This past week I've been representing the Uniting Church as a guest of the Church of Scotland Assembly. The most anticipated item on the agenda was a Report from a 'Commission on Same-Sex Relationships and the Ministry'. The catalyst for setting up this Committee was the decision of a Presbytery two years ago to induct into a parish placement a Minister who was in a same-sex relationship.
They Commission produced an excellent and very fair Report, building on previous Reports on Human Sexuality (available on the Church of Scotland website). They also extensively surveyed all Presbyteries. In the end the main choice they put to the Assembly was to guide the proposed Theological Commission either to work towards a Report supporting the 'traditionalist' position; or a Report considering 'a lifting of the moratorium on accepting for ordination of persons in a same-sex relationship'. This second option was supported as was a proposal to allow the induction into placements in the next two years of Ministers and Deacons who were ordained before May 2009 who are in a same sex relationship.
The debate was vigorous but respectful and very well handled. The Moderator rightly insisted that there be no applause when the decision was announced out of respect for those for whom the result was a disapppointment. Todays headlines were predictably 'Church of Scotland gives green light to gay Ministers' which somewhat overstates the result. When the Theological Commission reports back in two years time, if they recommend change to the current practice, the decision, if supported by the Assembly, will be referred back to the Presbyteries for concurrence through a mechanism called the 'Barrier Act'. In this instance it seems likely, according to the survey in the current Report, that any fundamental change would fail to receive the necessary support. There will be many around the world taking an interest in how this 'mother church' to so many Presbyterian churches around the world, deals with this issue.