. Yesterday, we heard powerful stories from our partners across the


globe about the devastating effects of climate change and those who have


had leased to do with it are the ones hardest first hit and have the


least capacity to respond. With all due respect, 98%, over 98% of your


colleagues, Doctor Cameron, profoundly disagree with you and


believe firmly that this is something that humanity has caused


and we can do something about. In the end, the motion, or deliverance,


on climate justice, including disinvestment from fossil fuel firms


was comfortably carried. It was a different matter when the


recommendation to call from the removal of Scottish law for the


defence of justifiable assault in cases of corporal punishment of


children was debated. According to a report for the Scottish Commissioner


of young people and children, children first and Barnardos and the


NSPCC, there is convincing evidence that declines in physical punishment


are accelerated in countries that have prohibited issues and such laws


have important symbolic value. Legislation is the way society sets


frames for what is acceptable. The children lived with violence, how


can they learn to be peacemakers? If we as a society accept violence as a


justifiable way to respond, how can we build a more peaceful future?


When I a little girl living in a housing scheme in Motherwell, it was


a lovely summer day and my friends roundabout were going fishing for


minnows down at the River Clyde and I was asked to go with them and I


knew that my mother wouldn't let me go if I went in to ask her, because


she liked to know that we were playing in the street. But I also


knew that if I went, I would have to take my wee brother with me, because


he would go in and tell. So my friends Julie gave me a Julie jaw


for my brother, with a string tied around it, and down we went to the


River Clyde. And as all children do, you lose track of time, you don't


have a watch and I could not tell you how many hours we were away.


Well, we came back with our minnows and I turned the corner at the


bottom of our street and I saw my mother running down the street


towards me. So smiles and holding my wee brother's hand, I said, I have


such an adventure to tell you. The minnows and the toy went on my


backside was leathered up to the House. And it is a lesson I have


never, ever forgotten, it will be with me to my dying day, that you do


not go anywhere unless you tell your mother. It should not be a first


option, but it should be if ever, if ever, a last resort that hand is


raised towards a child, because children are mirrors, mirrors of


what we do, how we live, how we interact with one another. Trust me,


I know, I have a four-year-old two-year-old who played church at


home, I know what my minister's voice sounds like. I also know what


my angry voice sounds like. I have heard my four-year-old react towards


his sister in the same way I have reacted towards him and I have


cowered in shame and begged his forgiveness, because I know I have


not shown him the love that I have been called to show as a mother and


as a Christian and as a minister. I think taken to its logical


conclusion, deliverance is five, six and seven are going to see loving


parents standing in the dock charged with assault. Now I am not


advocating that we all go around slapping our children, but like the


majority of children in here, I am also of the generation that got a


scalp on the legs when I needed it and I have not turned into someone


who is beating up the children in my church are regular basis. Maybe I


should take out the word "Regular". I hear what you are saying, but what


this is asking you to do is fundamentally to give children the


same rights under the law as adults. There is absolutely no evidence in


other countries of any increase in the criminalisation of parents,


quite the opposite. What it has done has raised awareness and changed


behaviours in society. And I would strongly resist the idea that


violence is a discipline that helps children. I have a friend who called


me one time, this was years ago, and she was really, really upset with


herself and she said the penny had dropped and this is why. Her kids


were fighting and she yanked the older one and the younger one apart,


the old one had been hitting his brother, and she smacked him and


said "Don't hit." How is that teaching a non-violent, peacemaking,


Consul to TIFF -- Consul to give way of being? Voting for section five,


275, the voting against section five, 259. So no smacking was


supported by a narrow margin. One big challenge is money, and the


lack of it. For the first time, however, we see the Congregational


offerings are not increasing and remained in 2015 at about their 2014


level of 71 points ?6 million. This is unlikely to be exceptional. It


reinforces the need to manage our resources carefully. Our work can


only continue as God's people give and we can only spend what we


receive. And local authority grants for the Kirk's social care


programmes, some of the largest in the land, have been cut. So voting


to pay social workers the living wage is going to be a challenge. I


note with interest the council's continued commitment to delivering


the minimum wage and as a worker for cross ridge, I can wholeheartedly


say it was the hardest but most rewarding I have been in and I would


recommend the work of Crossreach to anyone who would listen. But the


failure to pay the minimum wage some four years after the General


Assembly instructed it is becoming embarrassing and hypocrisy at the


highest level of this church. As you have heard, there are some real


pressures in the church at the current time, in terms of a flat


Congregational income and cost pressures from the living wage. But


it is not just those two issues, there are broader issues, including


the significant amount of income that the church receives from local


Government and the Scottish Government to fund our social care


activities. It goes without saying that that income is under pressure


as well as local authorities and the Government wrestled with their


priorities. So the income side, there are some real tensions. On the


cost side, there is the living wage, the church wants to do that, but


there are other activities such as supporting our ministries, engaging


with society, so we are going to have do undertake a very careful


examination of our current position to balance, or try to balance, our


income and our expenditure. So in the short term, the church will


continue to use its reserves, as it has been doing, but in the medium


term, it will need to identify a clear set of priorities, increasing


resources into some areas and perhaps withdrawing them from other


areas. Call it a change, call it a cameo


appearance. What is sure is that the participation of the Archbishop of


Canterbury, Justin Welby, in the ecumenical relations debate,


following last year's so-called columbo agreement, which brought the


churches of Scotland and England closer together, was an historic


event. Politically, we are united in witness to Christ by R, national


context, including the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, the


recent elections and the imminent referendum on EU membership. Christ


who made us his holy nation calls us, whatever our views on Europe, to


live out that unity. Historically, we are united in witness to Christ


as churches shaped by the Reformation, with its 500th


anniversary next year. Including the inheritance of reform theology.


Jesus meters through the tumult of historic wars -- meets us. And holds


out nail in printed hands calling for love, for witness to the good


news, not to be perpetrators of the bad. Economic really --


economically, we are united by the growing inequality of our land, by


the suffering of the poor, including food insecurity. Jesus sits with the


poor as we stand before them. In judgment on our disunity. Globally,


we are united in witness to Christ as churches called to


reconciliation. Recognising our relationship has been marked by


conflict including violence and bloodshed in earlier centuries, but


now demonstrating what it means to live well with difference in unity


in the context of religiously motivated violence in many parts of


the world. Jesus calls from the camps and the roads, from the


violated women and orphaned children, the traumatised soldiers.


Will we show good disagreement? The Assembly ratified the columbo


agreement, as an English Synod has done. Given the Archbishop's pension


of disagreement, what is the significance? The most significant


part is recognising each other as churches. That is a huge step and


once you have recognised each other as the church, there is a massive


impulse to develop that into a deeper and deeper relationship, both


in the United Kingdom and internationally. And as the


Moderator, the Right Reverend Doctor Russell Barr, agreed. It has been


historic. It is one of the quirks of our history which has its roots in


quite violent times in the 17th century in Britain and Ireland, that


our churches have never actually formally recognised each other. Yes,


why now? Because we realised that North and south of the border, we


share many similar challenges and many similar opportunities. Why now?


It is really a fundamental Christian principle and rather just look at


the things that separate us, we would decide to look at the things


we share an CV can share them better, the things we already doing


and see if we can do them better. Christian people are not allowed to


walk past on the other side of human need. North and south of the border,


there are tens of thousands of people who are homeless, hundreds of


thousands of people who are using food banks, and we could do


something to change that. Why now? Because North and south of the


border, we want to tell people about the hopes and promises of the


Christian faith. That is why and that is why now. So at the end of


the week, for People of the Way, walk on with their core faith and


principles strengthened by what happened here. Some things don't


change. Goodbye. We haven't really wakened up to the


implications of Brexit for Scotland. both in Scotland and abroad


to find out. We've built our business models


around EU membership, Brussels seemed to have more


and more control. It was like a noose round our neck


all the time. Once upon a time, there was


a great and glorious king. But they would


all see him destroyed.


Sheena McDonald reports from Edinburgh on the final day of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, including the work of Crossreach, one of the country's largest providers of social care.

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