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Queen urges Kirk to heal rifts

23 May 2014


Royal mail: Prince Edward speaks at the General Assembly, on Saturday. The prince, watched by Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond (far left) and the Countess of Wessex, delivered the Queen's letter 

Royal mail: Prince Edward speaks at the General Assembly, on Saturday. The prince, watched by Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond (far left...

THE QUEEN has urged the Church of Scotland to heal the divisions caused by this year's referendum on independence.

Writing to the Church's General Assembly, which has been meeting this week on the Mound in Edinburgh, she said: "We pray that whatever the outcome, people of faith and people of goodwill will work together for the social good of Scotland."

In her letter, the Queen said that she recognised "the important role that the Church can play in holding the people of Scotland together, in healing divisions, and in safeguarding the interests of the most vulnerable."

The Kirk has adopted a neutral position on the question of independence; and is planning a service of reconciliation to follow the referendum. The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd David Chillingworth, has adopted a similar position, but calls it "agnostic" rather than "neutral" (Comment, 14 March).

On Tuesday, the General Assembly held a "Respectful Dialogue" on the issue, with contributions from the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, representing the Better Together coalition, which is campaigning to keep Scotland as part of the UK; and the Revd Dr Doug Gay, a Lecturer in Theology and Religious Studies at Glasgow University, representing the pro-independence campaign.

There was no motion or vote on the issue, and the Moderator, the Rt Revd John Chalmers, expressed the hope that similar Respectful Dialogues would be organised by churches across Scotland.

He said: "It is important - to me at least - that we, in Scotland, and certainly we in the Church, can hold a discussion, disagree without denigrating one another, and then at the end say the Grace to one another, in acknowledgment that even in our differences we remain part of the same community, bound together by much more than can ever separate us."

Mr Alexander said that "the break-up of the United Kingdom would represent a defeat for progressive ideals, and a retreat from a shared vision of a multi-ethnic, multicultural, multinational state."

Dr Gay countered by saying that "the nationalism . . . which is to the fore in Scotland at the moment is a generous, hospitable, liberal, civic nationalism . . . which welcomes new Scots who settle here, and welcomes those of many nationalities who come to Scotland for a season."

The General Assembly was shocked by the death on Monday night of one of its members. The Revd Tom Sinclair, aged 76, died after being hit by a car outside Waverley station, after Monday's session.

"The news of Tom's death in such tragic circumstances came as a terrible shock to the General Assembly," the Moderator said. "Tom Sinclair loved the Church of Scotland, and loved General Assembly. We mourn his loss, and we commend his wife and family to the care of the community of faith, and to the grace of God."

Meanwhile, some 250 members of Stornoway High Church, one of the largest Church of Scotland congregations in the Western Isles, have left to join a Free Church congregation over the Kirk's "continuing departure from biblical teaching".

"Sadly, our congregation could simply not identify with the general direction the Church of Scotland is headed in, and the sensible option was to leave," the former Session Clerk Christopher Martin told Scottish Television, in an announcement timed to coincide with the General Assembly meeting.

About 100 members of the congregation have remained with the Kirk. There is no explicit mention of the exodus on the church's website, apart from a brief note which says: "Many thanks to everyone who has taken time to contact us. Your comments have been most helpful and encouraging."


A PROPOSAL to ordain people in civil partnerships as ministers in the Chruch of Scotland has been passed by the Church's General Assembly.

After a lengthy debate, the draft legislation was passed with 369 for, and 189 against. It must now be sent to presbyteries for further discussion. If a majority are in favour, a final vote will be taken at next year's Assembly.

After the debate, the moderator, the Rt Revd John Chalmers, said that it had been a difficult discussion, but praised the "respectful dialogue" on show. 

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