Peter's Blog

General Assembly 2019 Summary

Written by Peter Johnston on .

This year's General Assembly in Edinburgh is still taking some processing for me, personally. Some major decisions were taken that will, if implemented successfully, change how the national church works with far greater devolution of responsibility and decision-making to the regional and local level. This is to be wlecomed, though not without some caution, because the transition process is bound to be challenging. However, there was a continuing mood from last year's GA that the status quo for the way the church works is no longer working effectively.

The Life and Work team have produced a very helpful summary supplement that I would strongly urge you to read both to get a flavour of what was decided and some of the issues that arose around those decisions.

However, there were a number of other issues that came up during the week that revealed a lack of desire to put words into actions. For instance, after having acknowledged that we are now in a environmental and climate emergency, when given the chance to remove the Kirk's investments in oil & gas companies (profiting from the industries that enable that climate emergency), the GA did not do so. This was a source of great lamentation for, in particular, many young people present who spoke and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make the case for disinvesting.

This was compounded later in the week when, despite the urgency in the action plan to focus on engaging with people under the age of 40, it became clear that the church has not been investing in young people adequately and is not going to hold a National Youth Assembly after 2019. The NYA has reported back to the General Assembly over the past two decades and more with the perspectives of young people on many important issues. There was a sense of the church refusing to disinvest in oil and gas multinationals, but choosing to disinvest in young people.

This last issue, which happened to be some of the final decisions made during the GA left a very sour taste in my mouth and in the mouths of others, particularly some of the young people who expressed their heartache that the church does not want to hear their opinions. There are plans for something much smaller that may, in part, replace the NYA, but it will not have the same impact.

Hence my very mixed reactions to this year's GA. At the beginning of the week I was encouraged, by the end of the week I was deflated and somewhat distraught.

One of the most important themes for me that came out of the discussions in Edinburgh is that truly the future of the Kirk is going to be in the hands of local churches (more and more in partnership with others) getting on with the mission and minsitry of serving our communities, living out what it means to be a people of God, and following Jesus' way. This is where it is happening. There will be less and less available nationally, as costs are cut, so it is more than ever up to us to be the church.