The Church of Scotland has voted in favour of allowing people in same sex civil partnerships to be called as ministers and deacons.
The historic decision was made by the General Assembly on the Mound in Edinburgh today, where the motion was passed by 309 votes in favour and 182 against.
The outcome is the culmination of years of deliberation within the Church. The motion has faced a series of debates and votes before the final decision was arrived at this afternoon. This included 31 of the Church’s presbyteries endorsing the move to 14 who opposed it.
This means the Church has adopted a position which maintains a traditional view of marriage between a man and woman, but allows individual congregations to ‘opt out’ if they wish to appoint a minister or a deacon in a same sex civil partnership.
In a speech later today the outgoing Moderator Very Rev John Chalmers is expected to say:
“There’s something else that we have to learn as a Church and that is the power of harmony. Of course we need the freedom across the Church to shape the life and worship of the Church according to local needs and local gifts (and we have seen wonderful examples of this – from Soul Space at Johnstone High Parish to the Shed in Stornoway) but we cannot go on suffering the pain of internal attacks which are designed to undermine the work or the place of others. It’s time to play for the team.
“And let me be very clear here – I am not speaking to one side or another of the theological spectrum. I am speaking to both ends and middle. It is time to stop calling each other names, time to shun the idea that we should define ourselves by our differences and instead define ourselves by what we hold in common – our baptism into Christ, our dependence on God’s grace, our will to serve the poor and so on.”
Co-ordinator of the Principal Clerk’s office, Very Rev David Arnott, said: “The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland decided today to allow individual Kirk Sessions the possibility of allowing a Nominating Committee to consider an application from a minister living in a civil partnership. During a vacancy a Kirk Session may, but only if it so wishes, and after due deliberation, agree to a Nominating Committee accepting an application from such a minister. No Kirk Session may be coerced into doing so against its own wishes. This decision was in line with a majority of presbyteries who voted in favour of such a move.”
Because the debate predates the legalisation of gay marriage the proposed change mentions only civil partnerships, not same-sex marriages.
The Assembly will be asked on Thursday to consider amending today’s new Church law to include ministers in same-sex marriages.
Nicola Sturgeon MSP attended the opening of the General Assembly for the first time as First Minister.
She witnessed the installation of Rev Dr Angus Morrison as Moderator of the General Assembly, who had to withdraw from the role last year to undergo treatment for cancer.
Later she tweeted: “A pleasure to attend the opening ceremony of the General Assembly and see Rt Rev Angus Morrison installed as Moderator.”
This year’s Lord High Commissioner – the Queen’s representative at the Assembly – is Lord Hope of Craighead KT PC, a distinguished retired Scottish judge.
He read out a letter from Her Majesty to the Assembly which praised Scotland’s national church for the role it played during last year’s independence referendum, formation of the new Churches’ Mutual Credit Union and the new ‘decade for ministry’ strategy to recruit new ministers.
During the annual gathering of the Church of Scotland, which has met almost every year since its inception in 1560, 730 Commissioners drawn from congregations across Scotland and beyond will make historic decisions that will affect the direction of the national church. It runs from Saturday 16 to Friday 22 May.
Other topics being considered are tax reform, food banks, mental health, fracking, mediation teams in South Sudan and nuclear weapons.
On Sunday up to 5000 people are expected to attend the Heart and Soul Festival, a celebration in Princes Street Gardens of the work being done by the Church.
A major new recruitment drive for ministers, called ‘Tomorrow’s Calling’, will be launched at this event.