Guide to the General Assembly

The General Assembly is the supreme court of the Church of Scotland. The Assembly meets annually to make laws and set the agenda for the national Church.

General Assembly

The Assembly was first held in 1560, the year of the Scottish Reformation which marked the beginning of the Protestant Church of Scotland.

The Assembly takes place at the Assembly Hall in Edinburgh - the previous home of the Scottish Parliament from 1999 until 2005. Learn more about our history.

Many who attend or tune in online to the live worship, speeches and debates are profoundly touched by the strength and warmth of fellowship within the Kirk.

Who attends

Around 730 ministers, elders and members of the diaconate are nominated to attend the Assembly each year. They are called commissioners and are there to represent the views of their presbytery on votes which take place during the Assembly. Visitors are also invited from partner churches and denominations from around the world.

A new Moderator is appointed to chair the daily business of the General Assembly each year. Moderators can be male or female and ordained ministers, deacons or elders. The Lord High Commissioner is appointed by the Queen to act as her representative and attend the Assembly as an observer.

Getting to grips with Assembly terminology

One of the more challenging aspects of the General Assembly is the legal language and Church terminology used. Here are some of the main terms you are likely to hear during the week:

Reports

Reports provide an overview of what each council or committee has been working on over the past year, and highlights their future plans. This report is verbally delivered to the Assembly by the convener or chairperson, before they ask the Assembly to approve each statement (known as deliverances) in their report.

Sometimes the Assembly will 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.

Reports are printed each year in what is known as the Blue Book.

Deliverances

Each report contains a number of statements (known as 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.

Motions

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. This means that the original deliverance is more or less acceptable but the commissioner is proposing a comparatively minor change to 'improve' it.

Overture

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.

Petition

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.

Video guides

Keep up to date with what's going on

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