Musings 2 #fcga16: A church fit for purpose

Day One: Monday 23rd 6pm Buccleuch & Greyfriars Free Church

Picking up from where we left off…

Last blogpost we finished off thinking about the current state of the Free Church of Scotland and Presbyterianism in our country. Basically, we believe and pray we are becoming a church fit for purpose and that is our big point today…

Introducing Buccleuch: The Building

The General Assembly was convened in Buccleuch (pronounced ‘Bu-klew’) and Greyfriars Free Church in Edinburgh because of renovation works in St Columba’s Free Church. Buccleuch was a more than conducive as stand in for this year’s Assembly. The Victorian Gothic architecture of the sanctuary was beautiful, with extensive work recently carried out on the building. It was a perfect blend of continuing tradition and fresh modernisation – symbolic of where today’s Free Church is at.

Designed, built and erected in 1850s, the building hasn’t lost its appeal. Intricate details, the original stained-glass windows, the hammerbeam roof, the curved staircase pulpit – our forefathers had an eye for beauty and creativity! There was, perhaps, something testing about the Assembly experience… the old solid pine pews! Maybe there was a purpose there too – you don’t get comfy and fall asleep!

The Business

80 Commissioners came together, men elected by each of the Church’s presbyteries. The Assembly opens with a time of public worship, led by the Moderator of the last General Assembly (in this case, Rev. David Robertson of St Peter’s Free Church, Dundee.) It is tradition that as part of the worship, the outgoing Moderator gives his final sermon/address, after which he officially constitutes the meeting with prayer.

By long-established practice, the Moderator of the last Assembly presides over the Assembly business for a very short

time. The first thing that is agreed upon is the Roll of the Assembly. It used to be the practice to read the whole list of the Commissioners. Thankfully this tradition has been abandoned in favour of a printed list. The next business is the installation of the new Moderator (our new Moderator was Rev Dr John Nicholls)


The Moderator is not the head or leader of the Free Church; as we saw last time, Jesus Christ is the King and Head of the Church! It’s best to think of it as an honorary role. His official duty is to act as the chair of the meetings of General Assembly meetings. He keeps the business ticking over and has the privilege of leading the daily worship. He then stays in post for 12 months, till the next assembly. The Moderator also has the opportunity to act in an ambassadorial capacity for the Free Church, across Scotland and further afield. Their last duty is always to convene the meeting of the GA the following year and give a retiring address.

The Outgoing Moderator…

Something that suggests the Free Church is becoming fit for purpose is the vision espoused by the more senior ministers of the Church. The outgoing Moderator, David Robertson, is no exception. Speaking of exceptions, there is probably no one as prominent in the public defence of Christianity in Scotland today as David. He is minister of St. Peter’s, Dundee, the Director of Solas Centre for Public Christianity, a Christian broadcaster, an author and an apologist. David has exemplified the emphases of the Free Church: committed to Bible-centred Christianity, Christ-focussed and outward-looking.

Highlights from David’s Moderatorial year include: his opening address at last year’s Assembly entitled ‘Scotland Turned Upside Down’, his bold and courageous public speaking on contentious issues such as Christian Education, LGBTI, abortion etc, writing numerous articles for mainstream newspapers, magazines and online blogs - including his own online blog (theweeflea) which is read by tens of thousands of people. Many of his articles have been consistent in uncovering the flaws in secular lobbying groups and uncovering the secular agenda of the mainline political parties. He has shown himself to be daring exponent of Christian faith, often speaking about the 'elephant in the room', whether it is Islam, CofS, or hot political topics. He has also continued his commitment to engaging secularists and atheists with the Gospel - and not just in Scotland, but all across the world! Last year, he also debated with the liberal CofS minister Rev Dr Scott McKenna over the doctrine of the atonement. He addressed the Scottish Parliament at Time for Reflection. He was present at the Kirking of the Parliament. He attended a private viewing at Tate Britain of the Disruption painting. David has consistently been the clearest voice for Christianity in an increasingly secularised Scotland.

… And his successor

Rev Dr John Nicholls.

He is no less of an example to the Assembly, particularly, to us his juniors. Dr Nicholls, 66, is widely respected as one of the most gentle and gracious ministers in the denomination. He was ordained and inducted into the Free Church congregation in Ardnamurchan on the west coast in 1975. He has a ministry spanning some 40 years. In 1979, he was called to London and became minister of the inner-city London Free Church congregation (Cole Abbey). Moving from there to the chief executive post at London City Mission - an evangelistic organisation with roots in the evangelistic zeal of the Scottish church of the 19th century. He has served on the Boards of various missionary organisations, including Christian Witness to Israel, Unevangelised Fields Mission, the European Association of City Missions and the World Reformed Fellowship. He has a doctorate in practical theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He has also co-authored ‘Streets Paved with Gold’ – a history of the London City Mission. At present he is the associate minister of the 400-strong Smithton Free Church in Inverness, as well as serving as a visiting lecturer at Edinburgh Theological Seminary.

With men like this, we do believe and pray that we are becoming a church fit for purpose! Stay tuned for a summary and reflection on David Robertson’s retiring Moderatorial address, coming up later today!

Andy & Sean

Soli Deo Gloria