Archbishop of Canterbury to take part in General Assembly debate on Columba Declaration

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The Right Rev Dr Angus Morrison and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

The Archbishop of Canterbury is set to make history when he becomes the first head of the Church of England to take part in a debate at the Church of Scotland's General Assembly which opens in Edinburgh tomorrow.

The Most Reverend Justin Welby will speak to a landmark report, which proposes that the two denominations enter into an historic ecumenical partnership, on Wednesday.

Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland the Right Rev Dr Angus Morrison spoke before a debate on the Columba Declaration at the General Synod in London, which formally approved the agreement, in February.

Under the terms of the proposal, which is closely modelled on existing ecumenical agreements between other churches, both denominations would welcome one another's members into congregations and ordained ministers would be allowed to exercise ministry within the existing discipline of each church only within England and continental Europe.

Historic declaration

Dr Morrison said: "We all look forward to welcoming the Archbishop of Canterbury to the General Assembly on Wednesday to speak to the historic Columba Declaration.

"It was my privilege to address the General Synod of the Church of England on the same document and by a very large majority the Synod affirmed it.

"I am confident that our General Assembly will do so too.

"In itself the Declaration is largely of a symbolic nature but it does pave the way for our further growth in fellowship and for extending partnership in mission as sister and national churches who share many common roots, challenges and opportunities.

"We wish this to happen in the closest possible fellowship with other sister churches in the United Kingdom as we seek together to address the challenges of mission in our country today."

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams addressed the General Assembly, the supreme court of the Kirk and its annual national business meeting, in 2012 but did not take part in a debate.

The General Assembly has the power to make laws and set the agenda for the coming months or even years for the administrative councils, committees and departments of the organisation.

The Assembly was first held in 1560, the year of the Scottish Reformation which marked the beginning of the Protestant Church of Scotland as we now know it,

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will attend the formal opening ceremony in the building on the Mound which used to be home to the Scottish Parliament until 2004.

Senior judge Lord Hope of Craighead is this year's Lord High Commissioner – the Queen's representative at the General Assembly – and will read out a letter from the monarch.

European Referendum

More than 850 commissioners from across Scotland, the rest of the UK, Africa, Asia, North America, Europe, the Middle East and the Caribbean have registered to attend.

The Columba Declaration is one of a wide range of issues being discussed at the six day gathering this year.

Last year the General Assembly took the historic step of recognising Ministers and Deacons in same sex civil partnerships following years of debate.

Tomorrow (Saturday) Commissioners will be asked to vote on amending church law to recognise Ministers and Deacons in same sex marriages as defined by the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014.

If successful, it would not imply the Church will permit its ministers to solemnise same sex marriages.

The Church maintains its traditional view of marriage between a man and woman, but the change would extend individual congregations ability to 'opt out' if they wished to appoint a Minister or a Deacon in a same sex marriage as well as civil partnership.

A report on same sex marriage is currently being prepared by the Theological Forum and will be presented next year.

Other topics to be discussed include the European Union referendum, corporal punishment of children, climate change, the refugee crisis and exploring ways of growing the Church via the Internet and social media.

GenAss The Right Rev Dr Angus Morrison is sworn into the office of Moderator.

Homelessness

Dr Morrison stands down from his 12-month role as Moderator, the Kirk's ambassador at home and abroad, and will be replaced by the Rev Dr Russell Barr, the founder of an Edinburgh-based homelessness charity called Fresh Start.

"It is with a sense of relief and gratitude to the General Assembly that, on, I pass on the moderatorial baton to Dr Barr," said Dr Morrison.

"It has been a wonderful year for my wife Marion and I and such a privilege.

"I wish Russell and his wife Margaret every success in the year ahead.

"My prayers will be with them throughout."

Dr Barr has announced his intention to use his year in office to highlight the plight of homelessness in Scotland.

Speaking after he was elected, the 62-year old, who is minister at Cramond Kirk in Edinburgh, said he was "excited, honoured and overwhelmed".

"It is not a role that I ever imagined being asked to do," he added.

"It is humbling to be elected by your peers to serve the Church in this way.

"I will seek to use the role to raise moral and ethical issues and publicise the important part the Church plays in public life."