New Moderator of Church of Scotland installed in near-deserted socially distant ceremony

Known for its ritual and weight of tradition, the ceremony to install the new Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was very 2020.

Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair, who will represent the Kirk at home and abroad for the next 12 months, was installed at a near-deserted General Assembly Hall today (Saturday).

The usual mass gathering of Kirk leaders and dignitaries was cancelled for the first time in its 330-year history due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

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Instead, strict social distancing measures were in place for the pared-down ceremony, which was streamed online for the Kirk faithful to enjoy.

The Right Rev Dr Martin Fair was officially installed as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in a socially distant ceremony after the full event was cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The occasion, however, remained a special one with the new Moderator describing his new role as "a great honour”.

Dr Fair, 56, will continue to serve as the minister of St Andrew’s Parish Church in Arbroath and undertake Moderatorial duties when required until further notice.

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He said: “I’m not sure I’ve ever felt a greater weight of responsibility but neither have I ever felt more supported, practically and by the prayers of God’s people.”

Dr Fair succeeded Very Rev Colin Sinclair and was inaugurated in front of a small group of people including his wife, Elaine.

The minister, who grew up in Thornliebank on the southside of Glasgow, said he recognised that many people were suffering due to the pandemic and every life lost speaks of struggle and tragedy.

“Let me assure the nation that the Church of Scotland, with our partner churches, will continue to pray for and support those who are most acutely affected,” he added.

“And the same commitment I make to those who, 75 years after VE Day, find themselves on this new frontline - we value you deeply.”

The service was opened by Mr Sinclair and included hymns, prayers, readings, a Benediction and followed strict social distancing guidelines to prevent the potential spread of Covid-19.

It was broadcast live on the Church of Scotland website and Facebook page and included a video message from the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon MSP and former Moderator, Very Rev Jimmy Simpson.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I want to sincerely thank Very Rev Colin Sinclair for his work over the past year and particularly the last few difficult months caused by the restrictions in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“His continued efforts to support the community, even as we stay apart, are hugely appreciated.

“I also want to send my very best wishes to the Right Rev Dr Martin Fair on his appointment as Moderator.

“At this challenging time, the Church continues to provide support and guidance to people across our country – through virtual services, pastoral duties, and charitable work in our communities.

“I’m hugely grateful to everyone involved and I look forward to working with the new Moderator, in tackling the challenges, and also seizing the opportunities, that lie ahead.”

Those present in the Assembly Hall included Mr Sinclair’s wife Ruth, audio visual technicians and Rev Dr George Whyte, Principal Clerk to the General Assembly who ensured correct process was followed and gave a Bible reading.

Dr Fair received a letter expressing best wishes from the Duke of Cambridge, known as the Earl of Strathearn in Scotland, who was meant to be Lord High Commissioner at the General Assembly, his grandmother’s representative.

The Moderator’s chaplains, Rev Gregor McIntyre and Rev Catherine Beattie and Mr Sinclair’s chaplains, Rev Andrew Anderson and Rev Tim Sinclair, recited prayers via video conferencing.

Dr Fair, who has served St Andrew’s Parish Church since 1992 and will wear the Moderator’s ring and chain of office during official duties, said the pandemic had forced the Kirk to re-evaluate because church buildings were closed and ministers across the country were spreading the Gospel message online.

“We find ourselves in uncharted territory, having to re-imagine church,” he added.

“We may not have a blueprint but this calling has always been about a willingness to venture beyond the familiar and comfortable.

“Jesus didn’t give much away when he called those four fishermen.

“He called them and sent them with no terms and conditions, no detailed plan, radical or otherwise.

“Though every circumstance change, God’s love remains.

“And from love flows peace.

“‘The storms of life may come and go but the peace of God you will know.’”

Dr Fair said circumstances change but he was called to serve the “same as always God”.