The Church of Scotland is Presbyterian in its structure, governed by a system of local, regional and national 'courts' or councils.'Presbyterian' government refers to the sharing of authority in the church by an equal number of 'elders' (elected from the membership of the church) and ministers. Both are ordained for their special tasks.The local council is the Kirk Session, consisting of elders and the minister. The regional council is the Presbytery, which looks after all the churches in the area.The national council is known as the General Assembly and convenes each year in Edinburgh. This meeting establishes the laws which govern the church and the priorities for the coming year.
The Assembly represents all presbyteries. In between meetings its work is carried out by several councils covering such areas as mission, education, social services, worship, doctrine and finance.
The most public position in the Church of Scotland is that of Moderator who chairs the General Assembly. It is an honorary (which means unpaid) and elected role held for a year.The Moderator makes local and international visits during the ensuing year, encouraging the church and representing the church to wider society.
The General Assembly used to be known as the 'nearest thing to a Scottish parliament'. Now that the Scottish Parliament is re-established, the Church, along with other churches, keeps in close touch with parliamentarians and contributes to the discussion on the issues of the day.
Unlike the Church of England, the Church of Scotland does not have to take orders from Parliament. Following the Church of Scotland Act of 1921, the Church was given freedom from interference in spiritual matters.
The same Act acknowledged the Church as 'a national church' with a responsibility for providing a parochial ministry to the people throughout the whole country.
The reigning monarch is not seen as head of the Church as in England. Nevertheless, he or she is given a special place in that he or she attends or is represented at each General Assembly.
The Church of Scotland is one of the Reformation churches. It believes that this means that it must continue to reform as new insights are gained about the church and how it can meet the needs of the times.
The main beliefs of the Church of Scotland are found within the Bible, in the New and Old Testaments together.Like all mainstream churches, it accepts the doctrine of the Holy Trinity; that God is experienced as Father, Son (in Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit. It sees Jesus Christ as the only head of the church and teaches that the church is his "body".The Bible has a central place in the life and worship of the Church. It is usually read and preached from at services.
The Church of Scotland does not have a prayer book which has to be followed but does have a book of resources and models for worship.The singing of hymns is an important feature of services and most members possess their own hymn book.
As a 'national' church, the Church of Scotland sees its duty as being to relate to all citizens and institutions, providing opportunities for learning about the Christian faith, and for worship and pastoral care for all. As well as service to local communities and other social programs, it provides a comprehensive structure of institutional care.Anyone is welcome to worship in the Church of Scotland irrespective of belief, age, and nationality.Worship is led by a minister but may also be prepared and led by deacons, 'readers' and elders.Services are held every Sunday (and at other times during the week) and contain periods of preaching, prayer and singing.There are also weekday groups for prayer, study and spiritual exploration.
Along with the reading and preaching of the Word, Holy Communion is central to the worship and life of the Church. Along with Baptism, Communion is seen as a sacrament (Jeremy Paxman, 1998).
Clergy in the Church of Scotland are known as 'Ministers of Word and Sacrament'. A Church of Scotland Communion is open to any member of any branch of the world-wide church. Its own members are generally welcomed to Communion after a ceremony of public declaration of faith and admission but, increasingly, children who are baptised are taking a full part.It has been the custom that Communion is celebrated with great ceremony only infrequently, but now more Communion services are held, especially at special festivals.At one time, people sat round a table to share the bread and the wine. More commonly today, people remain in their pews (with cloths to show that they are 'part of a table') while elders serve them.
Chapter 2. Religious pluralism and society in Great Britain