LEGISLATION which could allow ministers and deacons to conduct same-sex marriages will be among the matters considered at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which opens today.

Ministers, elders, deacons and special guests will take part in a “blended” assembly for the second year running due to the pandemic, with only a small number of people at the Assembly Hall in Edinburgh and others watching online. The Earl of Strathearn, Lord High Commissioner to the assembly, will be among those attending in person as he addresses the opening and closing events.

During the course of the assembly, the Kirk’s Legal Questions Committee will bring forward legislation which could ultimately allow parish ministers and deacons to conduct same-sex marriages.

If the draft plan is approved by commissioners, it will be shared with all presbyteries for their consideration under the Church of Scotland’s Barrier Act 1697 and brought back to a future General Assembly.

Under the new proposed Act, ministers and deacons would be one step closer to applying for a licence to become authorised celebrants for same-sex marriage ceremonies. Under the over-arching terms of the committee’s proposed legislation, no-one would be required to participate in the solemnisation of, or be involved in the arrangements for, a same-sex marriage unless they explicitly wish to do so.

Those taking part in the assembly will also make key decisions that will affect the future of the Kirk against the backdrop of “unprecedented challenges” caused by the pandemic, which has had a “stark” impact on finances.

A report from the Assembly Trustees states there is an £11.4 million budget deficit for 2021 and it has budgeted to draw more than £11m from reserves this year to support the work of the church.

It notes that going forward, the church is likely to be organised around nine presbyteries, down from 43, which will be “properly resourced to become the agents who can redesign the church for mission”.

The assembly will also consider a report from the Faith Nurture Forum with proposals to reduce the number of full-time ministry posts and vacant charge levels by 2025.