General Assembly to discuss 'radical plans' for future

General Assembly Image copyright PA
Image caption The Rt Rev Susan Brown handed over the rings of office to Colin Sinclair

Radical plans to future-proof the Church of Scotland will be discussed at the annual General Assembly.

Ministers, elders and deacons will debate and vote on plans to reform the charity's governance and practices.

Moderator, Rt Rev Susan Brown, formally opened proceedings at the General Assembly Hall in Edinburgh.

Her first major act was to hand over the ring and chain of office to her successor, Rt Rev Colin Sinclair, who once featured in a Monty Python film.

Among the proposed changes that will be discussed are the creation of a 12-person trustee body to hold responsibility for finances.

The number of presbyteries could be reduced from 45 to 12 and Kirk Sessions could be reduced in size with local churches retaining more resources to support mission work.

Rev Dr George Whyte, Principal Clerk to the General Assembly, said: "The intention is that wherever you live in Scotland, you will be seeing a church which is deeply committed to the communities it seeks to serve and up for the challenge of these times."

A Growth Fund of between £20m to £25m, has been proposed to develop new worshipping communities and to fund new work with children, young people and young adults.

The fund will also be used for church projects that support communities across the country.

Commissioners will be asked to consider plans to reduce administration costs by 20 to 30% and merge four of the church's councils into two.

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Image caption Royal Trumpeters at the General Assembly opening procession

They will also consider whether CrossReach, the operating name of the Social Care Council, should become a more arms-length, self-sustaining organisation.

Dr Whyte said: "This General Assembly will be asked to make bold plans for the future of the Church of Scotland.

"There will be proposals to invest in growth, to work in new ways and to put mission right at the top our priorities.

"If commissioners accept the proposals the Church will see a radical shift of resources and energy towards the local church."

The week-long General Assembly is a key date in the church's calendar and features debates, festivities and large-scale worship.

Rev Colin Sinclair will chair proceedings for the next six days and thereafter serve as the Kirk's ambassador at home and abroad until May 2020.

After taking up the role from his post as minister for Palmerston Place Church in Edinburgh, he described it as a "singular honour".

Rev Sinclair added: "It all started with a Scripture Union holiday, I little knew then how the story of Jesus and his life, death and resurrection would get under my skin and never get out.

"I thank you to all who nurtured me in this faith.

"I had no idea when Jesus said 'Follow Me' all those years ago, how exciting the adventure would be."

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Image caption Nichola Sturgeon joined the opening procession

During the opening session the Duke of Buccleuch, who represented the Queen as Lord High Commissioner, welcomed the new moderator.

He told him: "Unlike your predecessor you have not had to travel far but for a year you will now be transported into a different world."

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also attended the opening day along with Scotland's Lord Provosts and guests from around the world.

Topics that are likely to be discussed at the General Assembly include welfare, asylum seekers, refugees, climate justice, interfaith relations, the European Union and democracy itself.

The Assembly was first held in 1560, the year of the Scottish Reformation, which marked the beginning of the Protestant Church of Scotland.

Meanwhile, the outgoing Moderator has renewed criticism of the UK government for refusing to grant asylum to a Pakistani Christian family.

Teenage brothers Somer and Areeb Umeed Bakhsh and their parents, Maqsood and Parveen, fled to Glasgow in 2012 from Faisalabad in Pakistan after their father was subjected to death threats due to their Christian faith.

Rev Brown said: "They are from Pakistan and Christians are under threat there.

"They have been in Scotland for seven years and the boys are well integrated into their school and are much loved students.

"The whole family are very involved in their local church and Maqsood is an elder and a commissioner to this Assembly."

The family's minister, Rev Linda Pollock, set up an online petition which was signed by nearly 90,000 people.

Last August it was handed over to the Home Office and afterwards immigration minister Caroline Noakes confirmed the case would be reviewed.

A decision has yet to be made.

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