Sturgeon believes Church remains 'at the centre of Scottish life'
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she believes the Church still has a vital place in Scottish life.
She addressed the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in the same hall where the Scottish Parliament first reconvened 20 years ago.
Ms Sturgeon told the Kirk it has a continuing role in shaping respectful and inclusive debate.
She praised its encouragement of co-operation between faiths.
In her address, the SNP leader said: "The Church of Scotland has been at the centre of Scottish public life for generations and helped to re-establish the Scottish Parliament.
"The 1989 Assembly endorsed the Claim of Right for Scotland and passed a resolution calling for the creation of a democratically-elected assembly.
"During that process, the Church facilitated and encouraged dialogue on potentially difficult and divisive issues.
"The manner in which the Assembly conducts itself is a model of how big issues can be debated in a way which builds consensus rather than creating division."
The annual General Assembly opened on Saturday.
Outgoing moderator, the Rt Rev Susan Brown, formally opened proceedings and handed over the ring and chain of office to her successor, the Rt Rev Colin Sinclair.
Ms Sturgeon attended the opening day along with Scotland's lord provosts and guests from around the world.
Topics being discussed at the gathering include welfare, asylum seekers, refugees, climate justice, interfaith relations, the European Union and democracy itself.
The first minister's address encouraged further interfaith co-operation.
She said: "At a time when intolerance and bigotry seem to be on the rise in some parts of the world, it is important that the major faiths in Scotland stand together in solidarity.
"The issues that Scotland confronts at present - issues such as Brexit and our constitutional future - are ones that arouse strong passions. Political leaders must attempt to air honest and strongly-held differences while simultaneously seeking common ground and consensus.
"That is why I announced the establishment of a citizens' assembly on Scotland's future to consider what sort of country we are seeking to build, how we best equip the Scottish Parliament for the future, and how we enable people to make informed choices about the future of the country.
"The spirit in which the citizens' assembly is being convened is one which I hope will strike a chord with the Church."
She added: "Everyone in Scotland - Christians, those of every faith or none - benefit from the work that you do.
"It follows that the Scottish government welcomes, and indeed cherishes, the role of the Church of Scotland in our national life."