Episode 1 General Assembly


Episode 1

Sheena McDonald reports from Edinburgh on the first day of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. The programme explains the different viewpoints on same-sex marriage.


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Transcript


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Welcome to Edinburgh, where the Church of Scotland is

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holding its Annual General Assembly, bringing together representatives,

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commissioners, from right across the country and,

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indeed, around the world to debate and vote on issues of the day.

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The Assembly has been meeting here for almost 90 years.

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Today, despite appearances, the Church of Scotland is very

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much open for business.

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Since this is the national church for Scotland,

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the British sovereign is always represented.

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This year, Her Majesty's High Commissioner is Princess Anne.

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I have been reminded by obviously a very good brief,

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and somebody who's been digging around in the archives,

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that my very first visit to the General Assembly

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of the Church of Scotland was probably long before most of you...

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LAUGHTER.

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..were here.

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I was only 18 and I accompanied Her Majesty and the Duke

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of Edinburgh in 1969.

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So I feel I have some perspective.

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Longevity, if nothing else.

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But I also understand in that time that there has been a huge

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increase in expectation, an expectation of the role

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of the Church in the community, of what you do, but I also feel that

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expectations should not exceed the ability to provide.

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Care and commitment to care, more than bricks and mortar or online

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computer programmes and apps.

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That is what you provide, that personal knowledge,

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understanding and commitment of your time.

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And there needs to be space for that.

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And the importance of the General Assembly, above all,

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it's been reasoned debate.

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And that reasoned debate is in quite short supply at the moment,

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and more and more will look to you to continue

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to do exactly that.

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Your Grace has a wonderful record of public service and,

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if I may say so, particularly here in Scotland, where your

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presence and support in a slightly larger stadium to the west

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of this building...

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LAUGHTER.

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Brings much hope to our country.

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LAUGHTER.

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The retiring moderator, Russell Barr, spoke

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about what he had learned during his year in office.

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Standing here today, I could not be more proud to be

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a minister, to be a member, to belong to the Church of Scotland.

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One council Chief Executive thanked me for the support local

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congregations in his area had given to the refugees from Syria.

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Your churches - as though they were mine -

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your churches are remarkable, he told me.

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"If there is a problem, it takes me 20 e-mails,

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"30 telephone calls and 20 weeks to resolve it.

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"When I contact one of your ministers, the latest it was fixed

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"was six o'clock that evening."

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And although, for obvious reasons, there was no publicity around it

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when we met with Syrian families, families who had come to Scotland

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from Lebanese refugee camps, they spoke with amazement

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on the ways in which they had been welcomed.

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"You Christian people have not just opened your country",

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one man told me, "You have opened your homes.

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"You've opened your hearts.

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"How can we ever thank you?

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He then turned to his theme of the year, homelessness.

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As of September last, 5,751 preschool and school-age

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children were registered in our country as homeless -

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an increase of 17% from the previous year.

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You will not see these children sleeping rough,

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although we all see the numbers of people sleeping rough on our

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streets is steadily increasing, these children and their families

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are in temporary accommodation, and the length of time

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they are spending in temporary accommodation increases

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year-on-year.

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24 weeks in 2016, 23 weeks and 18 weeks in the previous two years.

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5,751 preschool and school-age children, and at what cost?

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At what cost to their education?

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At what cost to their health?

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At what cost to their sense of well-being?

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At what cost to our nation?

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The Church of Scotland has been with us since the 16th century and,

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from the Reformation on, reform itself has been

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a constant theme.

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The 21st century is continuing that tradition.

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Sometimes it seems as though the only thing we ever report

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on from the General Assembly is same-sex relationships.

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First of all, it was the specifics - the rights and wrongs

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of Aberdeen Presbytery inducting a minister in a same-sex

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relationship.

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Then it moved to the general - how should the Church deal

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with ministers in civil partnerships and accommodate those who felt

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that this was fundamentally wrong?

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And then, just as they'd resolved that, the Scottish Government

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introduced same-sex marriage.

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How should the Church deal with ministers

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in a same-sex marriage?

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And then, the big one - what should the Church do

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about marrying people in a same-sex relationship?

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The Theological Forum, a small team of expert theologians,

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has been looking into the question of what marriage is,

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and the debate about its report on Thursday will once again

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hit the headlines.

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It's been being chaired by a former moderator,

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Professor Iain Torrance.

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We caught up with him in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery,

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looking at a painting of the marriage

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of the old pretender.

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What you'll see is that it is very much the bishop marrying them.

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And that's different from the Protestant tradition.

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In the Protestant tradition, the couple marry each other

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by dint of their exchange of vows, willingly given.

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Marriage as a human relationship has changed constantly over the years,

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and what matters is the support which each partner brings

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to the other and receives in return, the faithfulness between them,

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and how they can make an impact on the society through that love

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which they have for each other, and that love then reaches out

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and they can then bestow that love, that energy

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on the people around them.

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Professor Torrance argues that marriage has been based

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on an Old Testament idea, that our role in life

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is to bring about God's kingdom by having children.

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When one reads the accounts in Genesis, you have an account

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of Adam created in the image of God and being in the image of God

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was to procreate, procreate.

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And, in that sense, that stage of our Christian journey,

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you propagated the kingdom of God by having children.

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The promise that your descendants will be as many

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as the sands of the seashore.

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That is the promise of how the kingdom comes in.

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But today, he argues, there's more to marriage

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than just having children.

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In the New Testament, we see that our main purpose

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is to bring in God's kingdom by the strength of our

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human relationships, which are based on having

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a relationship with Christ.

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As we think about it now, and we think of who Jesus is,

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Christians now increase through being joined to Jesus,

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not through having children and increasing the kingdom

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in that way.

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And so what we are seeing actually, what this report suggests,

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is that there is a shift.

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It shouldn't be seen as an argument between homosexual and heterosexual

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but as being procreative and non-procreative,

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that there is nothing wrong with a non-procreative union.

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But not all former moderators agree.

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One previous Free Church moderator is Dundee-based David Robertson.

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I think the most disturbing part of the report is where it

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seems to imply that, in the New Testament,

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there is a difference to the Old Testament,

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the Old Testament on procreation and marriage, and in

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the New Testament that's not the case.

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One, that's a completely novel interpretation which has never been

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known up until today, so I suspect it's not right.

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And the other is, it doesn't make any sense.

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What it does is it takes the Church of Scotland away

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from the Bible and also away from the Catholic Church,

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the Orthodox Church, the vast majority of the Protestant

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Church throughout the ages.

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I think it's at best disingenuous and it will end up

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being incredibly harmful.

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We have had this argument now for 25, 30 years,

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and this argument is not confined to the Church of Scotland.

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It's in all of the major churches, different forms of this argument.

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Now, we recognise that these are deeply rooted ways,

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different ways in reading scripture, and that goes back to the time

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of the Reformation.

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And those patterns of reading scripture are not going

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to vanish overnight.

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They will continue.

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And we have come to the view now that, rather than try to look

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for a knockout blow on either side, a single victory for one side

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or the other in this long argument, we actually have to find a way

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in which we have space for both sides, and we can respect both sides

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and allow each side to develop in a non-adversarial way.

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Over the past ten years, we keep hearing this

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stuff about a middle way.

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Well, I'm a bit mischievous sometimes, because I think

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of the proverb, man who walks in middle of road gets hit by bus.

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I'm not sure if that is a proverb, but it'll do.

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I think the problem is that there isn't a middle way.

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The middle way doesn't exist.

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If the Church of Scotland chooses to go for same-sex marriage,

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they can't then say there is a middle way whereby we don't go

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for same-sex marriage, so there is no middle way.

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And that's the problem.

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Try as it might, the Church of Scotland has not yet managed

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to find a way to reconcile strongly-held conflicting opinions.

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The conservatives accuse the liberals are shifting

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their views to suit the spirit of the age.

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Have people shifted their views and, if so, why?

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Sarah Lane Ritchie is a student at Edinburgh University, studying

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for a PHD in science and religion.

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She's a member of the Theological Forum, which produced the report.

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I actually come from a very conservative background in Michigan

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in the United States.

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I grew up in what I would call a fundamentalist church,

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and in that congregation, and basically within my whole social

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group there were no options for examining or understanding gay

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marriage outside of what was portrayed as being the biblical

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deal, which is one man, one woman, married for life.

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In my university days, I pursued philosophy, religion,

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theology and also biology and psychology, and I started

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learning a lot more about understanding and interpreting

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the Scripture, understanding and interpreting tradition

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and the role that tradition plays in the way that we understand

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marriage, learning about what marriage has meant throughout

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the ages, and I started gradually coming to a much more expansive

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position of what marriage could be.

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I was also very, very close with some gay and lesbian couples

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here, and they were actually in full-time ministry,

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and for me it was very impactful to see the way that their marriages

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and their lives in ministry unfolded, and that they experienced

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all the same ups and downs that any marriage would experience.

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In the Bible, we find relationships between people of the same sex

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celebrated as great friendships, as almost covenants or partnerships

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in some ways, but not with any indication that sex is involved and,

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in our sex-obsessed society, we are saying that we can't

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have deep, meaningful, admitted friendships

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and partnerships without sex.

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I would be really sorry if the Church wasn't able to say

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that there are ways of celebrating partnership, friendship,

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commitment without it having to be a sexual relationship.

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The way that I've always thought to teach and preach on the Bible

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is to take it into its context and then, from its context,

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into our own context today, to discover what it is that God

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said, then why it was said then, in the context of the peoples

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to whom it was said and in the context of the whole

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of the word of God and how that then applies to us today.

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But there's a lot in the report I have a concern about.

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I'm concerned about the way that conservatives are portrayed

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in a very simplistic manner -

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as if we just kind of open the book, see what it reads and that's it.

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With all due respect, I would say that that's not the case.

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I understand that sentiment because the report is moving

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in a more progressive direction, but if you look over the reports

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that have come out of various committees in the Church of Scotland

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over the past decades, really, you'll see that the various

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conservative positions have been examined in detail,

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different components of them, mostly focused on issues

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of biblical interpretation.

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And the first bit of our report actually does outline the different

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ways that the Bible has been interpreted on the

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issue of marriage.

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And the goal of this report is to shift the conversation

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into a slightly different direction, and to get beyond the old

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terms of the debate.

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Meanwhile, there's a feeling in the Church that far too much time

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and energy is being spent on discussing same-sex relationships

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and what's really needed is some thinking about how the Church should

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reform itself to plan for the future.

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I think there is an urgent need for reform at various levels

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within the Church of Scotland.

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These are very challenging times, and we have an ageing

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and a declining church.

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That's not news to anyone.

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But there are some particular triggers for reform at the moment,

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which include a very worrying decline in the number

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of ministers coming forward, and we are going to need to work out

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ways to respond to that and to cope with that.

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This is Grantown-on-Spey.

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It's in the Presbytery of Abernethy, which runs all the way down the A9

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to Aviemore and Newtonmore and up the hill over there to Tomintoul.

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There are 11 parishes here, grouped into six charges,

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and there's just four ministers.

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Two years ago, Gordon Strang came with his family to be

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a minister in Grantown.

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He's got three churches to look after and he is also managing

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the vacancy in Tomintoul.

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We have this enormous area to cover with not that many people,

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but we are aware that the problem of ministers and the number

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of people that we can have in these roles is going to decrease,

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but at the same time we want to keep lots of individual

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village churches open, because we are aware that each

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of these buildings are important for the places that they serve.

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They may be the last public buildings left,

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so they have an important place.

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But how do we do that at the same time with a sense

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that we want to reach out to the people of the area,

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we want to grow and tell a story to folks that haven't

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heard it before?

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In the parish of Cromdale, the pub, the school and the post

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office have all gone.

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But an active group of Christian Aid supporters, faced with the challenge

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of not enough people to do the annual door-to-door collection,

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came up with a new way of using the church.

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We had the envelopes we'd been doing for years to collect

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the Christian Aid all around the area in the parish,

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but we have a very rural, dispersed parish and it was becoming

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harder and harder to go and do the door-to-door,

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so the idea came first of all to do afternoon teas but then to take it

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on and do lunches as well and open the place up.

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And now we get lots of folk coming in from the wider area,

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folks coming past on holiday, people walking past the front door

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on the Speyside Way, so we have a whole range of folk

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that come in and we are able now to tell Christian Aid's story

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to a much bigger group of people than we might ever have

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done before and raise lots of money in the process.

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There's this space here that nobody sits in.

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Having the place used again is going to be better,

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because we can't afford to have this great big building not being used.

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Back in Grantown, Gordon and his elders are contemplating what to do

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with a much bigger building.

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It's 130 years old and it seats 450 people.

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It costs ?7,000 a year to heat, just for Sundays and funerals.

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We have this building that we've inherited from the past

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that is a wonderful witness to the town.

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It's been a place of worship for 130 years.

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But our vision is that we open it up and make it alive and active

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and vibrant once more.

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We can't afford to have a building like that for just an hour a week,

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effectively, so we hope that we can use some of the best

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of it, the acoustics, a great concert venue,

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one of the biggest venues for that sort of thing in the Strath and,

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at the same time, open it up so that we can use it for so much

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more and have a place that people really feel that they can belong

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and come to and something that's alive every day of the week.

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If we keep doing what we've always done, which is create bigger

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and bigger units for a single minister to minister to, eventually,

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we will probably be only looking at perhaps two ministers

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for the whole of this presbytery.

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If the rate in decline of ministry, full-time ordained ministry,

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if that continues, then there won't be enough of us.

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But that's a very negative way of looking at it.

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The advantage of team ministry is that you can pool different

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skills together so that, rather than having one

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person who is meant to be an expert in everything,

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you can have different skills available, people who are gifted

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in youth and family ministry, others that have a pastoral heart,

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others where preaching is their main thing,

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so different skills and they can come together and we can serve

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this sort of an area, I hope, in a better way, a way

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that we can reach out and do more, rather than forcing people in single

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minister charges that get forever bigger and are

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unworkable eventually.

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Well, there is a present shortage of ministers

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and a fairly small congregation.

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It's not always easy to find a minister at all.

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We have one or two lengthy vacancies, although not nearly

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as lengthy as some further north.

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Caithness, for example, has some lasting for several years.

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But it's not easy.

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And we are trying to grapple with this with the new presbytery

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plan, which reduces the expected number of ministers and tries

0:21:420:21:47

to involve far more people.

0:21:470:21:49

But what about the top end of the Church's administration,

0:21:510:21:53

or the committees taking people from all over for

0:21:530:21:55

meetings in Edinburgh?

0:21:550:21:58

And then there is the Assembly itself.

0:21:580:22:01

Do you think we are overwedded to the democracy that we have

0:22:010:22:05

in Presbyterianism?

0:22:050:22:07

I think the democratic character of Presbyterianism is something

0:22:070:22:08

which may still be an asset for the future.

0:22:080:22:11

At its best, it invites a wide range of people to come in and to be

0:22:110:22:18

involved in making decisions about the future of the Church,

0:22:180:22:21

and it helps them to gain skills, hopefully skills of compromise,

0:22:210:22:25

of decision-making, so historically Presbyterianism, I think,

0:22:250:22:31

empowered lots of people, whereas today one of the problems

0:22:310:22:35

is I think that we are now top-heavy, and people

0:22:350:22:38

are experiencing maintaining the system as too burdensome.

0:22:380:22:43

There are only so many meetings I can share.

0:22:430:22:46

There are only so many miles I can drive.

0:22:460:22:48

And I was called to be a parish minister to be alongside people

0:22:480:22:52

and perhaps not be doing those sorts of administrative things

0:22:520:22:55

that the structure makes me do.

0:22:550:22:57

We need new structures if we're going to minister to Scotland

0:22:570:23:00

in the 21st century.

0:23:000:23:02

And the urgent need for practical changes to how the Church continues

0:23:080:23:10

to be able to serve the community, in the manner we saw praised

0:23:100:23:14

by the Princess Royal, was addressed by the Council

0:23:140:23:18

of Assembly, whose report or deliverance was presented

0:23:180:23:21

to Assembly by its convener.

0:23:210:23:25

The Council of Assembly is mandated to deal with the Kirk

0:23:250:23:28

staffing and finances.

0:23:280:23:30

Sally Bonnar's report's statistics were sobering.

0:23:300:23:34

For instance, a 30% drop in Kirk membership over

0:23:340:23:36

a recent 10-year period, during which time over 75%

0:23:360:23:41

of ministers were aged over 50.

0:23:410:23:45

Sally Bonnar could have been a Jeremiah, but she wasn't.

0:23:450:23:50

We also see congregational statistics which show

0:23:500:23:52

a steeply falling pattern, and early indications are that this

0:23:520:23:57

is now having an effect on income.

0:23:570:23:59

For the first time, we see a fall in congregational giving.

0:23:590:24:02

This is not unexpected.

0:24:020:24:06

In fact, we have often said that we are surprised that giving

0:24:060:24:08

has held up so well.

0:24:080:24:10

However, it seems that we have now reached a tipping point and,

0:24:100:24:14

if current membership trends continue, then the decrease

0:24:140:24:18

in income is likely to become a repeated feature of these reports.

0:24:180:24:23

This emphasises the need for the strategic planning process

0:24:230:24:26

that we are currently undertaking.

0:24:260:24:28

The Church has a very complex budget and we spend our money across a wide

0:24:280:24:33

range of activities.

0:24:330:24:35

We cannot continue taking on new work without stopping some of

0:24:350:24:39

the things we are currently doing.

0:24:390:24:42

Hence we need to decide, what new things will we do?

0:24:420:24:46

What needs to be kept?

0:24:460:24:48

And what do we stop?

0:24:480:24:51

Looking to the future as a national church,

0:24:510:24:53

we will be doing less with fewer resources.

0:24:530:24:56

I was very struck by the message from Archbishop Justin Welby

0:24:560:25:00

at his presentation last year, when he spoke about the need

0:25:000:25:04

for Christian unity.

0:25:040:25:06

As Christ has said, a house divided against itself will not stand.

0:25:060:25:12

So let us set aside our differences and go forward together

0:25:120:25:17

in the building of Christ's kingdom.

0:25:170:25:21

So, can the Kirk do more with less, do less better?

0:25:320:25:35

We will be hearing a lot about change throughout this week

0:25:350:25:38

and we'll report on that next Sunday.

0:25:380:25:41

Before we go, let me give you a taste of a series of lectures

0:25:410:25:44

given earlier this year by the Reverend Doug Gay,

0:25:440:25:47

who we saw a few minutes ago, which previewed events here.

0:25:470:25:51

Doug Gay does not pull his punches.

0:25:510:25:55

I believe that a true spiritual renewal involves a holistic renewal

0:25:550:25:58

of our Christian witness.

0:25:580:26:01

Which is why we need to test the spirit.

0:26:010:26:05

When people want to talk of revival or renewal,

0:26:050:26:08

it is not true revival if people are anguished about micro-ethics

0:26:080:26:14

but shed no tears over macro-ethics.

0:26:140:26:18

If they care about temperance but not about Trident.

0:26:180:26:22

It's not true revival if men lament their lust for women

0:26:220:26:25

but not their sexism.

0:26:250:26:28

It's not true revival if people speak in strange tongues but do not

0:26:280:26:31

speak out against injustice and speak up for the poor.

0:26:310:26:35

It's not true revival if people throw their fiddles on the fire,

0:26:350:26:39

if they create an unbridgeable cultural gap between

0:26:390:26:42

ceilidh and congregation.

0:26:420:26:45

It is not a true spiritual renewal if it makes us less human,

0:26:450:26:49

less alive, less loving, less merciful, less open to art

0:26:490:26:54

and beauty and sensuality and life.

0:26:540:27:00

I can already hear some people out there reaching for the green ink.

0:27:000:27:05

Everything does depend upon the prayer, come Holy Spirit.

0:27:050:27:12

I will say even less about liturgical renewal, just this,

0:27:120:27:15

that, in a broad Church, I believe it will and must

0:27:150:27:18

take different forms.

0:27:180:27:20

For some, it will come through classical music

0:27:200:27:22

and finely crafted liturgy.

0:27:220:27:25

For some, it will come through Messy Church and Matt Redman.

0:27:250:27:28

For some, it will come through a renewal of intense

0:27:280:27:32

and passionate expository preaching.

0:27:320:27:34

For some, it will come through exploring gifts of the spirit.

0:27:340:27:37

For some, it will come through Rend Collective,

0:27:370:27:39

through others it will come through the Iona Community.

0:27:390:27:43

We are a diverse church.

0:27:430:27:45

God's tastes are wider than mine.

0:27:450:27:50

As a reformed Church, what all of you should share

0:27:510:27:53

is a deep attentiveness to scripture, to hearing God's word.

0:27:530:27:58

And what I dare to hope you also share is a more frequent celebration

0:27:580:28:02

of the Lord's suffering.

0:28:020:28:05

And, when that renewal comes, it will move us on from the dull

0:28:050:28:09

mediocrity of middle of the road traditionalism, from joyless

0:28:090:28:14

formalism, from trite pietism, from funereal communions,

0:28:140:28:18

from boring sermons, from musical snobbery,

0:28:180:28:22

from liturgical correctness and from liturgical sloppiness,

0:28:220:28:27

from evangelical privatisation of the gospel and from liberal

0:28:270:28:32

progressivist reduction of the Gospel to social ethics.

0:28:320:28:36

I could go on.

0:28:360:28:38

But I won't.

0:28:380:28:39

That's another lecture, another book and another rant.

0:28:390:28:42

Did you hear that?

0:28:420:28:43

He said, when that renewal comes.

0:28:430:28:45

The Kirk may be bloodied.

0:28:450:28:48

It is not bowed.

0:28:480:28:50

We'll see you next Sunday.

0:28:500:28:54

# Oh come, and let us worship him

0:28:540:29:04

A case unprecedented in British criminal history.

0:29:250:29:28

The killings have stunned this family-orientated community.

0:29:280:29:31

Everybody wanted to see somebody go to prison for it.

0:29:310:29:33

One has to have faith that the jury came to the right view.

0:29:370:29:40

You're looking at a case with 2016 eyes.

0:29:400:29:44

Sheena McDonald reports from Edinburgh on the first day of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. With a major debate on same-sex marriage due later in the week, the programme explains the different viewpoints. But there's a growing wish to move on and deal with other challenges facing the Kirk, such as finding better ways to manage smaller size.


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