I had the pleasure of going to the Church of Scotland (CoS) General Assembly this month. This has been an enriching experience for me for a whole host of reasons.
Just in case you are not aware, the CoS is a Presbyterian church … and some might say The Presbyterian church; so, they are a very close neighbour of ours in both geographical and ecclesiological terms. Note that it is the Scottish Episcopal Church that is part of the Anglican Communion.
I was one of over 70 ecumenical and international visitors; joining more than 600 commissioners in their assembly Hall in the centre of old Edinburgh, between the Castle and Holyrood. The historic and beautiful location added to the special time I had.
The first thing that struck me was the involvement of the Queen in the Assembly. As the CoS is the ‘national church’ in Scotland the Queen (usually by appointing a Lord High Commissioner as her representative) takes part. This year the assembly opened on Saturday, 19th May. The Queen gave her apologies for her absence as she had ‘other’ pressing engagements (I think Harry and Meghan had something to do with that!). The Queen appointed her cousin, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry as her representative. The Queen’s role is very different from the one she has with the Church of England, as the CoS remains fully independent of the state. When she succeeded to the British throne, the Queen took an oath to preserve the Church of Scotland, which is guaranteed under the 1707 Act of Union of Scotland and England. Her role in the Assembly is one way she undertakes to preserve the CoS. However, this offers some credence to Prince Charles’ desire to change from Defender of Faith to Defender of Faiths. The Queen and the Judiciary were also well represented at the Assembly service held in St Giles’ Cathedral, which this year was on Pentecost.
On the Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon the Assembly organise Heart and Soul celebrations in the Princes Street Gardens, which are free and open to all. The Saturday evening celebration consisted of two Christian rock bands. I’m afraid I did not survive to the end of the concert as I felt my innards were being shaken up too much by the noise – but the younger ones certainly seemed to enjoy it!
The Sunday afternoon celebration had more of a ‘Greenbelt’ feel to it, but without the falafels and the entrance fee.
On Sunday, after the Assembly service, I rushed down the street to join the service at the local URC, Augustine United Church. This fantastic congregation, led by Revd Fiona Bennet, gives a Christ-like welcome to all … sorry I only managed to grab this photograph as I was leaving.