Queen's 'healing' plea to Church of Scotland annual gathering

Procession at General Assembly
Image caption The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has been held at The Mound in Edinburgh almost every year since 1560

The Queen has called on people of faith to "work together for the social good of Scotland whatever the outcome of the independence referendum".

In a letter to the Church of Scotland General Assembly, she recognised its role in "holding the people of Scotland together" and "healing divisions".

The annual gathering in Edinburgh began with the installation of the Right Reverend John Chalmers as moderator.

The debates will include the issues of gay ministers and independence.

The Queen's letter was presented to the opening session at the Mound, in the presence of Prince Edward and First Minister Alex Salmond.

It said: "In this important year of referendum we pray that whatever the outcome, people of faith and people of goodwill will work together for the social good of Scotland.

"We recognise too the important role that the church can play in holding the people of Scotland together, in healing divisions and in safeguarding the interests of the most vulnerable.

"In this year in which Scotland will host the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, we commend to you those who will come from around the world as competitors and spectators.

"We are confident that the church will play its full part in welcoming, supporting and extending the hand of friendship to the diverse peoples of the Commonwealth."

Image copyright ANDREW O'BRIEN
Image caption The new moderator of the General Assembly, the Right Reverend John Chalmers with the Countess of Wessex, the outgoing moderator Lorna Hood and Prince Edward

Mr Salmond said the Queen's remarks about the Commonwealth Games were "typically gracious".

He added: "Her Majesty is also right to highlight the importance of everyone working together for the social good of Scotland, regardless of the outcome of the referendum, which is something I heartily endorse and should be welcomed across the political spectrum."

Prince Edward gave an address on the theme of community, contrasting "the assertion of legalistic rights" with the Christian teaching of responsibility.

Image copyright Church of Scotland
Image caption The Right Reverend John Chalmers has previously said his focus would be on uniting the church
Image copyright Church of Scotland
Image caption The new moderator was installed at the opening of the General Assembly

The 730 commissioners from congregations across Scotland are now getting down to the business of general assembly.

Later in the week there will be further discussion over the ordination of gay ministers, and what is likely to be a high-profile debate on Scottish independence.

The Church of Scotland has taken a neutral position on the issue, but its members said it was important to reflect on issues dominating public life.

Another motion expected to attract attention is a proposal from the Presbytery of Argyll that the Assembly should meet every two years.

The move would save half a million pounds, which some members believe could be put to better use within the organisation.

Young members

There will also be a discussion on how the Church recruits new members after a recent survey showed that numbers had dropped by 3% over the past 12 months.

Young people are set to be targeted as part of this move with initiatives including school recruitment drives, apprenticeships and also greater financial support being offered to young church members.

The body's relationship with the Armed Forces will be examined with chaplains with the Royal Navy and the Army discussing the role they play within the military and how this can expect to change in the future.

The kirk has also produced a number of smart phone apps which will allow people to follow the week's events up to the closing session on 23 May.

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