Church of Scotland

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The Church of Scotland known informally as The Kirk, is the national church of Scotland recognised by law. The Church of Scotland is a Calvinist, Presbyterian church, which traces its roots back to the beginnings of Christianity in Scotland, but its identity is principally shaped by the Reformation of 1560. According to the 2001 national census, 42% of the Scottish population claim some form of allegiance to the Kirk.

The Church of Scotland has around 984 active ministers and 1,179 congregations.

Although it is the national church, the Kirk is not a state church, and in this, and other, regards is dissimilar to the Church of England. Under its constitution, which is recognised by Acts of Parliament, the Kirk enjoys complete independence from the state in spiritual matters.

The Queen when in Scotland is a member of the Church, not, as in England, its Supreme Governor. [1] The monarch’s accession oath includes a promise to "defend the security" of the Church of Scotland. The Queen is formally represented at the annual meeting of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland by a Lord High Commissioner unless she chooses to attend in person.

John Knox, chief reformer of the Kirk

The Church of Scotland is committed to its ‘distinctive call and duty to bring the ordinances of religion to the people in every parish of Scotland through a territorial ministry’ (Article 3 of its Articles Declaratory of the Constitution of the Church of Scotland). In practice this means that the Kirk maintains a presence in every community in Scotland – and exists to serve not only its members but all Scots (the majority of funerals in Scotland are taken by its ministers). It also means that the Kirk pools its resources to ensure a continued presence in every part of Scotland.

The Church played a leading role in the provision of universal education in Scotland (the first such provision in the modern world), largely due to its desire that all people should be able to read the Bible. However, today it does not operate schools - these having been effectively transferred to the state in the later half of the 19th century.


The High Kirk of St Giles, Edinburgh

The Church of Scotland is Presbyterian in polity and Reformed in theology. The Kirk has had no bishops since the Prelacy Act 1690, which was to abolish prelacie and all superioritie of any office in the church in this Kingdome above presbyters. The presbyterian organisation of the Church was secured as a permanent provision in the Acts of Union 1707.

This abolition of the bishop's office led to the creation, by dissenting clergy, of the Scottish Episcopal Church, which continues to appoint bishops.

Courts and assemblies

The Kirk is rather governed by elders and ministers (collectively called presbyters) sitting in a series of courts. Each congregation is led by a Kirk Session. The Kirk Sessions in turn are answerable to regional presbyteries

The Church of Scotland has 49 presbyteries; 46 in Scotland plus the presbyteries of England, of Europe and of Jerusalem

The Church of Scotland's supreme body is the General Assembly, which meets each May in Edinburgh.


Each court is convened by its moderator, who at the level of the Kirk Session is normally the parish minister. Where a congregation has no minister, or where the minister is incapacitated, a specially trained elder may act as moderator. Presbyteries and the General Assembly elect a moderator each year. The Moderator of the General Assembly serves for the year as the public representative of the Church but beyond that enjoys no special powers or privileges and is in no sense the leader or official spokeman of the Kirk. At all levels, moderators may be either elders or ministers.


At a national level, the work of the Church of Scotland is chiefly carried out by "Councils", each supported by full-time staff mostly based at the Church of Scotland Offices in Edinburgh. The Councils are:

  • Church and Society Council
  • Ministries Council
  • Mission and Discipleship Council
  • Social Care Council (based at Charis House, Edinburgh)
  • Support and Services Council
  • World Mission Council

The Church of Scotland’s Social Care Council (also known as "CrossReach") is the largest provider of social care in Scotland today, running projects for various disadvantaged and vulnerable groups: including care for the elderly; help with alcoholism, drug, and mental health problems; and assistance for the homeless.

The national Church has never shied from involvement in politics. In 1919, the General Assembly created a Church and Nation Committee, which in 2005 became the Church and Society Council and which takes political positions on many matters.


The Flag of the Kirk

The following publications are useful sources of information about the Church of Scotland.

  • Life and Work - the monthly magazine of the Church of Scotland.
  • Church of Scotland Yearbook (known as "the red book") - published annually with statistical data on every parish and contact information for every minister.
  • Reports to the General Assembly (known as "the blue book") - published annually with reports on the work of the church's departments.
  • The Constitution and Laws of the Church of Scotland (known as "the green book") edited by the Very Rev Dr James L. Weatherhead, published 1997 by the Church of Scotland, ISBN 0-86153-246-5
  • Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae - published irregularly since 1866, contains biographies of ministers.
  • The First and Second Books of Discipline of 1560 and 1578.
  • The Book of Common Order latest version of 1994.


Outside links