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Nicola Sturgeon praises Church of Scotland for role in national life
The Church of Scotland plays a "vital" role in national life, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
Addressing its General Assembly in Edinburgh, the First Minister said the Scottish Parliament owes a "major debt" to the Kirk, which she said provides a model of how to debate potentially divisive issues.
Ms Sturgeon said her speech at the Assembly Hall marked 20 years to the day since she first spoke as an MSP in the same building, which was home to the Scottish Parliament after it was reconvened in 1999 until it moved to Holyrood in 2005.
She said: "Whenever I attend the opening of the General Assembly, as I was privileged to do again on Saturday, I am struck by the extent to which the Church is at the centre not just of people's spiritual life but of Scottish public life.
"That, of course, has been the case for generations.
"For a long time after the Act of Union, the General Assembly was the most prominent forum in existence in Scotland for bringing people together from right across the country to discuss important issues of the day.
"It therefore served in the words of Professor Sir Tom Devine as a 'kind of surrogate parliament'."
She added: "The Church of Scotland, of course, also helped to reestablish the modern Scottish Parliament.
"The 1989 Assembly endorsed the Claim of Right for Scotland, indeed, it was one of the first major civic institution to do so and it passed a resolution calling for the creation of a democratically elected assembly.
"The Church of Scotland went on to play and important and very active part in the Scottish Constitutional Convention in the years after that.
"So, the Scottish Parliament undeniably owes a major debt to the Church of Scotland and to previous General Assemblies.
"I wish the Church of Scotland well as you continue to play a central, vital and highly valued role in Scotland's national life for many years and generations to come."
The First Minister said during the creation of the Scottish Parliament the Kirk facilitated dialogue on potentially difficult and divisive issues and did the same in the run-up to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.
She said: "You provided a space where people could debate and discuss the issues of Scotland's future in a respectful and constructive way.
"And of course the manner in which this Assembly conducts itself is a model of how big issues can be debated in a way that builds consensus rather than deepening division."
She stressed the importance of this in debating current issues facing Scotland, including Brexit and independence.
Ms Sturgeon thanked the Kirk for its work, particularly for encouraging cooperation between different faiths, highlighting the welcome support for the Muslim community following the New Zealand mosque attack.
She said: "Everyone in Scotland - Christians, those of every faith or none - benefit from the work that you do.
"It follows that the Scottish Government welcomes, and indeed cherishes, the role of the Church of Scotland in our national life."
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