The Ceremony of the Keys is not how we would usually begin an Assembly of the United Reformed Church but ceremony is very much part of the Church of Scotland. The Provost handing the keys of the city to the Queen’s representative and the Lord High Commissioner returning them, all within the splendour of Holyrood House, is not familiar territory for us. Within the URC we have an identity that clearly separates us from the State while ourPresbyterian cousins in the Church of Scotland are part of the establishment. This was a useful reminder that how we understand our tradition and how we exercise our ministry is as much the product of culture as it is of deeply held theological views. No doubt others will disagree but the connection of culture and faith is inescapable.
When the Assembly got down to business there was a more familiar ring to the proceedings. A decade of ministry was launched to recruit candidates for the ministry, a call to have confidence in the Gospel message given voice, review of existing structures and the future of the church endorsed, ecumenical relations commented upon, financeand stewardship urged. Church and Society questions around the use of fossil fuels and climate justice, the use of nuclear weapons, the situation in Syria and among persecuted Christian minorities, the increasing gap between rich and poor were all topics that could as easily have been on the agenda of any of our denominations. The contributions from young people and from overseas visitors were significant and memorable. Inevitably the Press focussed on the conversations around ministers in Civil Partnerships and/or same sex marriages. The holding of strongly held views was evident as was the desire to find a way that allowed for ‘constrained difference’. The conversation around same sex marriage continues and, along with all the representatives of the Presbyterian family, we pray that we may together find our way to unity that neither denies justice to some nor produces an unacceptable compromise to others. I will be interested to hear how the conversation is continued when I visit Belfast for the Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland next week following the referendum in the Republic. Sunday was spent in worship with the congregation of Augustine United. The sanctuary was filled with paper cranes symbols of peace and sign of our commitment to discover the wholeness of each human being that Jesus called ‘shalom’.