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Ministry in the Church of Scotland is a varied and rewarding, if at times stressful calling. The Minister is mainly involved in leading Worship in Word and Sacrament, of the Congregation that he or she is called to. Women have been admitted to ordination to the ministry of word and sacrament since 1968 and have been serving in the Church of Scotland since the 1968. Other ministerial duties involve the conduct of Weddings, Funerals, Baptism, Enquirer's Classes. Chaplaincies to Local Hospitals and Schools, Committees at Presbytery and National Level as well as Moderating the Kirk Session and Chairing the Congregational Board, there are other models of Constitution.

Prior to the Reformation the Minister would have been involved in 7 Sacraments; Baptism, Confirmation, The Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders and Matrimony. This was questioned after the Reformation and in Scotland in 1560 the Mass was abolished as well as the Jurisdiction and Authority of the Pope. In sections 21/23 of the Scots Confession - drawn up by John Knox - (You can read it on the resources page) - the Theology was outlined for Two Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord's Supper. The main reason being that both were held to have been instituted by Jesus Christ.

The Reformers took a "High View" of the Sacraments because they were instituted by Jesus Christ. "By Baptism we are ingrafted into Christ . . . and in the Supper, rightly used, Christ Jesus is so joined with us that He becomes the very nourishment and food of our souls . . ." all this comes true by Faith. The Church of Scotland - in the Reformed Tradition - holds to this position to this day and Ministers - and others - are permitted to celebrate the Sacraments. (See Act iv 1975 in Cox for a list - This book is out of print and the current book on the Law of the Church of Scotland is "The Constitution and Laws of the Church of Scotland - Edited by Rev J L Weatherhead. Published by the Board of Practice and Procedure. ISBN 0 86153 246 5.

One of the most enjoyable parts of a ministers work is to be involved in the Baptism of infants and adults who may not have been baptised as a child. The administration of Baptism to infants is governed by Act XVII (1963). The Statement on the Doctrine of Baptism may be found in the 1991 "Blue Book", page 224. The Blue Book is produced each year for the general Assembly and contain all the reports of the Boards of the Church of Scotland. The General Assembly meets in May each year in Edinburgh.

The Minister is allowed to provide Baptism under the following circumstances:

  • 1. Baptism may be administered to a child:
  • (a) whose parents, one or both, have themselves been baptised, are in full communion with the Church, and undertake the Christian upbringing of the child;
  • (b) whose parents, one or both, having been baptised, but not in full communion, are such that the Kirk Session is satisfied that he or she is an adherent, permanently connected with the congregation and supporting the work and worship of the Church and will undertake the Christian upbringing of the child;
  • (c) whose parents, one or both, have themselves been baptised, profess the Christian faith, undertake to ensure that such child grows up in the life and worship of the Church and express the desire to seek admission to full membership of the Church. In such cases the Kirk Session shall appoint an Elder of the District in which the parents reside, or some other person, to shepherd them into full communion and to exercise pastoral care of the child concerned;
  • (d) who, being of unknown parentage, or otherwise separated from his or her parents, is in the view of the Kirk Session, under Christian care and guardianship.
  • 2. Baptism may be administered only by Ministers authorised by the General Assembly to dispense the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
  • 3. Baptism may be administered only after the parents or guardians have received such instruction in its meaning as the Minister shall deem necessary.
  • 4. No Minister shall baptise a child resident outwith his own parish, whose parents are not members or adherents of his congregation, without consent of the Minister of that parish or of the Presbytery.
  • 5. Without the consent of the Presbytery, no Minister may administer Baptism in a case where to his knowledge another Minister has declined to do so.
  • 6. Baptism shall normally be administered at a diet of public worship of the congregation of which the parents or guardians are members or adherents, or of the congregation of the parish in which they normally reside. In exceptional circumstances, Baptism may be administered elsewhere (e.g. at home, in hospitals or institutions). In every case, an entry shall be made in the Register of Baptism kept by the Kirk Session of the congregation of which the parents or guardians are members or adherents, or in that of the parish in which they normally reside, as the case may be.
  • 7. Baptism shall be administered in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, with water, by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. Other elements may not be used.
  • 8. In all cases, a Certificate of Baptism shall be given by the Minister.
  • 9. Nothing in this Act shall be taken to mean that the Church of Scotland rejects Baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost duly administered in accordance with the law and discipline of other churches.


The Lord's Supper or Communion (Eucharist) in the Church of Scotland is usually celebrated Four times a year, but often Congregations will have smaller communions on a monthly basis or set informal communions, decided by the Kirk Session in agreement with the Minister.

An further important part of the Ministers role is to prepare people to confirm the vows taken on their behalf at Baptism, so leading to their acceptance into the Church and full communion.

The Communion is dispensed by the Minister and he is assisted by the Kirk Session. The Kirk Session determines the number of times that Communion is to be held as well as the time and season.

The Communion Table in the Church of Scotland is open to all who Love the Lord and an invitation to that effect is usually given prior to a Communion Service. Indeed the act that affirms Children at Communion states this. "the Lord's Table is open to any baptised person who Loves the Lord and responds in faith to the invitation to "Take, eat".

In some Congregations the Common Cup is still used, usually with Port wine, while in the majority of Congregation individual glasses and unfermented wine are used. The use of suitable wine is left to the conscience and judgement of each Minister.

There is permissive legislation within the Church of Scotland which permits the participation of Children at Communion. This is at the discretion of the Kirk Session, where they are satisfied that baptised children are being nurtured within the life and worship of the Church and love the Lord and respond in faith to the invitation, "Take, eat. There is a pastoral responsibility of oversight of such children in conjunction with the parents and the Minister.

An other important part of a Church of Scotland Ministers role is to conduct Funerals. Curiously there is no law relating to funerals or their conduct.

The Church of Scotland ministry is a ministry to the whole of Scotland, it is also territorial, being divided into parishes. Each minister is responsible for providing the ordinances of religion within the bounds of his own Parish. It is also important for the minister to provide for the conduct of funerals within the parish and not just for the members of his Congregation. There is a Pastoral responsibility to the relatives of the deceased regardless of the reputation of the dead person.

A minister in the Church of Scotland is not permitted to conduct a Funeral or Officiate at a wedding out with his own Parish, except with the previous consent of the Minister of the Parish concerned, or on the order of the Presbytery or of the Assembly.

It should be noted that there is NO MONETARY CHARGE for the services of a Minister in the Church of Scotland, particularly at a Funeral or Wedding.

As regards Marriage the minister has certain responsibilities and checks to make before proceeding to officiate at any marrage ceremony.

Since 1st January 1978, in conformity with the demands of a multi-racial society, the benefits of religious marriage have been extended to adherents of other faiths, the only requirements being the observance of monogamy and the satisfaction of the authorities with the forms of the vows imposed.

Since 1978 the calling of banns has also been discontinued. The couple themselves must each complete a Marriage Notice form and return this to the District Registrar for the area in which they are to be married, irrespective of where they live, at least fifteen days before the ceremony is due to take place. The papers required with the form are detailed thereon.

If everything is in order the District Registrar will issue, not more than seven days before the date of the ceremony, a Marriage Schedule. This must be in the hands of the Minister officiating at the marriage ceremony before the service begins. Under no circumstances must the minister deviate from this rule. To do so is an offence under the Act.

Ministers should note the advice given by the Procurator of the Church in 1962, that they should not officiate at any marriage until at least one day after the sixteenth birthday of the younger party.

Proclamation of banns is no longer required in Scotland but in the Church of England marriage is governed by the provisions of the Marriage Act 1949, which requires that the parties shall have been proclaimed and which provides that in the case of a party residing in Scotland a Certificate of Proclamation given according to the law or custom prevailing in Scotland shall be sufficient for the purpose. Should a minister be requested to call banns for a person resident within the Registration District wherein his church is situated he should accede, making the proclamation only on one Sunday, if the parties are known to him and he has reason to believe that there is no impediment to the marriage; otherwise on two Sundays.Proclamation should be made at the principal service of worship.

Marriages in Scotland of foreigners, or of foreigners with British subjects, are, if they satisfy the requirements of Scots Law, valid throughout Her Majesty's dominions; but they will not necessarily be valid in the country to which the foreigner belongs. This will be so only if the requirements of the law of his or her country have also been complied with. It is therefore most important that, before the marriage, steps should be taken to obtain from the Consul, or other diplomatic representative of the country concerned, a satisfactory assurance that the marriage wilt be accepted as valid in the country concerned.

By virtue of Act XXVI (1959) a Minister of the Church of Scotland may lawfully solemnise the marriage of a person whose former marriage has been dissolved on divorce and whose former spouse is still alive. The Minister however must carefully adhere to the requirements of the Act which, as slightly altered in 1985 are briefly as follows;
The Minister should not accede as a matter of routine to a request to solemnise such a marriage. To enable him to make his decision he should take all reasonable steps to obtain relevant information. A Minister is not required to solemnise a re-marriage against his conscience. The final decision however rests with the Minister who has been asked to Officiate.

If you would like further information please contact the Church of Scotland, 121 George Street Edinburgh. Eh2 4YN. Tel: 0131 225 5722.

Iain Morrison


© Iain Morrison 1999