The 2021 General Assembly met as planned online last Monday with additional Sessions for business on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Key moments from the Assembly were connected to the Church’s mission in today’s world and its vision to have a "healthy gospel church for every community in Scotland."
Below are some highlights, discussion points and decisions that were made over the three days.
The theme for the General Assembly was set by the retiring Moderator, Rev. Donnie G. Macdonald, in his opening message on Monday evening. Reflecting on the challenges the Church has faced in the last year, he preached on "Our Mission as a Church" from Acts 8:26-40 with a focus on the kind of ministries we ought to pursue, the kind of message we ought to proclaim and the kind of missioners we ought to be.
The newly elected Moderator, Rev. Neil MacMillan, continued with the same theme in his address on Tuesday morning. Based on the words of the Apostle Paul in Acts 20:22-24, he proceeded to address the General Assembly on "A Task Unfinished" and focused on the concepts of the presence of God and "partnership with others for the Gospel."
The Moderator spoke of the challenge of "the absence of the presence of God" and that of "distraction in a digital age" as he urged the Church to continue with the yet unfinished Christ-given task of mission and evangelism.
The Mission Board brought a hugely encouraging and informative report, emphasising the vision for 30 church plants by 2030, the work on the church development track and local church revitalisation, and the importance of global mission in the response to the Great Commission.
The Assembly welcomed the news of the appointment of the Moderator, Rev. Neil MacMillan, as Church Planting Director to lead the 30 by 30 vision for church planting.
The importance of the post of Mission Director was reflected in the fact that this was made a permanent post and with Rev. David Meredith re-appointed to the post for another five-year term.
The work of cross-cultural mission in the Southside of Glasgow was extended for another five years, reflecting the Church’s understanding of its current context and responsibility to bring the gospel to all our people in a multi-cultural and multi-faith society.
The General Assembly approved the Global Mission Strategy written by the Mission Board after the completion of a Global Mission Audit. The importance of partnerships with other gospel and missionary organisations was recognised to be one of the keys in seeking to continue successfully in the unfinished task of serving the world with the good news of the Gospel.
The General Assembly noted the focus of the Mission Board and its commitment to young people through its focus on Church Equipping.
The Assembly was concerned by the absence of resources shaped by a Christian worldview in the proposals from Education Scotland for the teaching on relationships, sexual health and parenthood in the Health and Wellbeing section of Curriculum for Excellence. The Mission Board was tasked to work with other Christian churches and sympathetic organisations to ensure that alternative resources are available to schools and teachers in this area of the curriculum and to assist parents in seeking the best education for their children.
Board of Ministry
Mission without the availability of called and suitably trained ministerial personnel is impossible. This was highlighted by the fact that the Church needs to have 37 ministers available to achieve the goal of 30 by 30 as well as the number of ministers required to serve in existing ministries and congregations.
The Board reported on the restructuring of its work and remit under the twin arms of Ministry Team and Students Team. A key development reported by the Board, and passed by the Assembly, was the completion of proposed legislation for a "Journey into Ministry" pathway which offers clarity and guidance at every stage of the application process through to completion of studies at Edinburgh Theological Seminary (ETS).
The ministry of the Church has been supplemented and enriched with the admission of Ministers from other churches in recent years. This year, the Assembly welcomed Rev. Cory Brock from the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) into the Free Church ministry on Wednesday 19th May.
Edinburgh Theological Seminary
The Assembly recognised the key role of ETS and that of Presbyteries in the journey to ministry and the progress of those called and selected for training for gospel ministry. The Assembly welcomed the appointment of Dr Zachary Purvis as Programme Leader and Lecturer in Church History at ETS.
The General Assembly was updated by the ETS Board on progress made on matters highlighted in the review of the work of the Seminary at the 2020 General Assembly including overall course management and coherence, the coherence of assessment policy and practice, course progression, modular flexibility, and teaching methodology.
The Seminary will liaise with the Board of Ministry to ensure coordination with the training requirements for new Ministers including the new four-year Minister-in-Training model.
Board of Trustees
The Board of Trustees has a key role in the governance and administration of the Church and provides leadership in areas such as financial governance, compliance, and strategy. The Assembly welcomed the encouraging report on the 2020 financial accounts and the commitment of our people to the Church in the challenging times of pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions.
Four key decisions were made at the Assembly which reflects the work of the Board and its role in steering the Church in working in the unfinished task of mission.
First, the Assembly endorsed and adopted the vision statement - "A healthy Gospel Church for every community in Scotland." The Board will consult with other Boards and with Presbyteries regarding their vision and strategic plan.
Secondly, the Assembly received and adopted the Biblical Principles as outlined in the document ‘Communicating with Grace and Wisdom’ and the emphases and direction of the document ‘Communicating with Grace and Wisdom’ as a general roadmap for improving communication across the denomination. The need to improve communication was also recognised in the decision to set up a Communication Group under the oversight of the Board of Trustees.
Thirdly, the Assembly approved the setting up of a Public Engagement Group with the responsibility to lead the Church’s engagement with public policy and matters of public interest, and to make suitable representations on behalf of the Church in consultations initiated by the Scottish and UK Governments. Rev. Stephen Allison was appointed as Public Engagement Coordinator to lead the group in this important area of the Church’s witness.
Fourthly, the Assembly appointed a committee to examine the Establishment Principle and its relevance and application in 21st century Scotland.
The Establishment Principle refers to the relationship between the Church and the State and the fact that they are co-ordinate powers (on an equal level, with separate jurisdictions) under the authority of the Word of God.
In practice, the Establishment Principle means that the State has the obligation to profess, protect, promote, and support Christianity as the national religion and that the Church, maintaining its existence and government by divine right, is to speak the Word of God to the State and keep it in check.
The desire to appoint such a Committee, with such a remit, reflects the current religious scene in Scotland and the failure of the Government to uphold and support Christianity.
The General Assembly agreed to meet again on Monday 23rd of May 2022 at 6 PM.