About the General Assembly

The General Assembly is the supreme court of the Church, and is its annual national business meeting. It 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, and takes place in May each year at the Assembly Hall on the Mound - an imposing 19th century building in the heart of Edinburgh.

The procedures and terminology used at the Assembly can seem daunting to those who are new to it, or even to seasoned commissioners, but it is an exciting time for the Church, providing a buzz of activity in the build up to the week-long event. Many who attend or watch or listen online to the live worship, speeches and debates are profoundly touched by the strength and warmth of fellowship within the Kirk at all levels of its organisation.

Who attends

The General Assembly comprises around 850 commissioners who are ministers, elders and members of the diaconate (a form of ordained ministry) from across the Church's 46 presbyteries, which also include England, Europe and Jerusalem.  Since 1998 ten representatives of the National Youth Assembly (including the NYA moderator) and a youth representative from each presbytery have been invited to attend and take part.  The Lord High Commissioner, or Queen's Commissioner, is appointed by the Queen as her representative at the General Assembly and attends daily business as an observer.  Visitors are also invited from partner churches and denominations from around the world.

Chairing the daily business is the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. When the Moderator has to be absent from the debating chamber, a former Moderator will take the chair.  While the position of Moderator Designate is announced early each year, it is up to the Assembly to approve the appointment. Moderators can be male or female and ordained ministers, deacons or elders. The Moderator Designate for 2013 to 2014 is the Rev Lorna Hood.

Each year, a live webcast of the Assembly is provided, along with regular web-updates on each day's business, facebook posts and tweets.

Reports, deliverances and debates

The councils, committees and departments in the Church present reports on their activities during the year, which are published in April in a volume referred to as the Blue Book. With each report is a series of resolutions (known as deliverances) for commissioners to accept, reject, add to or amend. During the Assembly, council and committee conveners present the report to commissioners for debate.   Sometimes the debates can be complex with many votes taking place about one issue, even down to the minutia of how a deliverance is worded.  As the deliverances dictate how the Church of Scotland will operate, debates are an important part of business and enable commissioners to vote as their conscience tells them.  The General Assembly may also decide to set up a special commission to investigate particular issues.  Decisions agreed become law determining how the Church of Scotland operates.