CRAMOND minister the Rev Dr Russell Barr will take over as Moderator of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly today as the annual gathering gets under way at The Mound.
Dr Barr, who will hold the post for a year, has vowed to make fighting the “obscene” problem of homelessness his top priority.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is among the VIPs due to be in attendance.
But as soon as this morning’s opening ceremony is over, the Assembly will be plunged once more into the debate over gay ministers which has been a recurring issue of controversy in the Kirk for several years.
Last year’s Assembly agreed to change church rules to allow people in civil partnerships to be called as ministers to local congregations.
But a proposal to extend the change to those in gay marriages was referred to local presbyteries across the country for approval and returns to the Assembly today for a final go-ahead.
Opponents are expected to make a last-minute effort to stop the move, arguing it would mean a fundamental change in the church’s understanding of marriage as being between a man and a woman.
A total of 26 presbyteries backed the rule change while 19 did not. That involved 1207 individual members of presbyteries voting in favour and 1096 against. Edinburgh presbytery voted by 122 to 42 in favour of allowing ministers in same-sex marriages, an even more decisive majority than the previous 115 to 59 vote for those in civil partnerships.
But Lothian presbytery – which covers Midlothian and East Lothian – voted against by 47 to 28, compared to the previous 52 to 26 vote to accept ministers in civil partnerships.
The Kirk’s theological forum, led by former Moderator The Very Rev Professor Iain Torrance, is expected to report to next year’s Assembly on the question of whether Church of Scotland ministers should be allowed to solemnise gay marriages.
But a report by the forum to this year’s gathering notes the polarising effect of the sexuality debate. It says: “Over the years we have come to see that it is unrealistic for either side to think that it can gain absolute victory.”
And it advocates an approach described as “constrained difference” – avoiding polemic and recognising that people can in good conscience interpret the Bible in different ways.