Kirk must improve links with US, says new moderator

THE Church of Scotland needs to improve its transatlantic links in light of the war on terrorism, Kirk leaders warned yesterday.

Speaking ahead of the General Assembly, which starts on Saturday, Dr Alison Elliot, the first female Moderator, said that in the past the Kirk has been very good at creating links with other Churches, but now it had an opportunity to "develop" its relationship across the Atlantic.

Dr Elliot said: "After the assembly I have been invited to visit Toronto and will take the opportunity to go to New York where we are planning to set up a conference to look at the war on terror. The conference will be a response of the Church on both sides of the Atlantic and we also want to raise the general question of the position of the United States in the world.

"We [the Church of Scotland] are very good at building partnerships with Churches in the south but our transatlantic links are not as strong as they should be and I feel this is an opportunity to develop this.

Dr Elliot’s call comes just days before the Kirk will hear a report that claims thousands of innocent people lost their lives as a result of the war in Iraq. It also calls for a full public inquiry into the decision of the government to join with the US in launching an attack on Iraq.

The supplementary report by the Kirk’s Church and Nation committee offers an overview of the debate on Iraq "to help the Church understand one of the most critical issues facing the world at this time". It says that failure to find non-military means of tackling terrorism has made the world an even more dangerous place.

It reads: "Those who argue that violence only begets violence are often labelled naive and foolhardy, however it has been our political leaders who have shown naivety in key aspects of their response to international terrorism."

The report asks the General Assembly to call for a full, public inquiry into the decision of the UK government to join the United States in launching an attack on Iraq, "recognising that the war took place without the authority of the UN, that weapons of mass destruction have never been found in Iraq and that thousands of innocent people have lost their lives as a result of the war".

It also condemns the holding of terrorist suspects without trial at Belmarsh prison and urges the British government to increase diplomatic efforts to have the remaining UK prisoners freed from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Meanwhile, in its report to the assembly, the board of finance and stewardship will say it is imperative that urgent strategic action is taken to address and resolve the problems inherent in the Kirk’s rolling budget.

The past four years have been extremely difficult financially for the Church of Scotland with central expenditure exceeding income by £19 million.

The report said the Kirk’s pension schemes had moved from an actuarial valuation surplus of £8 million at the end of 2000 to a deficit of £56 million at the end of 2003. But the stewardship director said a full actuarial examination which had just been completed was likely to show the deficit would be several million pounds less.

The report said parish staffing - ministers, deacons, project workers - and congregational resourcing were "priorities for the church". Pensions and the child protection unit, which faced increased costs because of "outside regulations", were other priorities.

Yesterday the Rev David Lacy said: "The assembly will be more upbeat about money this year and about the intake of new ministers than has been the case in the past and it will be more willing to take more risks in that direction."