2016: Ailie MacDougall – Presbytery of Greenock & Paisley

I had a great time at the general assembly in Edinburgh and I am really glad that I went. Before going, I didn't know what to expect as I had never seen it before or followed it on the television but I absolutely loved the experience as a youth representative and it was exciting to be sharing it with others of my age.

Blue bookWhen the blue book arrived through my door, I was slightly scared of the size of it and wondering how I was going to read the whole book before the assembly, but I did and managed to read all 27 reports. When reading them though, I didn't really understand the layout of the report and how the debate was going to be run. But after the first session of the assembly, I quickly got the hang of how everything worked. Looking back, I now realise that I should have tackled the book differently. I should have focused on the main reports from the Mission and Discipleship, Ministries, World Mission and the Panel on Review and Reform councils. This would have allowed me to gain a better understanding of the work of the big committees and the issues they face. Also, if I had done this, then I would perhaps have been more inclined to put forward a motion, counter motion or an amendment to a deliverance, which I wasn't aware of I could do before attending the general assembly. This may have also given me confidence to take part in a debate and speak before the assembly.

One thing which I thought happened was that we as youth representatives would get a vote, but it turns out we don’t. We discussed, at one of our preparation sessions we had at night, about youth representatives not having a vote and after that, I understood that it is because we are not ordained within the Church of Scotland. Also, in most of the debates, 36 votes do not make much of a difference. But, we were allowed to contribute to debates and make our voice heard which was good.

Every night of the week we did preparation sessions which I found very useful. It gave us time to discuss the reports and highlight anything which we did not understand. It was also very interesting hearing everyone's views on topics which they are passionate about and also on some of the main issues that face the church and its people. The preparation sessions were also helpful because when the report was delivered, I knew what was going on and I could follow the debate easily.

I found the debates at the DebatesGeneral Assembly interesting, especially hearing different people's opinions, their arguments and then finding out the decision the assembly made on the matter. Some debates got quite heated, for example in the debate about amending the Ministers and Deacons in Civil Partnership Act to include same-sex marriage along with same-sex civil partnerships. This debate went on for about 2 hours. One commissioner even started a protest a couple of days later over the issue. We should remember though, that the general assembly unites us and brings together God's people for the better of the church and we should not be divided over decisions which are made.

Another interesting debate was one during the Mission and Discipleship Council report, one of the youth representatives put forward a motion to introduce pastoral care resources about transgender and gender non-conforming people. I strongly agreed with this and the assembly did too as it was passed. I think it is important for churches and their congregations to understand the difficulties and issues that these people go through and continue to face in today's society. We as Christians and as a Church should be inclusive and welcome everyone into the church and make them feel like they belong here, it is our duty as people of the way to embrace this.

My favorite part of the General Assembly and the part I most enjoyed was hearing the World Mission council's report as it showed the vast amount of work that the Church of Scotland does in other countries to help people in need. There were people from Soomba, Korea and Uganda who spoke to the assembly and told us their story and how the Church of Scotland has helped them with crop failures and water shortages by purchasing and distributing food and water to a number of families. They also thanked the Church of Scotland for the work they have done. It was nice to hear from them and to tell us all how much they appreciate the help from the Church in such crises.

While at the General Assembly, I also attended a couple of the fringe events. Heart and Soul on the Sunday I always enjoy, especially the evening worship. I liked how the readings were live streamed from Lochaber, so even people that could not make it to Edinburgh could take part in the service. The African Children's Choir was also performing at Heart and Soul and they were great. On Tuesday night, there was The Guild Big Sing which I really enjoyed as there was lots of singing. I also liked having so many people worshiping together and praising God through music. On Monday, there was a launch for a book called 'The Invisible Church'. Learning about the book was very interesting and I plan to get a copy and read it. The book is based on research carried out showing that there is a church outside of these walls and explores the faith of churchless Christians, people who regard themselves as Christians but do not attend church. The church has maybe not fulfilled the individual’s spiritual path, for example, or they may feel that questioning their faith was not welcome.  Maybe as a church we should be asking why people leave church, just as we would in a job. To provide an insight into why people leave church and how this can be changed for the future.

ReceptionOn the Thursday night, as youth representatives, we had the privilege of a reception with the moderator and also a beat and retreat and reception at Holyrood Palace which was exciting. This was the only time of the week which it rained and we had to get dressed up and walk the whole length of the Royal Mile to get to the receptions. The moderator reception was at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile. We got the chance to meet the moderator in a relaxed setting and he was keen to know how we were finding the assembly, our highlights and lowlights of it. The moderator and his wife were also wearing Mr and Mrs Moderator t-shirts which were made by the Sunday school at their church. We then walked down to the bottom of the Royal Mile, in the rain, to Holyrood Palace where we watched a beat and retreat with highland dancers and a pipe band which was very good and a nice welcoming to the palace. We then entered the palace and into the reception room which was very grand and elegant. There were waiters ready with glasses of wine and canapés for us. It was not only youth representatives at the reception; we were joined by all of the first time commissioners as well. It was great to mingle with them as well as important people like former moderators. I even got to meet the Queen's representative, His Grace the Lord High Commissioner, but sadly was not allowed to get a selfie with him!

ChoirWhile at the General Assembly, I joined the assembly choir. We performed two pieces of music at the Wednesday and Friday worship. I really enjoyed taking part in the choir as I love to sing. I am a member of the RSNO chorus and I actually met another chorus member in the assembly choir and so it was nice to meet her and see how she was finding the general assembly.

Every day, morning and night, we worshipped in the hotel before heading up to the assembly hall and then again before bed. We would sing hymns and say prayers but I really liked the worship sessions as we got to just think and reflect about why we were at the assembly and also to thank God for being there and to help us through the week. The St Giles service on the Sunday morning was also very nice and they had a great choir whose sound filled the whole cathedral.

The good thing about being at the general assembly was that I got to find out about all the projects that other churches do and all the different charities they support. One thing which caught my attention was eco-congregations which I had not even heard before. I quite like this idea as this is a way in which the church can contribute to the environment and conserve God's creation by simply just saving energy or recycling, for example. We have to protect what God created. This is something I would like to take forward in the church.

The best thing about going to the General Assembly was making friends and being around young people who have the same faith and beliefs as me. I enjoyed discussing Christianity with them and finding out their opinions and views. All of the youth representatives were all very welcoming and we all got along with each other.

The General Assembly has been an eye opening experience especially learning about the extent of the work the Church of Scotland carries out, which I had not realised before. Also, I had a great week and thoroughly enjoyed it, exploring my faith, worshipping with other young people and also meeting up with Presbytery for something to eat.

I would just like to thank my church for bringing the GA to my attention and also Presbytery for nominating me and giving me the opportunity to attend. It is an experience that I won't forget.

Thank you.