Thursday, 27 May 2010

Closing Session

The session started with prayers and a call of the names of deceased deacons, missionaries and ministers. It was a deeply moving moment with every member of the General Assembly standing whilst the names were being read out loud by Very Rev. Bill Hewitt.

After prayers, there was the departing address by the Principal Clerk the Very Reverend Finlay A.J. Macdonald who after receiving the kind salutation and welcoming words of the Right Rev. John Christie addressed the general Assembly for the last time. Very Rev. Macdonald has been Principal Clerk to the General Assembly since 2002 and has held this position with grace and erudition. He has been known to quote chapter and verse of reports from many “Blue Books” even sometimes remembering the page. Clearly such level of knowledge will be sadly missed. Very Rev Macdonald reminded the general assembly of a number of his predecessors, turning himself into a witty storyteller recounting humorous vignettes about the lives and perils of being a Principal Clerk. We all wish him every blessing on his retirement.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

General Trustees report

Dr. James Jack presented the report. He mentioned that there were an increasing number of churches engaging with external organisations as they sought to develop their buildings in order to engage more effectively with their local communities. This shared use of buildings can only mean shared savings in the upkeep and maintenance of the buildings. He urges the commissioners to encourage their congregations to become innovative in their use of buildings and if possible to consider sharing the use of the buildings of their church.

Dr. Jack then reported on the upkeep of a deliverances passed last year instructing presbyteries to renew their insurances taking into consideration current valuations. He reported that 34 Presbyteries had completed such valuations, 12 were almost completed and only one presbytery had yet to complete the valuation. reported that the insurances had to be negotiated considering full reinstatement value.

Insurance costs were often mentioned during the discussion. This is echoing the financial situation of the Kirk. Some commissioners expressed the need for the General Trustees to be more proactive in the dissemination of information about available governmental funding for the upkeep of buildings, or the modification and upgrade for more efficient heating systems. Others expressed their desire for the General Trustees to negotiate on behalf of groups of parishes for collective buying of alternative forms of energy with which to heat the church buildings.

Iona Community report

The report of the Iona Community was delivered by Stewart Smith, Acting Convener of the community. Mr. Smith started his address by thanking the work of Rev. Kathy Galloway as former Leader of the Iona Community as wishing her every success in her new role as head of Christian Aid. Mr. Smith then introduced Peter Macdonald, the current leader of the community. Mr Smith told the Assembly that “change is possible” and that he encounters this often through the work of the Iona community, where people that come on retreat often speak of being in Iona as a transformational experience. This transformation is available not just for those going to Iona on pilgrimage, but also to people in more difficult situations.

Mr Smith then described the work of the Jacob’s Project. This is a project that befriends young re-offenders as they come out of jail. Befrienders meet the young people when they come out of prison and walk with them as they make a successful transition into society through support, advice and friendship. He quoted the words of a young man who has benefited from the programme “Without the Jacob’s Project I would have come out of Jail in a box. Nobody gives a monkeys when you come out of prison.” Eight young people are now settled into ordinary life, with either jobs or a place in an educational establishment. All of them had been befriended and supported by the Jacob’s project. Nothing is beyond the transforming power of God’s love” stated Mr. Smith.

The leader of the community then told the Assembly that membership to the community is not for life but must be renewed periodically and that members make a transparent account of the use of their personal funds in front of small house groups. This is to honour the commitment that “you only keep what you need to live on. To live simply, and to make an offering of the rest to the work of the Church is a priviledge” he concluded. The discussion that followed was evidence of the fondness and admiration felt by the Assembly for the work of the Iona Community. Numerous testimonies of people involved within the Jacob’s project were offered as well as fond accounts of retreats spent on the island.

Economic Commission launched by the Kirk

The Church of Scotland announced the membership of its newly created Commission on the Purposes of Economic Activity, which will spend two years exploring the fundamental ethical and moral questions underlying economic activity, many of which have been highlighted for society by the “credit crunch”. The Commission will take part in a number of meetings around the country organised through Presbyteries. There will also be meetings in Edinburgh, involving discussion with people with experience relevant to the Commission's work.
The Commission will primarily consider matters relating to the Scottish economy, and has identified two specific groups of problems, those relating to poverty and those relating to the use of wealth.

The Commission will look to answer three large questions:

How can the Church best offer Scottish society a new vision of what might be achievable in the economic, social and community life of the nation?

How can the Church, at local and national level, be encouraged to become more engaged in transformative economics, linking values such as justice, cohesion and sustainability to economic success?

How should inequality be addressed while ensuring that appropriate levels of choice are available to all?

Membership of the Committee is as follows:

Linda de Caestecker. Director of Public Health for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Glasgow City Council.
Paul Chapman Former director of "The Employment Project"
Reverend Doug GayLecturer in Practical Theology at the University of Glasgow
Reverend Kathy Galloway Head of Christian Aid in Scotland
Janette Harkess Director of policy and research, Scottish Council for Development and Industry
Werner G. Jeanrond Professor of Divinity at the University of Glasgow
David Lonsdale Assistant Director of CBI Scotland
John McFall Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee from 2001-10
Jeremy Peat Director of the David Hume Institute

Cathy McCormack Co-author of “The Wee Yellow Butterfly”
Grahame Smith General Secretary of the STUC
Jim Spowart Founder of Intelligent Finance (IF)

Prof.Mona Siddiqui addresses General Assembly

Mona Siddiqui addressed the General Assembly on its last day in Edinburgh. Dr Siddiqui is Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam at Glasgow University and Professor of Islamic Studies and Public Understanding. She contributes regularly for radio programmes like Thought of the Day as well as writing for the dailies.

Prof. Siddiqui started her address by stating what a privilege and humbling experience it was to be invited to speak at the Kirk’s General Assembly. She reminded the commissioners that the UK is a multicultural country and that this seemed to have happened, without having a lot of thought to what it actually means. She illustrated this idea with examples from her own life recounting the emigration of her parents from Pakistan into Yorkshire when she was 4 years old and of the decision eventually to remain in the UK due to the opportunities that the country offered the family as a whole. She said her family became British as a natural extension of their living here, but without a full exploration of what it really meant in terms of adoption of a shared identity and values. Nationality for her is not a matter of passport ownership, but rather an affirmation of a place where “I feel I belong so I am motivated to contribute to its society” she stated.

Prof. Siddiqui then spoke about the way the immigration debate captures the headlines and mentioned that stereotypes in portraying diverse communities is the norm rather than the exception. This has had the unfortunate effect of
painting communities with one sweep of the brush without due recognition to the diversity within those communities. This has happened in particular with the Islamic communities of the UK, where the picture presented by the popular press does not present the full diversity and different voices that exist within it.

Prof Siddiqui urged the Assembly to consider that immigrant communities have brought a wealth of intellectual, spiritual and cultural gifts which are enriching the tapestry of the country. However, to live in a pluralistic society means that differences need to be recognised and respected. In order to do this, everyone needs to make a conscious effort to be free of stereotypes and dogmatism. “Every one must confront its own struggle to make the world a better place” she said. Faith is a great inspiration to become fully engaged as an active citizen in society. Active citizenship is not just an option, but a moral and theological imperative for men and women of faith.

Social Care Council

The Convener of the Council, Mr. Sydney Graham started his address by drawing up the connections between the work of the council and the work of the Safeguarding Committee. The Social Services Council offers a number of social services to people in need in Christ’s name. Its remit is to provide specialist resources to further the caring work of the church and t identify existing and emerging areas of need, to guide the Church in pioneering new approaches to relevant problems and to make responses on issues arising within the area of the Council’s concern through appropriate channels.

The Convener stated that 94% of services were graded good or higher for Quality of Care and Support. Over 67% of staff is qualified for their posts and 171 staff gained qualifications in 2009. Some of those services were finalists for the Scottish Care Awards, and the Adams House was a finalist in the Great British Care Home Awards. Finally, the Bronze Award was given to the Oasis centre in Garelochhead. Clearly, these services are of the highest quality and are a good example of good practice.

The Convener then presented the reorganisation plans for the council, due to the general financial conditions of the Church of Scotland. He ended his report by stating that the council faced a time of challenge but this time also presented a real opportunity to continue the church’s witness through the provision of social care services throughout Scotland.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Safeguarding Committee

The report was delivered by the Vice-Convener Ranald Mair started his presentation by reminding the General Assembly of the road travelled by this committee since 1997 when it was decided that every parish church should be a safe environment for all, children, vulnerable, adults and the elderly. Since then the Safeguarding Committee has travelled a long road. Currently there are 18000 volunteer safeguarding coordinators and 65 trainers across Scotland. Courses in safeguarding are also regularly offered to raise awareness of the importance of safeguarding issues. Mr Mair described changes to the current procedures for providing discloser for people who through the nature of their work or volunteering activities are in constant contact with either children or vulnerable adults. There changes will move towards the establishment of a “disclosure passport” instead of the current system of multiple disclosure procedures. These changes, he said are in alignment with current governmental practices.

Mr Mair then presented an update of the implementation of the report Forgiveness and Proportionality. This report seeks the safe inclusion of sex offenders who have paid their debts to society into the church. The vice-convener spoke with passion of the advantages of safe inclusion and of the need to inform parish churches of the way to proceed with inclusion in a safe and sensitive manner. The report addresses the theological and practical issues of forgiveness and proportionality for sex offenders wishing to worship in Church of Scotland congregations. The report offers the theological inspiration for practical advice on the duty of accepting sex offenders who seek to worship while at the same time recognises the importance of affording protection to children and adults at risk. This report will undoubtedly inform the policy and practice of the church in relation to the inclusion of sex offenders in congregations. Through the work involved in the preparation of the report, and the work of the safeguarding office and its Disclosure procedures, The Church of Scotland is seen as an integral part of public protection in Scotland” concluded Mr. Mair.

The discussions centred on the need to develop a disclosure passport vs. current practices of multiple disclosures. It was evident throughout the discussion, the extreme care that the church of Scotland places on creating a safe environment for all who visit church buildings.