The Queen and the Church of Scotland
The Queen is Supreme Governor of the Church of England and, with the advice of the Prime Minister, appoints its archbishops and bishops. They take an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty, and the Archbishops of Canterbury, York and 24 diocesan bishops sit in the House of Lords. In Scotland, the situation is entirely different. Church and State are separate and the State has no control over the Church, provided that the Church acts within the law, which it does. The Scottish Parliament and the British Parliament at Westminster are not involved in any way in Church of Scotland appointments.
The supreme authority in the Church of Scotland is not The Queen but the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. There are no archbishops or bishops. Instead, a series of church courts was set up after the Reformation and so we have the General Assembly, the Presbyteries and the Kirk Sessions.
The General Assembly meets once a year. It is presided over by a Moderator, elected annually by the members. It consists of about 400 ministers, 400 elders and a number of deacons, who are ordained ministers working in a complementary role in a ministry team. In 2004 Alison Elliot, an elder, became the first woman Moderator. For nearly 350 years, the General Assembly met in St Giles’, in the Preston Aisle, but since 1929 it has used the Assembly Hall on the Mound. This 19th century building had originally been erected by the Free Church of Scotland, which then joined with the United Presbyterian Church and subsequently with the Church of Scotland. However, the General Assembly still holds its special annual service in St Giles’.
At local level, each parish church, like St Giles’, has its own Kirk Session, consisting of the elders and presided over by the minister of the church. There are 46 Presbyteries, made up of all the ministers in the district and an equal number of elders, along with some deacons. Not all the Presbyteries are in Scotland. There are also the Presbyteries of England, Europe and Jerusalem, where there are Church of Scotland congregations.
When she succeeded to the British throne, The Queen took an oath to preserve the Church of Scotland, which is guaranteed under the 1707 Act of Union of Scotland and England. The Crown is represented each year at the General Assembly, sometimes by The Queen herself, but more often by a Lord High Commissioner whom she appoints. Her Majesty attends Church of Scotland services when she is in Scotland, and she appoints the Chaplains of the Royal Household in Scotland from Church of Scotland clergy.