2016: Catriona Munro - NYA representative
Unbelievable to think it’s already been a year since the General Assembly (GA) last swung round! Yet here we are again with this year’s already a distant memory! Another eventful week full of long days and debates, catching up with old friends and making new ones, mingling with moderators past and present, and the odd Royal representative. Why go on holiday when you can go to GA?!
As a second timer, I had an experience that was both very similar and very different to last year’s. Without the pressure of figuring out the structure of the week, knowing the difference between amendments and deliverances, and getting my head round when to stomp your feet (pretty much whenever the Moderator finishes speaking – you can’t go too far wrong with a foot stomp) and when to bow (any time anyone bows at you, and every time you enter and exit the hall), I was able to get immersed in the full content of the reports in next to no time. It also made it easier to get to know my fellow youth reps at the beginning of the week.
There were a lot of positives steps made this year - from the amendment to the Social Care Council Report instructing employees to be paid living wage, the Church and Society Council encouraging the assembly to recognise corporal punishment of children as violent and approach the Scottish Government to remove the defence of “justifiable assault” from the Criminal Justice Act, to the Ministries Council going ahead with their plans to introduce a hub-style ministry as a way of introducing new ways of experiencing church. We were even witness to a little history being made when the Church Hymnary Trustees accepted the first second section to their report in thirty years and agreed to investigate the possibility of making a more user friendly version of CH4 for organists. Something I know a lot of organists will be glad to have!
Among the controversy that always seems to accompany the Assembly (we wouldn’t love it if it weren’t for the controversy!) the Mission and Discipleship Council agreed on a deliverance regarding congregational learning and pastoral care of transgender and non-conforming people. We also had a debate on the amendment to the act passed last year regarding ministers in civil partnerships, to include those in same sex marriages. While last year’s debate focussed on the content of the Act, this year the amendment was merely updating the language used, to keep in time with Scottish Law. It was at this point (the Saturday afternoon) we realised that perhaps youth reps shouldn’t be the only ones who get to participate in evening prep sessions...
Once again, the youth reps were an unstoppable force at the Assembly, with a good number of us moving sections and amendments and having our say on many of the reports. Following the National Youth Assembly report, a number of commissioners were quick to commend the work we’ve done through the year and to thank us for our input to the Assembly. Such input is only made possible through the dedication if our pastoral care team, who guide us through the week in matters regarding the content of each and every report in the Blue Book, help us write motions we want moved, and anything and everything in between. We were lucky to have the youngest CoS minister, Rev Michael Mair among our pastoral team, who led us in a very touching communion service on the Wednesday night where we celebrated the sacrament of communion in a very informal, relaxed setting, which after the week we were having was greatly needed as a way to reinforce the reason we were all gathered together – our Lord and Saviour.
Worship is such a huge part of GA, and it’s always great to join with 900 others in worship every morning before business. Prior to this, we have our own short worship session in the hotel at 8.15 in the morning which is lead by a different pair of youth reps each day. It’s a lovely way to begin the day – whether it takes the form of quiet contemplation, building crosses out of spaghetti and marshmallows, or shouting the Lord’s Prayer as loudly as possible – perhaps giving other guests a slight cause for concern (it does sound good when it’s expressed loudly and proudly)!
For many of us GA is a unique event that is the doorway into a community of young people in the Church of Scotland, something that for a number of us is not all that easy to come across but now, thanks to social media, is so easy to tap into (show of hands who was following the #GA2016 trend on Twitter as we live tweeted the entire week...?)
Holyrood Palace is a special event, and is a bit of an escape from the long business sessions (it is hard work sitting in that hall for 6 hours every day listening to church law!), and provides a great opportunity to network with representatives from churches all across the world. Oh, and there’s the added bonus of being served bottomless wine glasses (you have to really hunt for the soft drinks, sadly) and slipping into casual conversation with royalty. After coming so close to getting to speak to The Right Honourable Lord Hope (none other than the Queen’s representative) last year, it was very surreal being approached by him for a chat this time!
My highlights were the Guild report, which again was very well delivered and it’s exciting to know of their enthusiasm for all the NYA represents. We’re beginning to forge links with the Guild to close the age gap within the CoS, so watch this space for more news! I also enjoyed hearing of the work of the Scottish Bible Society, who has reached out to communities across the world to make the Bible available in many more languages and to teach the world that the Word of God is “a lamp to your feet and a light to your path”, a truly beautiful sentiment and a wonderful way to sum up what the work they do means.
From this year’s General Assembly, I am lucky to have taken away a great number of things not least the free pens and lollipops I got at Heart and Soul! I learned that it only takes one voice in the crowd to start something huge. I discovered new ways of worship and found that change – although not always “good” or “bad”, is inevitable and something to be embraced. Most importantly of all, I have found a community of other young people from all over Scotland – and indeed as far away as Budapest – with whom I can share and explore my faith, and as one we make up not the Church of Scotland’s future but, rather we are the Church of Scotland’s Now.