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First ordained woman begins as Church of Scotland moderator

Ecclesiastical history has been made in the Scottish capital with the Church of Scotland welcoming leaders of the Free Church of Scotland to its 2007 General Assembly that was officially opened by Prince Andrew, a son of Queen Elizabeth II.

"I think this is a tremendous thing," said the new moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rev. Sheilagh Kesting, who made church unity the theme of her sermon at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh. "I don’t think that any of us guessed that we would be able to do such a thing but we have been meeting for a couple of years and it became clear that there were areas where we could say we have common ground."

The Church of Scotland split into two factions after what has been called "the disruption" of 1843 following years of debate among elders and ministers about the exact relationship between Church and State.

Writing in Scotland’s The Herald newspaper on 19 May, Jennifer Cunningham wrote: "In a historic step, the general assemblies of both churches will be asked to agree a joint statement which recognises ‘the scandal of the divisions in our Presbyterian Church family’."

The 53-year-old Kesting heads the Church of Scotland’s committee on ecumenical relations and was the first ordained woman appointed as the denomination’s moderator when she was named in October 2006, although she is not the first female elected to the 12-month post. Alison Elliot, a church elder was appointed in 2004.

"If we live as though God had not torn down the barriers that divide people of different backgrounds and cultures, if we cannot ourselves work for the healing of the tensions that are so disabling and can find no way of respecting difference as the sign of a healthy community, we will fail to be convincing," said Kesting, who has often spoken out against sectarianism in Scotland. "We will have turned the spotlight onto ourselves and our divisions, as so often in our history, and away from Jesus, who is the only focus of our unity."

Although she will be in the job as moderator for only one year, Kesting hopes to visit New Zealand and Australia later in 2007, and may visit the Middle East.

Recently published statistics showed the Church of Scotland’s membership fell to 503 363 from 520 940 the previous year. Still, Kesting said, "We can get too anxious about numbers

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