The General Assembly

First held in 1560, the General Assembly is the Kirk's highest court, made up of commissioners who are generally ministers, elders and deacons, as well as youth representatives and around 40 international emissaries from partner churches around the globe. The General Assembly considers reports from each of the Church's councils, discusses issues of national and international importance, and makes decisions that help set the Church of Scotland's direction for the coming years.

This year the theme of the General Assembly is 'Word of Life'. Congregations and groups of all ages who are connected with the Church are being encouraged to print 'Word of Life' letters out and put a picture on social media. Join in and use the hashtag #wordoflife.

More than 730 commissioners from congregations across Scotland and beyond will come together to take part in the event, a unique mix of debate, tradition and worship

Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else

1Thessalonian 5:15

Lord High Commissioner

Each year HM The Queen appoints a Lord High Commissioner as her representative to the General Assembly, unless she attends in person. This year, Her Majesty has appointed HRH The Princess Royal, who previously performed the role in 1996.

HRH The Princess Royal
Her Royal Highness served as Lord High Commissioner in 1996 and we look forward to her returning to the General Assembly this year.

The High Commissioner is the Sovereign’s personal representative to the Annual General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. She attends the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on behalf of the Sovereign. She makes the opening and closing addresses to the Assembly, and carries out a number of official functions as the High Commissioner.

Who attends

The General Assembly comprises around 730 commissioners who are ministers, elders and members of the diaconate (a form of ordained ministry) from across the Church's 48 presbyteries, which also include England, Europe and Jerusalem. Visitors are also invited from partner churches and denominations from around the world.

Chairing the daily business is the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. When the Moderator has to be absent from the debating chamber, a former Moderator will take the chair.

While the position of Moderator Designate is announced early each year, it is up to the Assembly to approve the appointment. Moderators can be male or female and ordained ministers, deacons or elders.

Reports, deliverances and debates

The Assembly's reports are printed each year in what is known as the Blue Book. Each resolution for action in these reports is called a deliverance and the commissioners have the right to debate and amend these deliverances prior to voting on them. Sometimes the debates can be complex with many votes taking place about one issue, even down to the minutia of how a deliverance is worded. As the deliverances dictate how the Church of Scotland will operate, debates are an important part of business and enable commissioners to vote as their conscience tells them.

Youth Assembly

The Youth Assembly 2017 will be held from the 21st to 24th July at Gartmore House near Stirling. Do you have anyone in your congregation or community aged between 17-25 inclusive who would be interested in attending? If so, let them know about this year’s event.

National Youth Assembly chooses new youth moderator and clerk

A Highland barman who is in training for the Celtman extreme triathlon has been chosen to represent the voice of young people in the Church of Scotland as the Youth Moderator for 2017-18.

Robin Downie, 21, who works at the Strathcarron Hotel in his hometown of Lochcarron, was appointed to the role by delegates to the Kirk’s National Youth Assembly. Robin will work with Catriona Munro, 25, who was chosen as the NYA Clerk. Originally from Paisley, Catriona now works as a greeting card merchandiser in the Stirling area. They will take up their positions during the opening session of NYA 2017 in July and will serve for a year.

Robin Downie, NYA Moderator

The Youth Moderator chairs discussions at the annual National Youth Assembly, which will take place this year at Gartmore House, near Stirling, from 21—24 July. During the year Robin and Catriona will also work with a team of youth representatives from across Scotland to express the views of young people in the church. The pair will represent the NYA at events and encourage young people to take an active role in the National Councils and Committees of the Church. The Youth Moderator also writes and delivers a report to the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly.

At the moment, Robin is training for the Celtman extreme triathlon, one of the toughest triathlons in the world. Last year he spent 10 weeks travelling to Taiwan, Bulgaria, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Denmark and Iceland. A supporter of Hibernian Football Club, he also enjoys playing and watching rugby.

A church member at Applecross Lochcarron, Torriden Church of Scotland Robin says his next move will be to pursue studies in nursing. Robin’s Christian faith led him to spend 6 months volunteering for the charity Blythswood Care, after leaving school. He worked in an orphanage and as an English teacher with the Roma community. He has also helped run Christian summer camps in Bulgaria, Taiwan, Romania and Scotland and preached his first sermon last year in Bulgaria.

Robin says: “I'm delighted about being elected as the next Youth Moderator and represent the Presbytery of Lochcarron-Skye. The National Youth Assembly is full of great ideas and discussions which I'm excited about discussing with the rest of the church and putting into action. I have attended the previous two National Youth Assemblies.

“It is such a great event in getting Christians from all over the country to discuss God and meet other Christians their own age. I know it will be a challenging year, yet an exciting year, and I believe anything is possible when you work with God. Although it is not one of our main topics I am especially looking forward to the discussion on refugees having spent a few days last summer working with the refugees in Greece.

“I’m also looking forward to leading the discussions of Interfaith, Priorities of the Church and Year of the Young Person. I'm really looking forward to taking on the role and working with the rest of the youth rep team once they have been elected in the summer. I am also looking forward to working with the Clerk Catriona Munro who I know will do a fantastic job.

“I’m currently living in Lochcarron on the west coast of Scotland, but I am planning to move to the central belt in September to study nursing. I am looking forward to meeting more people in the church, and working together for the glory of God.”

With ministers and church organists in her family, Catriona was baptised and grew up in Sandyford Church (now Martyr’s Sandyford) in Paisley. Now as a member of St. Columba’s in Stirling, Catriona is involved in the Education and Learning Group, leads the Bible Class and is the chair of the Eco Team

In 2015 she was offered a place as youth rep for Stirling Presbytery at the General Assembly, and has since attended two additional Assemblies. She has served twice as a youth rep and says she is looking forward to serving this year as clerk. Catriona enjoys creative writing and never leaves the house without a book.

Catriona Munro - NYA Clerk

Catriona says “It is a period of change for the church. With the future uncertain, there is huge scope for new opportunities, new ideas and new perspectives. I like to welcome change, the challenges change can bring and the rewards it can reap; and I am particularly looking forward to exploring this period of change within this role."

“I know Robin will be excellent in his role as moderator, and I’m greatly looking forward to working with him and our team of youth reps through the year. NYA is such an important opportunity for young people in the church to engage with one another and with the church in the wider sense. I would hope to see NYA continue to bring young adults together in in faith and fellowship to make a positive impact on the church today.”

Young people aged 17-25 who have a connection to the Church of Scotland are invited to consider attending the National Youth Assembly. This year’s event will include discussions on:

  • Young people and discipleship
  • Interfaith
  • Priorities of the Church

For more information about the NYA and to book please visit the new young adult webpages

Oh no, not again?

The General Assembly in May is to be asked to consider two key issues:

  • Authorise the Legal Questions Committee to undertake a further study on the legal implications of conducting same-sex marriages and report back to the General Assembly in 2018;
  • 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.

In releasing the report the Convener of the Theological Forum, the Very Rev Professor Iain Torrance, said: “The Report addresses what has been a long running argument in all the churches. In years past there has been an idea that in time one side in this argument would emerge as the sole victor. We don’t think like that now. That is why we are arguing for what, last year, the Forum called ‘constrained difference’.

“This is saying that within limits we can make space for more than one approach. It is closely similar to what the Archbishop of Canterbury calls ‘mutual flourishing’.

“This is a centrist report, aimed at encouraging mutual flourishing.”

The Assembly is being asked to decide whether it wants to ask the Legal Questions Committee to pursue further research on the matters which would require to be addressed in any new legislation permitting Ministers and Deacons to officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies. If the General Assembly does move in this direction a further report will be heard in 2018. However, to move in this direction may subject ministers who do not wish to officiate at same-sex marriages to being prosecuted under equality laws.

Pilgrimage as a form of worship

Rev Dr Richard Frazer, Convener of the Kirk’s Church and Society Council believes pilgrimages offer a genuine and meaningful spiritual pathway for modern-day Christians. “Worship comes in many forms and pilgrimage is one of them,” Dr Frazer says. “The habits of Sunday morning services, as noble and as good as they are, do not necessarily reach people who have a profound spiritual hunger but have never developed those habits. People who walk the Camino may not be conventionally religious, but very few who reach Santiago de Compostella would deny the journey there was a spiritual experience. In a time when the Church is looking for new ways to touch the hearts of all people, pilgrimage is a very powerful tool.”

In the first centuries AD Jerusalem and other Biblical sites quickly became a destination for early Christians. Known as the People of the Way, those first Christians were instructed to journey so that they might spread the good news. They obeyed and over centuries the missionary saints became legends. Saints and their exploits became associated with special places: St Columba and Iona; St Ninian and Whithorn; St Cuthbert and Lindisfarne; St Magnus and Orkney; St Mungo and Glasgow; St Andrew and St Andrews.

This year the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will be asked to reverse centuries of hostility to the ancient practice of pilgrimage and to affirm its place within the life of the church. There is "a massive resurgence in Scotland" with six major pilgrimage routes under development and enthusiasm for spiritual journeying rising every year. Last month the National Lottery announced new funding of £399,000 to develop the Fife Pilgrims way, a 70-mile route that will travel from Culross and South Queensferry to St Andrews. On Easter Sunday—the 900th Anniversary of St Magnus’ death—a new pilgrimage route in his honour was launched in Orkney.

Fife Pilgrim's Way

In the first centuries AD Jerusalem and other Biblical sites quickly became a destination for early Christians. Known as the People of the Way, those first Christians were instructed to journey so that they might spread the good news. They obeyed and over centuries the missionary saints became legends. Saints and their exploits became associated with special places: St Columba and Iona; St Ninian and Whithorn; St Cuthbert and Lindisfarne; St Magnus and Orkney; St Mungo and Glasgow; St Andrew and St Andrews.

According to Dr Frazier, during the Middle Ages when pilgrimage was practised throughout Europe these places became important sites for worshippers. The streets of St Andrews were specially designed to accommodate the crowds of pilgrims who travelled there.

But during the Reformation people rebelled against abuses such as selling pardons for sins and making money from supposedly sacred objects like pieces of saints clothing, locks of hair or bones.

Reformers viewed pilgrimages as superstitious and discouraged them, and they fell out of favour across Europe for a time. Yet the idea never went away. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, for example, viewed pilgrimage as a metaphor for the challenges we face on our pathway through life. “I think pilgrimages were viewed as superstition because people believed that you could be healed by the water from a special well or by the bones of a saint,” Dr Frazer says. “That is why Robert the Bruce, who is said to have suffered from leprosy travelled twice to Whithorn, a site made sacred by St Ninian. But what those who frowned on pilgrimage missed is that the most important part of pilgrimage is not the destination but the journey. It is on the journey that we meet others and find Christ in the stranger. It’s unfortunate that in reforming some wrongful practices, we may have neglected a way to worship that is meaningful to so many.”

Jesus spent his entire ministry on the move, Dr Frazer notes, sometimes going off alone to remote places to pray and prepare for the trials he would face. And after Christ’s resurrection it was on the Road to Emmaus that he revealed himself to disciples. “They offered hospitality to a stranger and then realised they had been in the presence of the risen Christ. And it’s quite common to encounter Christ through welcoming people you have never met before. The sharing of hospitality is a sacred thing; it’s very sacramental."

Getting to grips with Assembly terminology

One of the most confusing aspects of the General Assembly can be the range of legal language and Church terminology used. Here are some of the main terms you are likely to hear during the week:

The report

This provides the overview from each council or committee about their work over the past 12 months, and highlights future plans and direction. This report is officially delivered with a speech to the Assembly by the convener or chairman, prior to approval being sought on the report's deliverances. Sometimes the Assembly will also ask a council or committee to report back on a specific subject, or set up a committee or commission to consider an issue of importance to the Church.


Each report to the General Assembly contains a number of deliverances which commissioners vote to approve, amend or reject according to personal conscience. These deliverances set the agenda and direction for each council or committee over the coming year and can change or establish new Church law.


Commissioners can propose motions from the floor of the Assembly about the report currently being discussed. Motions, like deliverances, are for commissioners to approve or reject and are offered as an alternative to the original deliverance proposed in the report. Motions belong to three categories:

Counter-motions are brought by commissioners from the floor. They are contradictory proposals to the deliverance. As there can be more than one counter-motion to each section of the deliverance, no vote is taken on them until the whole discussion is closed and all counter-motions have been brought before the Assembly

Amendments are proposed deletions, alterations or additions which are not substantially different from the original deliverance contained in the report. In effect therefore the original deliverance is more or less acceptable but the commissioner proposing it will have a comparatively minor change to 'improve' it


This is a method by which one court of the Church (for example a presbytery) brings a matter before another (e.g. the Assembly). Once the matter has been introduced, it is debated just like the reports - already described above. Overtures are printed in the Order of Proceedings booklet.


This is a mechanism by which any individual or group can bring before the Assembly a matter that affects them personally, asking the Church to take action. When their business has been introduced and questions asked of them, the petitioners take no further part in the debate, and the Assembly can dispose of the matter in any way it wishes.

Can't get to Edinburgh for Heart & Soul? You are invited to Lochaber Presbytery's event

Keep up with the Assembly

If you are not attending to the Assembly, you can still keep in touch with what's going on. You can connect to the webcast site to watch it live, see archived highlights, or listen to a summary of the day's proceedings.

‘British values’

The UK Government’s definition of ‘British values’ is very vague and subjective: “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.

Some school inspectors south of the border have interpreted this to mean that Christians cannot disagree with same-sex marriage. You can easily imagine how other mainstream Christian beliefs could fall foul of this agenda.

The idea of introducing an oath to ‘British values’ and equality was floated last year by the integration tsar Dame Louise Casey. It has been endorsed by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid MP.

Such an oath is a real threat to religious liberty. There are disturbing precedents in history. For example, between 1661 and 1688 a government oath was a key legal weapon used to oppress dissenting Christian believers in both Scotland and England.

Highland Presbyteries

Representatives of the Highland Presbyteries of Abernethy, Argyll, Caithness, Inverness, Lochaber, Ross, and Sutherland met together on April 27 in a second meeting to consider how the Highland Presbyteries can cooperate more and offer resources to one another.

After some navel gazing in SWOT analyses, and declaring what Presbyteries had done and hoped to do, about forty-five minutes before finishing at 3.30pm the group resolved that a list of suitable trade contractors be drawn up, and a list of "experts" within each Presbytery be made, including those who are on Assembly Councils.

There was a request for ministers willing to conduct a committal at the crematorium, to save ministers coming on a long journey for a few minutes, having already conducted a local service. This is particularly pertinent to Inverness ministers, active or retired, who are willing to be available. If you wish to be added to the list, please contact the Presbytery Clerk

What is needed is to begin to plan a strategy to actually resource Presbyteries, rather than drawing up lists. Everyone was very cautious not to impose on another Presbytery, but this perhaps the group deciding to do any real and useful work together.

It is early days, and there are numerous problems that have arisen in each Presbytery, who are all stretched in a number of ways. Help on Data Protection, Safeguarding, accounting and Local Church Reviews were mentioned as ways where future resourcing would help, In the long-term consideration of a central office and administrator would be considered - perhaps using part of each Presbytery's 5% from Ministry & Mission.


Fourth Picnic and Praise Event.

This year with John Alexander Wilson and local singers.

Castle grounds open 6.00 pm on Sun June 25 2017

Free entrance and parking.

Bring a picnic, chair, rugs and - just in case - midge spray!

Presbytery Happenings

The Business Committee is suggesting a radical change to the structure of Presbytery and its meetings. The proposal would run for a two-year trial period, with a review at the end. Adjustments might also be made during the two-year trial.

Proposed is that Presbytery normally meets four times a year. In the 2017-2018 session of Presbytery this translates to meeting in conference during the morning of Saturday 9th September, followed by an ordinary meeting for business in the afternoon. The conference would include Communion, and the business meeting would welcome new commissioned and additional elders and corresponding members. General Assembly remits would be formally allocated and agreement made as to when any Overtures must be debated (the norm being to do this at the November meeting).

The next meeting would be on Tuesday November 21st, with just an ordinary evening meeting of Presbytery. At this meeting the Presbytery budget and Presbytery Dues for 2018 would be agreed, Ministry and Mission allocations affirmed, with decision about how to spend the 5% Presbytery allowance, already managed by the Finance Committee as soon as the M&M figures are available. Appoint the Rolls and Records Inspection team due to report at the June meeting. Appoint the Examination of Congregational Accounts team, also due to report in June. Debate Assembly remits and Overtures and returns. Intimate the intent to appoint General Assembly Commissioners at the March meeting (with a more extensive rota devised to include which congregations send Commissioners, when additional, retired ministers and others are able to attend). Finally, agree the conference programme for the March meeting.

The Presbytery meets in conference in the morning of Saturday March 10, 2018 and then for ordinary business in the afternoon. As part of the afternoon business the Presbytery receives a report on the Presbytery Minutes inspection (the committee to inspect them being appointed in November. The report is to be submitted to the Principal Clerk by March 31). Commissioners to the General Assembly are elected (notice of doing so having been given in November). Nominate the Youth Representative to the Assembly, appoint the Presbyterial Panel representative, and appoint the Commission of Assembly representatives. Presbytery accounts are presented, and the following year's auditor appointed. The next Moderator of the Presbytery is nominated for 2018-2019, being elected at the June Presbytery (the Moderator takes up office on July 1). Finally, call for the commission of elders for the following session.

The final meeting of Presbytery in the year is an ordinary evening meeting on Tuesday June 26, 2018. At this meeting the Examination of Congregational Accounts report and the Inspection of Records report are received (the examining teams were appointed at the previous November meeting). The Roll for the Presbytery in the 2018-2019 session is laid on the table, the Moderator is elected and takes office from July 1. Finally, agree the conference programme for the September meeting.

All meetings are to be at Inverness Inshes Church. It was not felt that it would be practical to go round different congregations at this stage, because many congregations lack conference facilities, having pews, limited audio systems and visual facilities.

Business Committee meetings

The Business Committee is to meet approximately two-weeks before each Presbytery on Tuesday August 29, 2017, Tuesday November 7, 2017, Tuesday February 27, 2018, and Tuesday June 12, 2018. Each at Inverness Inshes Church and at 7:00pm.

Other Committee meetings

Committees may meet virtually (provide all members are able to be included in such types of meetings). Ideally, the Committees should arrange to meet at least two weeks before the the Business Committee in order to write and submit reports timeously. All Committees will be required to report at each meeting of Presbytery.

Committee Re-structuring

The Business Committee proposes that the workload of the Committee, and principally lightening the load for the Convener, Clerk, and Presbytery Clerk, by the Committee confining itself to matters of Presbytery operational business. To accomplish this, Vacancy Procedure matters should be passed to the Ministry Committee, as should matters connected to pastoral care, ministers' health needs, and manse families. When the Planning Committee has finished the extensive current planning, parish reappraisal should also revert to the Ministry Committee. The Ministry Committee has been running "light" in recent years, and this is being addressed by this restructure.

The old Superintendence Committee wanted to get away from a superintendence image while engaging in the newly introduced Local Church Reviews, which was geared to be supportive and to encouraging to congregations. The Business Committee took on the aspects of superintendence, thinking this was an occasional requirement. However, it has proved to involve considerably more than envisioned, and looks set to become even more involved, so it is proposed that superintendence returns to the Congregational Support Committee as a sub-committee with its own convener. The sub-committee would report through its own convener, but the Congregational Support Convener would also serve on the sub-committee.


Sadly, Hamish MacLean, Reader Emeriti, has died just 4 days after his wife, Jessie.

Email Change

Rev Tommy Bryson has changed his email address to





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