Tomorrow morning the 2017 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will convene in Edinburgh for their annual week-long meeting. This is the mother church for us Presbyterians and while we now have a number of branches – the good old “split-P’s” – the Kirk can trace their Assemblies back to the original one in 1560.
So if you are interested in keeping track of the business and activities this year, here are the starting points:
- There will be live streaming of the proceedings and you can connect to the stream appropriate for your device from the media page.
- Most of the Documents pertaining to the Assembly are linked from the General Assembly Publications page. This includes the Proceedings and Reports volumes, known as the Blue Book in several different electronic formats including the traditional PDF as well as MOBI and EPUB formats for your eReaders. There is also a separate Order of Proceedings. The Daily Papers will contain late-breaking changes and are available on the Papers, minutes, letters, and speeches page. There is an option to subscribe to notifications of new documents being posted. In addition, there is a General Assembly App with versions for Apple iOS and Android.
- Reports are also available individually from the Reports and minutes page.
- If you need to refer to the documents about how they do this decently and in order most of those are linked from the Church Law page. This web page also used to have the useful “An Introduction to Practice and Procedure of the Church of Scotland” but it was being revised and seems to have disappeared. While dated, I have a copy of the 2009 Third Edition available from my Resources Site.
- A brief order of the docketed events and reports can be found on the General Assembly 2017 page.
- And from the media page there will be regular daily updates in print, audio and video if history serves. And as always, hosted by the Rev. Douglas Aitken.
- UPDATE: There is also an official photo gallery of the Assembly
What we all want to know of course is how to follow along on social media and there will be no lack of that. You can begin with the Church of Scotland’s official Facebook page as well as the Facebook page for the National Youth Assembly.
On Twitter the starting point is the Kirk’s main feed at @churchscotland and the official hashtag #ga2017. There is an official account for the Moderator of the General Assembly, @churchmoderator, but during the Assembly we will have to see how much opportunity there will be to tweet. And the incoming Moderator, the Rev. Derek Browning, can be followed at his personal account, @DerekBrowning2. Similarly, the Church of Scotland Youth will likely be tweeting at @cosy_nya and the official account for the NYA Moderator, currently Andrew MacPherson, is at @NYAModerator. The church’s official publication, Life and Work, is also a good source for information on the web, on Facebook and on their Twitter feed @cofslifeandwork. In addition, while it is a personal account, you can follow the editor, Lynne McNeil, at @LifeWorkEditor.
I add to this list a semi-official account: I would expect the curated account Church Scotland Voices with weekly rotating contributors at @churchscovoices to be active at GA. And worth mentioning the Kirk innovative ministry incubator, Go For It (@GoForItCofS)
In suggesting personal accounts to follow, let me start with three past Moderators of the General Assembly. The first is the Very Reverend Lorna Hood who is always an interesting read at @revlornascot and has been very active the past few years with projects related to Srebrenica justice and remembrance and this past year has served on the Commission on Parliamentary Reform (@ParlyReform). The second is the Very Reverend Albert Bogle at @italker who has been getting some recent traction with the Sanctuary First ministry (@sanctuaryfirst) and whose charge is now related to online church. Finally, the Very Reverend Angus Morrison (@angusmorrison6) is an interesting and entertaining read and frequently tweets in Gaelic.
In suggesting other personal accounts let me begin with the Rev. Peter Nimmo of Inverness who is a member of the Church and Society Council (@ChurchSociety01) and always a good source of information at @peternimmo1. Others I regularly follow from the Kirk include Darren Philip (@darphilip), Alistair May (@AlistairMay), and Andrew Harris (@aharris2729) . Another who will probably weigh in, whether or not he is in Edinburgh, is Glasgow theologian Douglas Gay (@DougGay). Earlier this spring, in his three-part Chalmers Lectures, he presented some interesting ideas regarding the future of the church and how it might consider restructuring. I will update with more as the Assembly gets under way. (Well worth watching, by the way.)
UPDATE: Found that Peter Nimmo is now able to make the Assembly this year but still worth keeping an eye on his remote observations. Yes, @ChurchScoVoices is being curated by an Assembly commissioner, Scott Paget (@smpaget). Another interesting follow is Marc Falconer (@marcfalconer81) who is also blogging the meeting. And two others there an providing good insight and substantive updates are Louis Kinsey (@louiskinsey) and Paul Middleton (@DrPaulMiddleton).
Once again the Assembly will have its annual Heart and Soul festival on the Sunday afternoon of the Assembly week that will again be happening in Princes Street Gardens near the Assembly Hall. The theme of both the Assembly and the Heart and Soul event this year is “Word of Life,” a theme that has extended to the Assembly as a whole. It is reflected on the cover of the Blue Book and in advance of the meeting groups are encouraged to post a picture to social media with the hashtag #wordoflife. And again this year there will be link-ups with concurrent local Heart and Soul events throughout Scotland. The hashtag for the event will be #heartandsoul but it is worth noting that neither it, nor #wordoflife, are exclusive to this use. There are other fringe events throughout the week, including a public Speak Out event on Wednesday night in advance of the upcoming general election in the UK.
Concerning the business before the Assembly there is a nice summary of each report on the Life and Work site. Two items have hit the news in the days leading up to the Assembly. The first is the report of the Theological Forum, An Approach to the Theology of Same-Sex Marriage. The report presents the opinion that a theological basis does not exist to prohibit pastors from conducting same-sex marriages and recommends that the issue be sent to the Legal Questions Committee for action at a future GA. It also has as part of its deliverance to “Invite the Church to take stock of its history of discrimination at different levels and in different ways against gay people and to apologise individually and corporately and seek to do better.” The second item is a Joint Report on the Centenary of the Balfour Declaration. The document encourages all parties to work for a just peace in the region and recommends engaging with the Kairos Palestine document. While the report seeks to be balanced and honest about the history of the area, as with other statements about seeking peace in the area not all observers are positive about this report. The Theological Forum report will be the last one on Thursday and the Balfour Centenary is in the middle of the order of reports on Monday.
Lots of other interesting items coming up this year so have a look at the summaries. One that caught my attention is that the Assembly Arrangements Committee is planning to not just live stream the Assembly but to post the recordings for later viewing. The GA Junkies who, like me, are on the other side of the world thank you. [ed. note: And as a preview of coming attractions, I am seriously considering covering GA week in Edinburgh next year in person.]
So here we go as the busy part of General Assembly Season gets underway. There are more coming up in a couple days so there will be no shortage of options.
As for the Church of Scotland and all my friends there, and especially to the (almost) Rt. Rev. Browning, know that you have my prayers for your deliberations and public witness in the coming week. I look forward to watching every minute, even if by “tape delay.”