Right Reverend and Right Honourable.
Her Majesty The Queen has commanded me personally to assure you of her great sense of steady and firm zeal for her service, and to assure you of her resolution to maintain Presbyterian Church government in Scotland.
Right Reverend Moderator.
It gives me the greatest possible pleasure to congratulate you warmly on your appointment as Moderator, and to wish you satisfaction and joy in the months ahead as you carry out the many important responsibilities of your historic office. In electing you as Moderator your colleagues in the Assembly have not only conferred upon you the highest honour in their gift, but also recognised the many personal qualities which you have brought over the years to your service to the Church of Scotland - a service displayed in so many ways, and most notably as a parish minister and as convenor of the Kirk's Church and Nation Committee. I am sure that everyone present here today joins me in offering you our heartfelt prayers and very best wishes as you embark on the task which lies before you, both during the exacting week of the General Assembly and in the busy year ahead.
Right Honourable and Right Reverend
Pray be seated.
I could not be more proud to stand before you this morning as Lord High Commissioner, not just because of the significance of the General Assembly in the life of Scotland today and over the centuries, but also because this Office is a precious symbol of the long history which has bound together Church and Sovereign for nearly 450 years in a relationship of shared responsibility in their care for the people of Scotland. It seems to me to have been a sign of great statesmanship and prudence that at the third General Assembly held not far from here in this most beautiful of cities in 1561, its members - your predecessors - made it known to Queen Mary that ' if she stood in any suspicion of anything that was to be entreated in their Assemblies....it would please Her grace to send such as she would appoint to hear whatsoever was proponed or reasoned.' I should make it clear that I myself have no such suspicion of your 'proponals', and that I am here to learn from your deliberations. At the same time, I know that relations between Monarch and Assembly have not always been as smooth as they might have been - and I am greatly relieved that, unlike some of those more turbulent occasions in the seventeenth century, the timing of each year's Assembly is now fixed without argument or drama. But it is, I think, a remarkable testimony to the continuity of our history that the Assembly has flourished, and maintained its vital role in the life and identity of Scotland, almost without interruption since the days of the Reformation.
Moderator, looking over the records of some past Assemblies I have been struck how often Lord High Commissioners have claimed a 'first' for some aspect of their appointment. I hope you will not mind, therefore, if I draw your attention to the fact, notwithstanding earlier Lord High Commissioners in this century drawn from my family - particularly my grandfather in 1929 when he was Duke of York (and who was, incidentally, accompanied to Edinburgh by my grandmother) and, much more recently, my sister - no Duke of Rothesay, or for that matter Prince of Wales, has ever before held this particular office. That is a source of great pride to me and I look forward immensely to the week which lies before me residing, as I shall be, at Holyrood.
I do not, I hasten to say, intend to repeat any of the more memorable features of another Royal 'first' connected with Edinburgh, when in 1822 my ancestor, King George IV, paid the first ever visit to Scotland by a reigning monarch of post-Union Great Britain. On that occasion the King arrived by sea - and arrived, incidentally, several days late. Landing, and going in procession from Leith to Edinburgh, was then postponed for a further day because it was raining. I understand that you set great store by punctuality in this Assembly, and I solemnly promise you that if I am late for one of your debates, given the traffic in Edinburgh, at least it will not as late as that! King George IV, who was amply built, liked to do things in style and before he came on his visit he ordered what he considered to be suitable dress for the visit from the firm of George Hunter of Edinburgh. The Librarian at Windsor still has the bill in the archives and looked it out for me the other day. It suggests that Mr Hunter did rather well from his Royal customer, for the bill totalled ?1,354.18s and included 109 and a half yards of Royal Stewart Tartan. For the first levee at Holyrood the King duly appeared in Highland Dress, adding, for decency's sake (as one of the ladies reported), 'buff-coloured trousers like flesh to imitate his royal knees.'
The sense of honour, and pride, which I therefore feel in this unique role as Lord High Commissioner is greater because Scotland has meant so much to me for as long as I can remember. Some of the earliest and most treasured of my childhood memories are of the happy summers spent in the Highlands. And if I think of my years at school in Gordonstoun, of my long and regular visits to Scotland over a large part of my life, and of the many Scottish people - from all over Scotland and, not least, in the Western Isles - whose wisdom and forthrightness have helped form my own views, I suspect I have come to know Scotland infinitely better than any other part of the United Kingdom - so much so that I am tempted to claim, in the words of Sir Walter Scott,
'.......What mortal hand
Can e'er untie the filial band
That knits me to thy rugged strand!'
Scotland is certainly where a very large and special part of my affections lie - not only for the people of Scotland and the incomparable beauty of Scotland's scenery, but also for the glories of Scotland's culture. In the course of my duties over the next week as Lord High Commissioner I hope to be celebrating at Holyrood, with many of you here and others, something of that culture, old and new, particularly in the form of music, painting and the performing arts.
But the culture of Scotland also matters enormously to me , and has helped to inform a part of my own spiritual development over the last thirty years, and more, because of the special degree to which it draws on the sacred, spiritual elements and traditions of our lives. Ladies and Gentlemen, I must say that I approach this part of my address with considerable humility, being all too aware of my limitations as a human being and of your own distinction in matters of the spirit. I hope, therefore, that you will forgive me for touching on an aspect of my own beliefs about which I feel particularly deeply. For I do believe that our cultural and spiritual roots matter in the widest and most vital way. They not only shape our modern sense of nationhood, but they also tie us to an understanding of who we are and where we come from, and they open to us an understanding of the world beyond the immediate.
For we increasingly find ourselves in a secular age which is in danger of ignoring, or forgetting, all knowledge of the sacred and spiritual, and of those principles of order and harmony which lie at the very heart of the universe, and which integrate and bind us to the world which God has given us. The danger of this dis-integrated attitude to the world around us is that it falls too easily into the trap of seeking to manipulate, re-design and distort both humanity and Nature merely for our own convenience and advantage. It is an attitude which places - almost as an icon of modern social virtue - knowledge and information above wisdom, evidence and empirical deduction above Faith, and the fashionable above the timeless. I hasten to make clear that I have the greatest respect for the workings of the rational mind, for reason and experimentation as essential elements in our lives. Without them, and the extraordinary advances in technology they have brought, we would lack many of the central benefits of our modern existence. But the inherent risk in so much of the way in which we understand reality today is that we are in danger of unbalancing our lives and forgetting the more mysterious, and sacred, meaning of the workings of the Universe. Tradition, and the perennial wisdom which underlies so much of our deeper understanding of the visible and invisible worlds, have thereby become devalued or ignored. And we have come to overlook the emphasis on balance which goes back to the beginnings of our Judaeo-Christian tradition, where in the Genesis story mankind is charged both to 'till the earth and to keep it' - that is to contribute to the creation by our work, but also to observe the limits set on our exploitation of the natural order.
Ever since I was quite young I have felt most strongly the need to contribute in whatever way I can towards a renewed search for balance and harmony in our existence and in the way we use and enjoy the world around us. I have done so in the heartfelt belief that tradition is not a dead or irrelevant thing, but a crucial and living means by which we can experience a sense of belonging and meaning in a rapidly changing world.
I have attempted to express this deep-rooted belief in a Sacred dimension in a practical way when it comes to those aspects of life in which I have taken most interest over the years - for instance, in architecture, the environment, agriculture, medicine and education. It is a belief which tries to understand the profound links in the chain of our existence in such a way that we do not lose sight of the wider nature of our being. The chain of our existence, for example, which joins health and the treatment of illness and disease to a wider understanding of the influences which contribute to our overall sense of well-being, and which joins modern health-care and its technological achievements to a re-discovery of that intimate connection between traditional therapies and the life of the spirit - as I have witnessed for myself through the work of the Church of England's Spiritual Healing Mission. I think also of the intuitive promptings of the heart which link the built environment we create (the buildings around us which define and shape our everyday lives) to our personal and spiritual needs as human beings; and those inner promptings which define the way we grow our crops or raise our livestock - or nurture and care for the land that God has given us - to a wider understanding of sustainablitly and of the sanctity of the environment of which we are trustees for our children and grand-children.
This sense of what is sacred has helped to shape my understanding of the mysterious nature of the human soul; of our shared humanity, and of the untapped potential of so many. Perhaps it is this which lies at the heart of the work of my own Trust. Over nearly twenty-five years The Prince's Trust has sought to find ways in which to help young people who are often hopelessly adrift in society and with nowhere else to turn; to help rebuild in them that sense of community and common endeavour which I believe are so necessary to enable our society to tackle effectively the wounds of despair and desperation which afflict so many of our fellow human beings.
Time and again I have been heartened, inspired and helped by coming across armies of individuals and organisations working tirelessly and selflessly for those around them. Such people and such work are the engine of a civilised society. And in the life and work of this land the Church of Scotland has always, it seems to me, played a vital role not only in nurturing the spiritual life of the country, but also in caring for those who often live in such need in our world - such as the elderly, the homeless, the victims of drugs, and the sick. I think, for example, of the wonderful work of the Church of Scotland Board of Social Responsibility in so many areas of social need - and I look forward very much to seeing for myself this week something of these endeavours both in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Later this morning, for example, I shall be visiting Simpson House as my first engagement outside this Assembly as Lord High Commissioner.
There is no doubt in my mind, Moderator, that despite the many changes in our lives over the course of the last century the work of the Church must continue to remain at the centre of modern Scottish society. I could not have felt this more strongly than when I stood yesterday in the ruins of the Priory at Whithorn, on the very spot where Christianity first came to Scotland. I am also very much aware that life does not stand still and that, for example, the ecumenical moves to unite in new ways the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the United Reformed Church and the Methodists - a proposal which you will be debating in this Assembly during the course of this week - may suggest new opportunities for the pastoral and spiritual work the Church. I look forward to learning something or your views on these fundamental questions for the future life of the Church. And perhaps, given the continuing role of the Church of Scotland across all aspects of Scottish society, there might be ways in which the important contributions of other churches and faiths in Scotland can be embraced in your work for the good of all. It is also of great significance for the life of Scotland that two of its major historical institutions, the General Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, once again stand side by side - and, indeed, perhaps almost on top of each other! - for the first time in nearly three hundred years, and I hope to be celebrating something of that important symbolism at Holyrood later this week.
Ladies and Gentlemen, you have many important matters to discuss in the course of this week. I have no doubt that the General Assembly, among its many other purposes, will provide a focus for strengthening and reaffirming the commitment of your ministries in parishes and presbyteries and in your special chaplaincies across Scotland. I look forward in the course of the next few days to meeting many of you, at Holyrood and elsewhere, and to seeing and celebrating something of your work. And now, in the name of Her Majesty, I invite you to proceed with the business for which you are assembled.
May the guidance and blessing of God be with you.