The Queen has applauded Church of Scotland congregations for welcoming Ukrainian refugees amid the ongoing Russian invasion.
In a letter, the monarch also thanked parishioners for their “Christian concern for God’s creation” in the bid to tackle climate change, as well as helping others during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 96-year-old’s letter was read during the opening ceremony of the General Assembly by Rev Dr George Whyte, chaplain-in-ordinary and principal clerk of the Church of Scotland.
Around 400 ministers, elders, deacons and special guests gathered in Edinburgh for the General Assembly, with more joining online, as the church opened its annual meeting, first held in 1560.
Reflecting on the past two years, the Queen said in her letter: “We are aware that throughout the last year the Covid-19 pandemic has continued to be a burden.
“It is good to hear how Scotland’s churches and people of other faiths have been drawn together as they have faced the shared challenge of sustaining their own communities while continuing to care for their neighbours in need.
“We welcome, too, the strengthening of relationships between people of faith and those in local and national government.
“We know that the Church of Scotland engaged closely with debate engendered by the meeting of COP26 in Glasgow and we are particularly conscious that the Church is seeking to play its part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as a demonstration of your Christian concern for God’s creation.
“We continue to pray for the leadership of the Church as they consider the future of parish life, and make decisions regarding buildings and congregations.
“We ask for all those who carry these responsibilities the gifts of wisdom and compassion as they seek to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit while bearing in mind the concerns of church members.
“The tragic loss of life and the scattering of refugees as a result of the war in Ukraine has caused much distress.
“It is encouraging to know that the Church of Scotland has been able to offer support through raising funds and providing a welcome to the stranger.
“We all hope that peace will be restored and we continue to uphold in prayer those who are putting into practice the love which is at the heart of the Gospel.
“May your faith and courage be strengthened in your deliberations during the week ahead and through the times to come.”
The Queen was represented by Lord Hodge, the deputy president of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, at the General Assembly.
Delivering his speech remotely, he commended the Kirk for its truthfulness.
Lord Hodge said: “At a time when political leaders in autocratic regimes and, regrettably, in some democracies, have often been disrespectful of the truth and commentators accept with a resigned shrug the deliberate purveying of lies, the commitment of the Church, and other churches, to promote truthfulness in our public and private lives has never been more important.”
On Monday, commissioners to the annual gathering will be asked to consider approving an overture to change a standing Church law to enable parish ministers and deacons to apply to become authorised celebrants to conduct same-sex ceremonies.
If the overture is approved, ministers and deacons will be able to conduct same-sex ceremonies if they wish but they would not have to participate in marriage ceremonies if they do not wish to do so.
A report earlier this month found the majority of presbyteries in Scotland were in favour of same-sex marriages.
The Kirk will also call for a ban on conversion therapy.
The General Assembly is also expected to welcome a historic declaration of friendship with the Catholic Church in Scotland, based on their shared faith in Christ.
The Kirk’s financial position will also be discussed and the assembly will look at a programme of “radical reforms” to streamline church structures such as reducing the number of presbyteries and a “large-scale review” of church buildings.
On Saturday, the Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields was made the new moderator of the General Assembly.
The 68-year-old minister, of St Margaret’s Community Church in Dunfermline, will chair proceedings for five days and will then act as the Church’s ambassador at home and abroad for the next 12 months.
The father of six said: “I am genuinely humbled, honoured and privileged to be appointed as moderator and to serve both you, this Church and our Lord in this capacity.”