The General Assembly has the authority to make laws determining how The Church of Scotland operates. It is also the highest court of the Church in which cases can be heard in matters of litigation. The other courts in the Church are the kirk session and the presbytery.
The Assembly comprises around 850 commissioners who are ministers, elders and members of the diaconate. It meets at the same time in May each year for a week, usually in the Assembly Hall on the Mound in central Edinburgh.
The first General Assembly was held in December 1560, which was the year of the Scottish Reformation and which marks the beginning of the Church of Scotland as we now know it. You can read more about our history here.
During the Assembly
Chairing the daily business of the Assembly is the Moderator of the General Assembly. At times when the Moderator has to be absent from the debating chamber, a former Moderator will take the chair.
The commissioners who attend are sent from the Church's parishes and presbyteries. Different commissioners are usually sent each year. Debates on matters contained in reports presented by the Assembly's various councils and committee can be lengthy and complex, sometimes resulting in many votes having to be taken in respect of a particular motion or amendment.
The Lord High Commissioner, or Queen's Commissioner, is appointed by the Queen as her representative at the General Assembly and attends daily business as an observer.
Also attending the Assembly are delegates invited from other Christian denominations in Great Britain, Ireland and overseas, together with guests of the Lord High Commissioner and civic dignitaries and politicians, who are seated in the throne gallery. Sometimes a distinguished visitor will be invited to address the Assembly.
In 1988, the then Prime Minister, the late Baroness Thatcher, delivered what has since been referred to as 'the sermon on the Mound'. In 1999 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown MP, used a General Assembly speech to outline his philosophy of international debt reduction, and he addressed the Assembly again in 2008, this time as Prime Minister. In 2009, Most Rev Desmond Tutu addressed the Assembly.
Each year, we provide a live webcast of the Assembly, thanks to St Andrew's Church, Bo'ness, and regular updates online on each day's business, as well as reports and other information.