Lord Hodge, the Deputy President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, who has been appointed Lord High Commissioner, the Sovereign’s personal representative to the General Assembly.
By Bill Heaney and Helen Silvis
At a time when politicians’ reputations for telling lies is at all time high, a Court of Session judge has commended the Church of Scotland for promoting truthfulness.
The commitment of the Church of Scotland and its fellow churches in promoting truthfulness in both public and private life has never been more important, the Kirk’s General Assembly has been told.
The comments came from Lord Hodge, the Deputy President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, who has been appointed Lord High Commissioner, the Sovereign’s personal representative to the annual General Assembly.
Delivering his speech remotely, Lord Hodge told the General Assembly in Edinburgh: “At a time when political leaders in autocratic regimes and, regrettably, in some democracies, have often been disrespectful of the truth and commentators accept with a resigned shrug the deliberate purveying of lies, the commitment of the Church, and other churches, to promote truthfulness in our public and private lives has never been more important.
“The Old Testament prescription of acting justly, acting with compassion, and acting with humility retains its relevance today.”
A significant year
Lord Hodge said he was honoured to be invited to represent Her Majesty The Queen in a year which held two significant royal anniversaries.
The first of these was the visit to Edinburgh in August 1822, the first royal visit to Scotland by a British monarch in many years, which was designed to heal the rift between the country and the ruling House of Hanover.
Choreographed by the romantic novelist Sir Walter Scott, the visit re-established the connection between the Royal family and Scotland which was cemented by the long reign of Queen Victoria, Lord Hodge continued.
“That connection and affection for this country has continued to this day”.
The other significant anniversary is Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee, and as someone born in the year of the coronation, Her Majesty’s presence as the Head of State has always been a constant throughout his life, Lord Hodge revealed.
“The Queen’s message of Christian hope, which Her Majesty has delivered each year at Christmas has played an integral part of the celebration of Christmas over the years”, he added. “The Queen has been an exemplar of the Christian ideal of service and each year has articulated the timeless values for which the Church stands.”
Lord Hodge assured the General Assembly of Her Majesty’s resolution to maintain Presbyterian Church Government in Scotland, and congratulated the Right Rev Dr Iain Greenshields on his appointment as Moderator.
“Appointment as Moderator is the highest honour that your colleagues can bestow,” he said.
“I have no doubt that your prior work as a parish minister in Cranhill, Larkhall, on the Isle of Skye and in the City of Dunfermline, your experience as a prison chaplain and as a psychiatric chaplain, and your work in presbyteries have given you the experience and insight to take on the role of leadership and to present the Church’s work both within this country and on the international stage.”
Important and difficult issues
Lord Hodge also noted that he was addressing the General Assembly as it was set to debate “important and difficult issues.”
These included the future structure of the Church, an issue the Church has grappled with for some time, but rendered more difficult by the pandemic with the closure of churches for many months and a reduction in income from congregations and other sources.
“Social change since the 1950s has created a multi-cultural society both in Scotland and more widely in the United Kingdom in which the voices of people of different faiths and those of no faith are heard alongside the articulation of the Christian tradition,” he said.
“The Church faces the challenge of how best to have its voice heard and to achieve its worthy aims when there are fewer people and less money available to take forward the Church’s mission.
“But challenges can also be opportunities. May it not be possible for the Church to achieve much with fewer resources if we focus on what we have in common both internally, within the Church, and externally, by cooperation with other denominations, other faith groups, and secular organisations which are seeking to achieve in the community the social goals which the Church has long espoused?”
The Church can go forward without fear
Also among the issues to be debated at this year’s General Assembly was the question of how to accommodate different views within the Church in relation to the celebration of same-sex marriage, Lord Hodge pointed out, but added that it was not the role of The Queen’s representative to interfere in these “open and robust” debates.
He concluded: “The Church can go forward without fear. In forging the way ahead for the Church in a much more diverse society than that which existed in 1953, we may bear in mind and take confidence from the comforting words of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of St Matthew: ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.’ Guidance and blessing of Almighty God be with you”.
The proceedings can be viewed on the Church of Scotland website. https://stream1.churchofscotland.org.uk/about-us/general-assembly/general-assembly-2022/livestream