Tag Archives: Free Church of Scotland

2016 General Assembly Of The Free Church Of Scotland

abb92709-4c93-44fe-8b75-2ef076924200Tomorrow evening we begin with concurrent General Assemblies as the Free Church of Scotland 2016 General Assembly convenes at Buccleuch Free Church in Edinburgh. The meeting will run until Thursday. It is always an interesting meeting so here is some info about following along.

  • UPDATE: As anticipate there will be a live stream but only the audio. That will be enough. You can find the player within a news article. ORIGINAL: The Assembly is usually livestreamed but I have not found a link yet. Hopefully the location change to Buccleuch will not preclude the live streaming, and a tweet from Buccleuch is suggestive that there will be a stream. I will update here if the link is posted tomorrow.
  • There is a draft programme for the week available online
  • The advanced set of reports are available on the Reports page and Supplemental Reports may be released throughout the week.
  • Daily updates are expected in the news stream.
  • If you need the polity documents you can check the Acts of Assembly and Free Church Practice.

To follow along in social media you should be checking the official Free Church Facebook page as well as their Twitter feed @freechurchscot. The host church can be followed at @BuccleuchFC and the hashtag looks to be #fcga16, although keep an eye on #fcga as well. In addition, I would suggest also keeping an eye on the Twitter account for the official publication, The Free Church Record (@The_FC_Record). Also, the seminary, Edinburgh Theological Seminary (@ETS_Edinburgh) and its principal Iver Martin (@IverMartin) should be informative.

For extensive coverage of the Assembly I would encourage you to keep an eye on The Rev. David Robertson of St. Peter’s Free Church, Dundee, the outgoing Moderator of the General Assembly. He is a pastor who is well known within the Free Church as well as around the world through his writing, speaking and internet presence. While the Free Church has moved away from the nickname The Wee Frees, Rev. Robertson has embraced the title The Wee Flea and can be found by that title on both his blog as well as on Twitter (@theweeflea). I would expect Rev. Robertson to be writing about GA on his blog this coming week.

Other individuals to watch on Twitter are Iain D. Campbell (editor of the Record) at @revdridc, Martin MacLean at @shug_1980 and Robert Macleod at @macleod_robert. I will update as I see others commenting on the meeting. UPDATE: Several additional individuals on Twitter but let me first point out @jedirev, the moniker of Gordon Matheson.

The Free Church news feed has posted previews of several of the committee reports and recommendations they will bring. Edinburgh Theological Seminary Board will be discussing their expanding enrollment, new initiatives in distance learning and efforts to produce an annual theological journal. The Psalmody and Praise Committee will bring details of a new smartphone app to digitally access their Sing Psalms hymnal content as well as the interest in the hymnal itself from outside Scotland. The Board of Ministry will discuss an initiative where they hope to find funding for ministerial apprenticeship programs to give candidates and young ministers more mentoring as well helping assess their gifts for ministry. The Board will also be looking at consolidating portions of the Acts of Assembly into a single unit related to admission to the ministry. The Mission Board will be discussing their work around the world as well as emphasizing how even small increases in support, such as adding £50 or £100 per month, can have significant impact on their work. Finally the Trustees will give thanks for a relatively good budget situation helped by increased giving this past year, principally from new congregations within the church. The Trustees also hope to announce an new Principal Clerk for the Assembly who will begin in that position next year.

The Free Church Assembly is always interesting and I look forward to a stimulating week. And in the case you are trying to juggle both live streams, remember that in the evenings the Free Church usually has no competition.

So best wishes to the Free Church on their Assembly and we pray for the Holy Spirit to guide your discernment throughout.

Top Ten Presbyterian News Topics Of 2015

Once again, as I think back on the year and review what has happened I decided to make a list of the different themes that stood out to me from different Presbyterian branches. Here, in no particular order, is my list. Your list may vary.

Racial Reconciliation

One of the more dramatic moments in a Presbyterian General Assembly this year occurred at the 43rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. A good narration of the action comes from Travis Hutchinson’s blog. He begins his post with this description of the personal resolution offered from the floor of the Assembly:

Mississippi Teaching Elders, Drs Sean Lucas and Ligon Duncan entered a personal resolution at the beginning of the Assembly which acknowledged the involvement of our denomination (and our predecessor denomination) in promoting racism and failing to act to support the goals of the Civil Rights movement. It encouraged us to seek repentance and carry this message to our local churches. The resolution was referred to our Overtures Committee for a recommendation.

The Overtures Committee recommended referring it to the next GA to allow for it to be perfected but when it returned to the floor it was clear that many commissioners felt making the statement at the current Assembly was a more important action than waiting for refinement. But in that parallel universe that is Standing Rules and Parliamentary Procedure the choice before the Assembly was not to adopt the original motion but to refer it back to the Overtures Committee or refer it to the next GA. After much debate, a couple of votes and not a small amount of prayer the Assembly voted to send it to the next Assembly. Then a protest was filed “expressing [personal] confession of sin and hope for repentance.” Over 200 of the commissioners signed onto the protest according to the official news item. Another detailed description of the Assembly action on this item can be found on TE Timothy R. LeCroy’s blog.

Other news in this topic includes the continued work of the Reformed African American Network, the formation of the African American Presbyterian Fellowship within the PCA’s Mission to North America ministries, and the PC(USA) has launched an anti-racism campaign.

In the PC(USA) the presbyteries approved the addition of the Confession of Belhar to the Book of Confessions leaving only the final approval of the 222nd General Assembly in 2016.

Finally, in Canada, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been working with the indigenous peoples and at the release of their final report the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada made a statement that acknowledged the pain of the past while expressing hope for the future.

 

Mass Shootings and Gun Violence

With several high-profile mass shootings in the U.S. this year it may be impossible to chronicle every Presbyterian connection. But two in particular caught my attention. The first was the shootings at Charleston’s Emmanuel AME Church in June. Among many connections, the church has had a long and close connection to Second Presbyterian next door. I chronicled some of the many connections in a headlines piece at the time. The other tragedy was the recent San Bernardino shootings close to where I live and several friends were mentioned in local news stories about responses and pastoral care. The PC(USA) issued both a pastoral letter as well as an initial and then a follow-up news article.

In addition, the Vice-Moderator of the General Assembly, Larissa Kwong Abazia, issued her own personal statement about the situation and asking the denomination to seek ways to respond to gun violence in general. In addition, in light of all the shootings it was a year in which the PC(USA) film about gun violence, “Trigger“, was highlighted.

As I said above, there were multiple incidents world-wide and that same June Headlines piece also contained links to several stories about a terrorist attack in Tunisia that killed adherents from the Church of Scotland.

 

Presbyterian denominations and same-gender relationships

This was an issue across many Presbyterian branches this year with the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada beginning a study process to consider making their standards more inclusive and the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland debating and sending to the presbyteries under the Barrier Act the proposed changes to their governing documents. For the Canadian church the study documents have been released. In the case of the Kirk the indication is the changes to the Acts and Proceedings have been approved by a majority of the presbyteries but the results will not be certified until next year.

In the American Presbyterian church, the PC(USA) presbyteries approved a change in the definition of marriage in the Directory for Worship in the Book of Order. That change went into effect at the end of June and in early September the chapel at the PC(USA) national offices hosted its first same-gender wedding ceremony.

 

Reaction within the Presbyterian family to same-sex marriage decisions

The reaction to these decisions is worthy of its own item in the list with the reaction to the PC(USA) decision being swift and wide-spread. Within two weeks of the vote total being reached the National Black Church Initiative cut ties with the PC(USA) over the vote. A couple of months later the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil (IPIB) and the Evangelical Presbyterian and Reformed Church of Peru (IEPRP) ended mission partnerships on the national level. The PC(USA) has issued a news article acknowledging these breaks but also saying that other mission partners have decided to continue the partnerships.

Elsewhere, the decision by the Church of Scotland was a concern in the Presbyterian Church of Ireland which initially expressed “deep sorrow” at the decision and during their General Assembly decided that they would not send a representative to the Kirk’s 2016 General Assembly. Outside the Presbyterian family the Russian Orthodox Church has broken off ecumenical discussions with the Church of Scotland over this.

 

Shifting between Reformed branches

The movement of churches between different Presbyterian and Reformed branches continues unabated. ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians announced that their membership had grown to over 240 churches, most are congregations that have departed the PC(USA). In Scotland the Free Church continues to see a few congregations and ministers wishing to move from the Church of Scotland. In addition, a few churches completed the process of transferring from the Reformed Church in America to the PCA.

 

Property

With shifts in Reformed branches comes the question of taking or leaving property. Those moving from the Church of Scotland to the Free Church typically do not get to take it. University Reformed Church was assessed about $300,000 to take their campus to the PCA.

But bigger and more plentiful property disputes came from churches departing the PC(USA) including congregations that walked away, were graciously dismissed with a payment, kept their property in civil suits, lost their property in civil suits, and one of the more unusual cases where the court awarded the property to the PC(USA) faction of the congregation but not on behalf of the presbytery.

Other interesting property cases include a very convoluted property case in California with the KAPC and a case in Malawi where the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) “sued itself” over property.

 

Presbyterian branches working together

Particularly in light of very recent developments this might qualify as the most interesting topic of the year.

Let me begin with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America whose Unification Task Force is on track to bring a proposed set of bylaws to the 2016 General Assembly. This would put the two denominations on track to make final approvals in 2017 and unite in a single general assembly in 2018.

While not a move with unification in sight, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church held their General Synods jointly in a move to strengthen the ties between these two streams of American Presbyterianism. For those not aware, each of these branches traces their heritage back to Scotland separately and apart from the mainstream branch of American Presbyterianism.

Finally, in a move that is not between two Presbyterian branches but between two national churches, the Church of Scotland and the Church of England just formally announced their intent to be more intentional in their joint work in what they are calling the Columba Declaration. This was followed by the Church of England’s Anglican partner in Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church, issuing something of a “what about us” statement.

 

Refugees

In putting this list together it seemed at times that I could have filled it with humanitarian crises. But if there is one that that Presbyterians world-wide seemed not just outspoken about but responsive to it would be the Middle East refugee crisis.

Regarding statements, these came from all quarters including the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Free Church of Scotland, the Church of Scotland, the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, and the PC(USA), and many others.

In terms of action, there are accounts of relief and resettlement efforts all over the news. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland is partnering with the Hungarian Reformed Church. Presbyterian churches are among those across Canada ready to help resettle refugees. Similar things can be said for the U.S. where, among many towns and churches, Trinity Presbyterian in Atlanta is ready to sponsor two families. And in Princeton, NJ, Nassau Presbyterian Church and the Seminary are working together to help resettle a family.

And we also have the account of a PC(USA) group traveling to Turkey and seeing relief efforts first hand as they worked in a local soup kitchen and food pantry to help feed Syrian refugees.

In another refugee story, the final Central American individual who found sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson was able to go home after 15 months under a confidential agreement. However, with an announced round of deportations coming up the church, with others, has responded that they are ready to offer sanctuary to more refugees who fear for their lives if they are deported.

 

Membership trends continue

Not much new to say here. As with all the mainstream churches in the U.S., the PC(USA) membership decline continues with a loss of 2.1% in the number of congregations and a 5.3% decline in the total membership. What is interesting, at least to me, is that when normalized and compared the membership decline in the PC(USA) over the last decade is very similar to the decline in the Church of Scotland.

 

Publications and Media

Not sure what it was this year but publications and media, particularly those recognized with awards and honors, seemed to catch my attention more than most years.

Let me begin with the Learn resources from the Church of Scotland, particularly the Learn Eldership book that I reviewed last spring. It has been joined by two additional pieces – hard to call the relatively short How Will Our Children Have Faith? a book – that I might get time to review in the future.

But the series in general, and the Learn Eldership in particular, have been recognized by different organizations. In addition to being a best seller, Eldership was a finalist in the Publications category of the Scottish Creative Awards. It was also recognized in the Innovation category as being among the crème-de-la crème of Scottish magazines in the Scottish Magazine Awards.

From Westminster John Knox Press we have a winner of the 2015 Christianity Today Book Awards in the Theology/Ethics category. It is Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. (Yes, technically announced in 2014 but awarded in 2015)

I would also include in this topic the just-released book by Dr. Sean Michael Lucas, For A Continuing Church: The roots of the Presbyterian Church in America. It is described as the “first full scholarly account of the theological and social forces that brought about [the PCA’s] creation.”

Finally, two films directed by PC(USA) Presbyterian Disaster Assistance agency photojournalist David Barnhart have been invited to the Beaufort International Film Festival in February. The films are “Kepulihan: When the Waters Recede” about the aftermath of the 2004 Indonesian Tsunami and “Locked in a Box” about immigration detention facilities.

 

So there you have my list of what caught my attention.

Some of you may be wondering where all the issues that were happening in Louisville are? In my list above I tried to capture more broad themes and those are more denomination specific. But, to add them here the news out of Louisville included: an outside audit of cost overruns at the last Presbyterian Youth Triennium; continued investigation, dismissals and lawsuits related to the New Church Initiative fiscal management; the departure of Linda Valentine and hiring of Tony de la Rosa in the Executive Director position; the search for a new Stated Clerk and Gradye Parsons announcing he would not apply again; and the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s own budget crisis.

For more information specific to the PC(USA) you can check out the Presbyterian Outlook’s list of top stories. For that matter, the Free Church of Scotland has their own year in review, and the Church of Scotland Mission and Discipleship agency has one as well.

And so I hope that 2015 was a good year for you and my prayers for all of you for a good 2016. My year will start out on a very high note, so stay tuned for that. Until then

Happy New Year and a Joyful Hogmanay

Moderator Designate For The Free Church Of Scotland General Assembly

We are entering the GA preparation season with moderator candidates being announced and overtures being endorsed. So here one of the early announcements…

A couple of weeks ago the Free Church of Scotland announced their selection of the Rev. Dr. John Nicholls as their Moderator Designate for the 2016 General Assembly. Rev. Nicholls currently serves, in semi-retirement, as an associate minister at the Smithton Free Church of Inverness, but may be best known as the former chief executive of the London City Mission, a position he left back in May of 2013 after more than 20 years with the organization. He began his ministry at Ardnamurchan, Lochaber in 1975 before returning to his home town of London to serve at the London City Church and then the City Mission.

He began his higher education, according to the press release, at the Universities of Bradford and then Leeds studying mathematics and education. He completed his theological training at what was then Free Church College (now Edinburgh Theological Seminary) and his doctorate is in practical theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

The Free Church press release says of him “Dr Nicholls, 66, is widely respected as one of the most gentle and gracious ministers in the denomination.”

The press release includes these words from Dr. Nicholls in response to the call:

“Although most of my years of ministry have been spent outside Scotland, the Free Church has been my spiritual home for over 40 years.

“It is a great honour to be asked to serve as moderator of the next General Assembly.

“Having seen much evidence of the vitality and growth of evangelical Presbyterian Churches around the world, it is exciting to see signs of similar growth and renewal in Scotland, with the Free Church growing in membership and in the number of its congregations.

“With record numbers of students enrolled at the Edinburgh Theological Seminary, these are days of renewed hope and expectation across the Free Church.

“In such a climate, the General Assembly becomes far more than a mere talking shop or business meeting.

“And yet, the work and witness of the Free Church will only truly prosper if there is a strong and healthy passion for prayer and for the Word of God, and a genuine love to Jesus Christ, among its ministers and members.

“That must be the most important concern of any Moderator and any Assembly.”

He and his wife Sarah have two children and four grandchildren.

Our congratulations to Dr. Nicholls and prayers and best wishes as he prepares for this new call. We look forward to his leadership as he moderates the Assembly and will continue to pray for him in the moderatorial year which will follow.

2015 General Assembly Of The Free Church Of Scotland

abb92709-4c93-44fe-8b75-2ef076924200About three hours ago the Free Church of Scotland convened their 2015 General Assembly in St. Columba’s Free Church in Edinburgh. The meeting will run until Thursday. Certainly looks like it will be an interesting meeting so here is some info about following along and what you might expect.

To follow along in social media you should be checking the official Free Church Facebook page as well as their Twitter feed @freechurchscot. The host church can be followed at @stcsfreechurch and the hashtag will be #fcga.

The new Moderator of the General Assembly is The Rev. David Robertson of St. Peter’s Free Church, Dundee, a pastor who is well known within the Free Church as well as around the world through his writing, speaking and internet presence. While the Free Church has moved away from the nickname The Wee Frees, Rev. Robertson has embraced the title The Wee Flea and can be found by that title on both his blog as well as on Twitter (@theweeflea). He is also a  co-founder of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity and you can hear him on the Centre’s podcast, Quantum of Solas. Update: Rev. Robertson is writing about GA on his blog this week.

Other individuals to watch on Twitter are Iain D. Campbell at @revdridc, Martin MacLean at @shug_1980 and Gordon Matheson at @JediRev. I will update as others appear active at this meeting. Update: Rev. Matheson was kind enough to let me know that he would not be following GA closely this year but he recommended following Robert Macleod at @macleod_robert.

Reading through the reports there is a lot of important business coming before this assembly but none that struck me as being of the nature to attract a lot of outside press coverage. For those concerned with presbyterian polity it will certainly be interesting. One of these items is from the Board of Trustees report where they suggest that the size of the Assembly be increased – nearly doubled – so that decisions reflect more of the members of the presbyteries and there is a better connection to the presbyteries.

Acknowledging the paradox, this is immediately followed by a section talking about the shortage of ruling elders and the General Assembly. The report points out:

Over the past decade it has become increasingly difficult to identify sufficient elders with availability for the duration of the Assembly. Many of the younger men are not able to take time off their regular employment so as to attend the whole Assembly. This has meant that some Presbyteries have been unable to commission men from within their own bounds and in some cases have had to make do with fewer elders to represent them than should have been the case.

The proposed solution is to allow presbyteries to rotate elders around so that they always have the allotted number but it could be a different individual each day. I look forward to the discussion of the polity, administrative and operational points made in that debate which is docketed for tomorrow morning.

The Board of Ministry in their report is bringing a new scheme for paths into ministry in response to requests from last year’s Assembly. In this day and age individuals approach the ministry from a variety of angles and the proposal includes acknowledgement of previous training, flexibility for those getting their theological education part time as well as a path through apprenticeship training. Again, an interesting discussion we can look forward to on Thursday.

Convening the General Assembly today is a bit auspicious as it is the 172nd anniversary of the 1843 Disruption that formed the Free Church. However, it is worth noting that the branch meeting now is just a small portion of the original church as most of the churches merged first with the United Presbyterians in 1900 and then that branch merged with the Church of Scotland in 1929.

But the Free Church Assembly is always interesting and I look forward to a stimulating week. And in the case you are trying to juggle both live streams, remember that in the evenings the Free Church usually has no competition.

So best wishes to the Free Church on their Assembly and we pray for the Holy Spirit to guide your discernment throughout.

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Second Half Of November 2014

Here is what caught my attention in later November of last year. (And have I really gotten that far behind on these?)

From Presbyterian branches in Africa:

Over 400 varsity students from Presbyterian University of East Africa to miss graduation – from Standard Digital; A problem with accredited courses and matching courses to degrees canceled students’ graduation plans.

Staff petitions Blantyre Synod over Mulanje Mission CCAP administrator, accountant – from Nyasa Times; Accusations of corruption and mismanagement at this church-sponsored medical facility

Livingstonia Synod takes a swipe at ‘lazy’ judges – from Nyasa Times; “The CCAP Synod of Livingstonia through its Church and Society organization has condemned the conduct of some judges for not performing to the expectations of many Malawians, saying the judges are reaping off Government.”

PCC: Reverend Fonki Samuel Forba begins new mission with the Church – from CameroonWeb; the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon elects a new Synod Moderator

 

An article about the social care ministry of the Church of Scotland

CrossReach keeps us on the right path – from The Scotsman

 

And the Lord High Commissioner to the next General Assembly was announced

Judge Appointed Lord High Commissioner – from Life and Work; “Sir James Arthur David Hope, Baron Hope of Craighead, will represent the Monarch at next year’s gathering in Edinburgh.”

 

And in ongoing labour relations questions in the Church of Scotland

Church to end union pay deal agreement – from Herald Scotland; “Workers at the Church of Scotland offices have voted to end the collective pay bargaining agreement with Unite the Union. A ballot of the 220 staff saw an 80 per cent turnout and a vote of 93 to 80 in favour of an end to the eight-year-old recognition agreement.”

 

Also in Scotland, there was a proposal, abandoned for the moment, to make the schools more secular

MSP drops attempt to curb church role in Scots schools – from The Christian Institute

 

A full page New York Times ad was taken out to speak out against the PC(USA)’s Israel/Palestine divestment action and signed by 120 well-known members of the church.

Prominent Presbyterians Push Back On Divestment – from The Jewish Week

 

In Ireland, criticism of a move by a church to manage the leadership of a program it sponsors:

Killinchy church congregation split over demotion of Girls’ Brigade leaders – from The Belfast Telegraph; “Killinchy Presbyterian Church has moved to demote three long-serving Girls’ Brigade leaders because they attend the neighbouring Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church”

 

And finally, the strange but true headline of the period…

170-Year Old Mummified Cat Discovered in the Highlands – from Press and Journal; because the building dates to 1844 and has not been touched since it is said the cat may date to the time of the Disruption. For more on the renovation, or if you have reached your Press and Journal limit, there is a Free Church article about the church reopening: Dornoch Free Church set to reopen after renovation work

That is it for now. On to something else.

Presbyterian News Headlines For The Second Half Of October

And we keep on plugging through these. This time period is a bit lighter…

A new conference center director

Richard DuBose Named President of Montreat Conference Center – from Montreat press release

The preservation organization Historic Scotland proposes charging for tourists visits to Glasgow Cathedral, a move opposed by the kirk session:

Anger over admission charge plan for Glasgow Cathedral – from BBC News

A plan to improve educational opportunities:

Livingstonia Synod to construct agriculture college in north Malawi – from Nyasa Times

The Free Church of Scotland endorsed a proposal to cut the voting age for regular elections following the success of the move in the Independence Referendum. The suggestion is being seriously considered:

Voting age should be cut to 16, says Free Church – Herald Scotland

Plan to cut voting age for 2016 Scottish election -from BBC News

The Church of Scotland is working with other churches on economic reforms and initiatives. More on that at a future date, but here is a bit from this time span:

We should bank on a fair deal for everyone – from The Scotsman

A gift from the Lilly Endowment:

Louisville seminary gets $8 million endowment grant – from Louisville Business First

Repurposing unneeded church buildings (I visited the one in the lede picture when the GA was there):

Former Churches Blessed With New Lives in Pittsburgh – New York Times

And another one, a historic building in Scotland:

Falkirk businesswoman gifts church to arts group – from The Falkirk Herald

And finally, it is not Presbyterian per se but I got a smile from this one – a participant in the Vatican Synod on the Family who thought the process was a bit too open and equal?

RI bishop: Synod process is ‘rather Protestant’ – from Crux; “The concept of having a representative body of the Church voting on doctrinal applications and pastoral solutions strikes me as being rather Protestant.”

So have a good holiday season. I will try to catch up on headlines in the new year and have plenty, probably way too much other stuff that I want to cover the next couple of weeks.

New Free Church Of Scotland Moderator-Designate

A couple of days ago the Free Church of Scotland announced that at the Commission of Assembly meeting the Rev. David Robertson of Dundee was selected as the Moderator-designate for the 2015 General Assembly.

Rev. Robertson is the pastor of St. Peters Free Church in Dundee and director of the Solas Center for Public Christianity.

Rev. Robertson has been at St. Peters for almost 22 years and in that time the congregation has grown from eight people to over two hundred on Sundays now. In addition St. Peters has a sister church plant in St. Andrews and there are plans for one in City of Discovery. His previous, and first, call was to Brora Free Church in Sutherland.

His nomination as the Moderator-designate is made even more notable in light of his life-threatening medical problems in 2011 requiring surgery on his stomach and lungs and a five week stay in the intensive care unit.

Reacting to the appointment, the Free Church article quotes Rev. Robertson as saying:

It is an honour and a privilege to be able to serve in this way, especially at such an exciting time for both the Free Church and Scotland.

We are a growing and developing church, reversing the trend in a society which is becoming increasingly secularised and in a nation which is seeing significant changes.

My hope is that the Free Church will continue to bring the Good News to all the people of Scotland and beyond and that the Lord will use us as salt and light to help his people, of whatever denomination, and to see Scotland return to its Christian foundations.

Typically, for a Moderator-designate article I would stop here giving my best wishes and prayers and be done. But those who are familiar with Rev. Robertson’s work know there is much more to the story. To the wider community in Scotland he may be the most recognized minister in the Free Church. As the press release says:

David is widely regarded as one of Scotland’s boldest Christian broadcasters, regularly taking on atheists at media and student union events, as well as an increasingly popular author on persuasive evangelism for Christians.

And maybe you recognize him from his blogging and tweeting as @theweeflea. And the paragraph above is being very diplomatic when it says “one of Scotland’s boldest.” He is not afraid to engage ANYONE for the cause of the Gospel and has developed a reputation for that which is viewed differently depending on your perspective.

There is a great insight into Rev. Robertson in an article in the Press and Journal where former Moderator Rev. David Meredith says of him:

David has the uncanny knack of speaking about the ‘elephant in the room’ and his recent illness, which brought him to the very gates of death, have made him impatient with cant and bluster.

He is a man who realises that life is brief and eternity is endless and I have no hesitation in saying that he is one of the most godly people I know.

In light of how he is viewed in various sectors of society I have been intrigued with how his nomination has been cast in the headlines. A few samples…

New Free Church of Scotland Moderator announced – Premier Christian Radio (Straight forward, no spin)

‘Visionary’ named as new moderator of Free Church – Press and Journal (But you have to read far into the article to realize those are probably not scare quotes but just requoting a description from the article?)

Outspoken Dundee minister named Free Church Moderator – Herald Scotland

Anti-gay minister named Free Church Moderator – KaleidoScot (Considering the Free Church’s ordination standards and position against same-sex marriage this news outlet could probably use this headline for any Free Church Moderator-designate. On the other hand, they consider Rev. Robertson’s outspoken nature particularly detrimental to the civility of the debate and sending a message to the Church of Scotland at this time.)

UPDATE: Regarding that last article, KaleidoScot has published a response from Rev. Robertson.

So as we look forward to the 2015 General Assembly we can probably say with some confidence that it will be an interesting year. Our prayers are with Rev. Robertson for the time of preparation, his work moderating the General Assembly and for his moderatorial year. Our congratulations and best wishes.

Decision In Scotland

In just a few hours the citizens of Scotland will go to the polls to answer the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” According to the most recent polls “No” still leads, but by a statistically insignificant 4 percentage points while “Yes” has been rising rapidly in the last couple of weeks. So in a decision that is too close to call we will have to wait until 6 AM Friday in Scotland to know the results.

While at first glance this may seem like a political decision, the results carry consequences and uncertainty for the churches. The referendum is essentially asking whether to repeal the Treaty of Union of 1707 as adopted by the Acts of Union by Scotland and England. The Acts have 25 articles, some of which have been repealed individually. But Article 25, by far the longest, is the one that guarantees that Scotland will have their own religious identity and adopts the Presbyterian form of church government. The Article says in part:

And Her Majesty with advice and consent foresaid expressly Provides and Declares That the foresaid True Protestant Religion contained in the above-mentioned Confession of Faith with the form and purity of Worship presently in use within this Church and its Presbyterian Church Government and Discipline that is to say the Government of the Church by Kirk Sessions, Presbytries, Provincial Synods and Generall Assemblies all established by the forsaid Acts of Parliament pursuant to the Claim of Right shall Remain and Continue unalterable and that the said Presbyterian Government shall be the only Government of the Church within the Kingdom of Scotland.

It was the place of the Kirk in the national legislation that initially seemed to hold the attention of the Church of Scotland and at their 2013 General Assembly three committees reported on various aspects of independence and possible implications for the Kirk. Maybe the recommendation, or interpretation, that got the most traction was the idea that future monarchs should have a second coronation in Scotland. But also coming out of that Assembly was the idea that the Kirk would be involved in fostering respectful debate on the topic without taking a position on independence itself.

It was in this spirit that the Church of Scotland General Assembly this year set aside an afternoon for a public discussion in the Assembly Chamber. In the debate the Rev. Dr. Doug Gay of the University of Glasgow spoke for the yes position, Douglas Alexander MP spoke for the no side, and former Moderator of the General Assembly Alison Elliot OBE represented undecided voters and asked some probing questions on their behalf. A fourth speaker, John Sturrock QC, had the unenviable task of summarizing at the end.

The afternoon was lauded as a model of civil and respectful discussion on the topic and the video of the event has been preserved on the Kirk web site.

From watching the event I was struck by how it dealt with topics and issues of concern to the whole of Scotland in both the civil and secular realms. Yes, issues of social justice and themes of church and society were certainly present, but this was a discussion about the national implications.

[As an aside, it is clear from the polling numbers that the vast majority of those in Scotland do not view this decision as one of nationalism but of finding the better system.]

That evening there was a similar debate held at the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland. Former Moderator of the General Assembly the Rev. Dr. John Ross presented the unionist side (no) while solicitor Mr. Neil D.M. MacLeod presented the nationalist (yes) side.

This debate formed a nice counter-point to the afternoon event as it focused on the religious implications of the vote. Among the points of discussion was Article 25 which I mentioned above and what would happen to churches and religious protections if a newly independent Scotland were writing a constitution from scratch. Here are a few of the arguments are presented in the article (here edited for length):

Setting out his position, Rev Dr John Ross said that in September “we run the risk of altering Scotland’s Christian landscape beyond recognition”.

The Glenurquhart and Fort Augustus minister explained: “Since the Reformation of 1560, Presbyterian Christianity’s place has been close to the centre of political and public life.

“For 450 years, through a formal compact between Church and state, Presbyterianism has helped shape our national destiny.

“Now in the name of inclusion and equality this ancient prerogative is to be repudiated.

“The fact of the matter is, that despite a majority of Scottish people considering themselves to be Christian, in a future independent Scotland, as a matter of public policy, and for the first time since the Reformation, Christianity is likely to be officially marginalised, deprived of its status as the national religion.”

On the other side…

Mr Neil DM Macleod responded: “Britain has promoted secularism, moral relativism and the cheapening of life.

“Abortion, Sunday Trading, the destruction of family life have led to a broken Britain.

“You have the choice of change for an uncertain future where a ‘no’ vote means the Church has no voice, where a growing pace of change will push the church to the fringe, and our influence is no better that a bowling club.

“Or you have the choice to vote ‘yes’ for positive change, where the church articulates a clear vision of the place it should have in the nation state; what other rights would we want to see, for example whether the church should advocate for protections for freedom of religion or freedom of worship.”

He concluded by saying change is coming to Scotland, and “the question is whether Church is willing to play its part in that process of change”.

As a follow-up the next morning the Assembly of the Free Church heard from Communities Minister Roseanna Cunningham who spoke positively of the place of religion  in a post-referendum Scotland. She expressed her assurance that the government wanted to work with Christian groups and that “the Scottish Government recognised the important role of the Church and the wider Christian community, even if they took a different position on legislative matters.”

In the time since the General Assemblies there have been a couple of notable developments. The first was in late August when a group of Church of Scotland ministers signed an open letter endorsing independence. While completely within their right to do as individuals the Moderator of the General Assembly did issue a statement to clarify that they were taking a personal position and the official position of the Kirk was neutrality on the issue.

The second development was another evening of respectful dialogue sponsored by the Church of Scotland. This time it was in Glasgow and carried live on stv. Again, the video is available through the Kirk web site.

From here the Church of Scotland is focusing on reconciliation following the referendum. This includes the Moderator giving a prayer for unity and message of reconciliation last Sunday that was broadcast on BBC radio, An appeal today to use a “ONE” logo as a sign of unity (although its resemblance to the yes logo is hard to overlook). And a message from the Moderator discussing his vision for reconciliation and how others can help, including his plans for a major service of reconciliation at St. Giles this coming Sunday with the anticipation that many of the major figures in the debate would participate. With the vote likely to be close and 97% of the electorate – which has been modified to include those down to age 16 – registered to participate, there are likely to be strong emotions afterwards. [UPDATE: As the day gets under way there are also many signs of understanding whatever the position of the neighbour or the outcome of the vote.]

The Free Church is also officially neutral but they have issued a piece on “How should Christians vote in the independence referendum?” that does not take sides but presents some Biblical principles to keep in mind. They also issued a second piece today on “Praying for Scotland.”

Finally, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland has taken the stand, laid out in a position paper, that both alternatives are flawed and their recommendation is to abstain from the vote.

So truly our prayers are with Scotland for the referendum vote tomorrow (actually it is already the 18th in Scotland as I publish this). May God guide the citizenry to discern wisely in what will be a historic and unique moment in their history.

But to close with something a bit lighter, the Herald ran a political cartoon today that probably sums up the feelings of much of the population, one way or another, on this day before the vote.