HRH Prince Philip’s address to the General Assembly of 1969

In 1969 HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh delivered a speech to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland entitled The Challenge of Change. Amazingly, despite the 50-plus years which have elapsed between then and now, his speech remains fresh, challenging and full of wisdom that is still relevant today.

1969 General Assembly showing Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, addressing the Assembly.
Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, addresses the General Assembly on 26 May 1969.

The Challenge of Change

Reverend Moderator, fathers and brethren,

As you probably know, Sir, I have undertaken a good many unexpected engagements in the last twenty years but never in my wildest dreams did I ever see myself where I am today. After all these years I thought nothing would surprise me and that no invitation could possibly make me blink. The day I first heard of the idea that I might address the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland I confess I was taken completely by surprise and I blinked.

Unless I am still in the same dream I am pretty certain that I am fully awake at this moment and very conscious of the courtesy and hospitality of this august and somewhat awe-inspiring body. You have paid me a charming compliment and I shall do my best not to strain your patience. As I think most of you are aware, for the last twenty years we have had the privilege and pleasure of listening to each moderator as well as other ministers preach from the pulpit at Crathie. I never imagined that I would be able to get my own back on so many of them in one go.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh attended the General Assembly together in 1969 and 2002
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh attended the General Assembly together in 1969 and 2002

It is one thing to express, if rather inadequately, my gratitude and appreciation but it is quite something else to find a subject which is sufficiently interesting and yet does not trespass on the many topics which are either being debated in this Assembly or which in journalistic jargon are too controversial. Unfortunately all interesting subjects are controversial almost by definition. It always seems rather strange to me, in this country of free speech and freedom of the press, that comments about interesting subjects should be so unwelcome, but I have learned through bitter experience that for me to be labelled as having said something controversial is about the worst offence I can commit. I once even succeeded in making tripe controversial and I consider that no mean achievement.

People who label comment on interesting topics as controversial imply that all discussion is inevitably a controversy and every disagreement is a major row. The essence of civilised life is the ability to discuss serious and important topics calmly and objectively so that all the arguments can be put forward and so that some sort of balanced judgment can be arrived at. Objectors to free comment should wear a label round their necks saying: “my mind was made up long ago, don’t confuse me with any other ideas!”

It goes, of course, without saying that people who assume that they have a monopoly of all the virtues, and that anyone who does not agree with them is, by definition, a knave and a scoundrel, cannot hope to take part in intelligent discussion. I rather suspect that these people are not really against controversy as such, in fact many of them are at it all the time, they simply don’t want to know about anything which might conflict with their own preconceived ideas. They can’t bear the thought that they might be wrong or that anything has changed since they made up their minds when they were about 18, or, in some cases, a great deal earlier. This is very sad, because the great problem of our time is adjusting to the fundamental changes in human existence which took place between 150 and 50 years ago. The fact is that the greatest changes in the history of mankind are not taking place today. They happened during the 19th century and early years of the 20th century, but it is only in the last 30 years or so that we are beginning to experience the consequence of those changes.

Changes in human existence

The transition from a rural agricultural and craft industry existence to an urban industrial society began many years ago but it is only recently that these changed circumstances started to strain the political, the administrative, the legal, the religious and the educational structures which we have inherited from a thousand years of relatively stable circumstances. After all, animals of one kind or another provided the motive power of transport from the earliest times of recorded history right up to the period of our grandparents. In the same way, communications were limited to various kinds of visual or audible signalling devices or by human messenger; suddenly this is taken over by machines, telephones, radio, television and telegraph. Indeed the development of machines completely transformed the whole human material environment in a way which has never happened before and which is extremely unlikely ever to happen again.

A commemorative booklet was published after the 1969 General Assembly featuring the speech of the Duke of Edinburgh
A commemorative booklet was published after the 1969 General Assembly featuring the speech of the Duke of Edinburgh 

These developments have changed all the obvious practical and visible aspects of human existence but equally, and if not more important, has been the change in our intellectual environment. There has been an explosion of knowledge, we have built mountains of discovered facts about the structure of man, of the world and, to a growing extent, of the universe. We have pushed back the threshold of the understanding of the origin of life from theory and myth to a point where only a few more pieces of the jig-saw puzzle remain to be fitted into place. At this point I think it is worth remembering that contemporary scientific knowledge is the direct outcome of Christian civilisation. Christianity perhaps more than any other of the great religions, is based on a realistic involvement in the material world and, with one or two rather famous exceptions, the Christian Church has encouraged the search for truth and the work of scholars both outside and within its own ranks. The beginning of this process of discovery started a long time ago but it has been accelerating ever since. When it started, only the pioneers and the searchers understood what they had discovered, today the facts which they discovered are taught as a matter of course in schools and colleges. The generations who have grown up in the last 30 years have done so in a material and intellectual environment different in every respect from any previous generations. Their only experience is of the modern world and the knowledge they are acquiring is the new factual knowledge. These new generations are not exposed to the same fundamental changes because they have no practical experience whatever of the circumstances of human existence before their time. Their problem is the conflict between modern conditions and ancient structures and we should not be astonished if this conflict is finding expression in many weird and wonderful forms.

The conflict of the generations

This, it seems to me, is the crux of so many of our problems. The circumstances which dictated the pattern and structure of the essential human institutions in a civilised society have been almost entirely swept away. The younger generations feel instinctively that the existing structures are somehow unsuitable to the new circumstances, while the older generations are quite naturally uncertain how the structure should be modified. That the Church is aware of this problem is amply demonstrated by the reports presented to this and many previous Assemblies by commissions and committees. They make it quite evident for instance that the social and intellectual environment which gave rise to the general pattern of the parish and the deployment and methods of the ministry have been substantially changed.

The present younger generations are certainly not the first or the only generations to find anomalies and frustrations in the structure of society as they find it, but those they find are probably bigger and more obvious than usual. All the great institutions of civilised human communities have a tendency to lose sight of their basic objectives and to become bogged down in the futile pursuit of their own internal politics and administrative problems. If that doesn’t suffice then there is always the fertile field of inter-institutional bickering and jealousy. These distractions are obviously seen to be immensely important to the people involved but they should not be surprised or angered if new generations fail to see the point of them and persist in noticing only the glaring anomalies.

Equally, the new generations should not be astonished and angered if their sometimes rather naïve solutions are not accepted as if they were the pure light of reason. Things are never quite as simple as they appear to be. A vague feeling or even an absolute certainty that all is not right does not mean that the causes are understood or that the remedies are obvious. Indeed, unsympathetic and blatantly biased diagnoses merely cloud the essential issues and encourage the wrong solutions.

There are plenty of things to be worried about without inventing new ones. The world is by no means perfect but it certainly won’t be improved by adding yet more bigotry, senseless violence or blind destruction. Those are primitive and ignorant reactions and they have no place in the continuing process of improvement in human civilisation. It has never been necessary to destroy a whole city merely because some of the buildings are a bit old-fashioned. The art lies in constant and progressive redevelopment.

In any case anomalies are not confined to long established institutions. I confess I get a little confused by the logic which demands violence as a way of achieving peace. I am defeated by those who use insult and intolerance, rejection and denunciation as a means of achieving greater freedom and tolerance for themselves. Bitter experience shows that the exact opposite is the more likely result.

The trouble is that it isn’t easy to be consistent and the obvious answers are seldom the right ones. The really important issues have been debated over and over again throughout history, and it would be remarkable if all the relevant arguments have not been aired before. The difficulty lies in giving practical expression to the good ideas; in building the great humanitarian principles into the structure of the community. The difficulty lies in recognising the changes brought about by changed economic, material and social circumstances and finding the right way to apply the fundamental principles in the new situation.

The problem which all institutions have to solve is the relationship between their basic objectives and the circumstances of ordinary contemporary human existence. The changes in our material and intellectual environment have already taken place, the challenge now is to face up to the consequences. The problem is to initiate the necessary adjustments to the interpretation of the functions of our institutions so that they can continue the process of improving our human civilisation. This may not sound particularly difficult or dramatic but in fact the degree to which we succeed or fail will decide absolutely the future quality of human existence.

Attitudes to change

We can take one of three attitudes. We can set our faces against any change on the basis that the institutions as they are have been developed over many generations and we must therefore cling to them to see us through. For myself I cannot accept this. The second alternative is even more simple-minded. Sweep everything away, wipe the slate clean and then start again. This has been tried and its champions claim it has been supremely successful, but I don’t believe anyone could deny that any success achieved is at the expense of vast human suffering and the wanton destruction of much that will always be of great value. Furthermore, it can only be achieved at the expense of the freedom of the individual. And this, in my opinion at least, is totally unacceptable.

The third alternative is much the most difficult because it involves reform at a generally acceptable pace, and this means that it is too slow for those in a hurry and too fast for those who don’t appreciate the need. It is difficult because the reforms have to be thought out and decided upon by the institutions themselves, albeit with considerable outside pressure, but the more deeply entrenched people become in any institution the less they see the need for reform. The depth and intensity of devotion to a cause is not a measure in itself of the value of the cause and no excuse for failing to see its weaknesses and shortcomings.

These are the three approaches to the problem of changing our institutions so that they can continue to function and to make a worthwhile contribution under the new circumstances of human existence. If we do not make a deliberate effort to face up to this situation the outlook is pretty dismal. Fortunately there seems to be a growing realisation that all is not well and many institutions are taking a careful look at their activities and making serious efforts to weigh up the new circumstances in an attempt to discover how to rebuild their structures to serve the new situation. I see no reason why they should fail unless of course they sink back into complacency.

Christian heritage and influence

This is neither the time nor the place for me to discuss the position of the Christian churches in this new environment except to say this. For over a thousand years every aspect of our national, family and individual lives has been influenced by the Christian gospel and all the major national institutions are at least nominally based upon the Christian ethic. Christianity has provided the inspiration for everything that is best in our achievements and institutions and I believe that most thinking people would like this inspiration to continue into the future. Either way, whether people like it or not, the influence of the churches in this process of reform is absolutely crucial.

Reform could well take place without their influence but that, I believe, would be a major blow at human civilisation. Whether it does or not presents a tremendous challenge to the churches because if they are to retain their influence their message needs to be preached to present-day man in his present-day environment. We often hear of the church being rejected, but I don’t believe that the Christian message is being rejected. I rather suspect that the messengers are still struggling to find the best way to convey the message so that it holds the attention of a much larger proportion of the younger generation and so that its meaning shines out like a beacon in the gloom of the doubt and confusion of the modern world.

Arnold Toynbee is an agnostic but he had this to say in a recent article on Christianity’s chance to triumph over technology: ‘The historic religions have now reappeared above our horizon in a spirit of mutual charity, and this change of heart has removed the age-old stumbling block. It has opened the way for these religions to perform the spiritual services for a human being which they have always had it in their power to perform if only they had not stultified themselves, as they have persistently in the past, by exhibitions of spitefulness and intolerance that have justly brought them into discredit. Their service is one that they alone can provide, and it is a service of superlative value.”

I hope he was right because I am convinced that a sane future depends upon the Christian spirit entering into the lives and decisions of the men and women, and particularly of the scientists, and the technologists, and the engineers, whose daily work is shaping the new world.

It can only be misunderstanding which allows people to reject the idea of “love thy neighbour” and turn to chanting “make love not war” without noticing anything odd. It can only be ignorance which drives otherwise intelligent young people to grasp at every kind of substitute instant religion as if it were something new and rather daring when, in fact, they have all been tried and rejected at various times in history. It can only be a misconception which blinds all those people who are concerned about the poor and the sick and the suffering, to the meaning of that passage in Matthew which ends up “Inasmuch as ye have done unto the least of these my brethren ye have done it unto me”.

I find it almost impossible to believe that anyone of intelligence and understanding and with a sense of compassion and responsibility can find a convincing reason to reject the Christian idea as it is outlined in this glorious paraphrase of some of the things written by St. Paul.

“Go forth into the world in peace, be of good courage, hold fast that which is good, render no man evil for evil, strengthen the faint-hearted, support the weak, help the afflicted, honour all men, love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

A message from the Moderator on the death of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh

A message from the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair:

“The death of the Duke of Edinburgh marks the end of an era in the life of our nation. Prince Philip’s naval service to our country in time of war, and his enormous service to the nation afterwards, and his support of many organisations and charities in industry, education, conservation and sport have been an example to many.

Prince Philip visiting St Columba's Church of Scotland in London in 2015. Image by Matthew Bruce
Prince Philip visiting St Columba’s Church of Scotland in London in 2015. © Matthew Bruce.

“Throughout his long life, Prince Philip has shown how privilege ought to be marked by service. In his dedicated and distinctive way, he has shown our nation what this looks like, and what kind of difference it can make.

“The inception of the Duke of Edinburgh Award to recognise significant leadership and community service in the lives of young people has inspired generations to look to ways to make a difference in communities and the wider world. The award has transformed the lives of many young people, giving a sense of confidence and self-worth through achievement and hard work.

“The Duke’s constant support for Her Majesty the Queen as her consort throughout their marriage has been unswerving. He was, in the Queen’s own words, “her constant strength and guide”.

“The Church of Scotland shares in the nation’s sense of loss at this time, and gives thanks for the Duke’s life. We offer our prayers and sincere condolences to Her Majesty the Queen and the members of the Royal Family.”

Prayer following the death of HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh

Almighty and everlasting God, ‘the life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.’

But You are forever, from everlasting to everlasting, and we put our trust in You for You have promised never to leave us nor forsake us.

Loving Lord, in this last year, through the worst of a global pandemic, we’ve been face to face with our fragility and vulnerability, perhaps for some of us as never before.

Against that backdrop of hurt and loss, we give you thanks for the life and service of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Some are called to the front of the stage, others to supporting roles and we rejoice in the way he supported Her Majesty the Queen through all of the years of her reign.

We remember, too, his work supporting charities and, perhaps most memorably for young people for over sixty years, his patronage of The Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme.

In this hour of loss, we offer our heartfelt prayers for Her Majesty and her family. Comfort them in their loss, bind up their wounds and grant them the consolation of a store of treasured memories. Grant Her Majesty the peace that comes from knowing you and which passes all understanding.

These and all our prayers we ask in the name of Jesus, who through his life, death and resurrection offers us hope instead of despair, life instead of death.


For further updates please check the websites of the Scottish Government. the UK government,

The website of the British Monarchy also has more information, as well as an online book of condolence

Kirk announces winners of Moderator’s photo competition

After being inundated with more than 500 creative entries for the Moderator’s photo competition, ‘Hidden In Plain Sight’, Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair is now pleased to announce the winners.

Photo competition winners
Our competition winners. From left to right: Kenny McCartney, Finn Davie, and Abigail and Izzy.

The competition, which ran for a month from the start of Lent, was open to primary school, secondary school and 18+ entries, with each category having a winner and a runner-up and being featured in our online photo gallery. Each winner will also be gifted a £50 donation to a charity of their choice.

Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair hoped that ‘Hidden In Plain Sight’ would help “open your eyes and see that the Cross is all around you”.

“This has been an absolute delight. Such creativity!” Dr Fair said of judging the entries.

“But, whilst I’ve admired the photographic skill, I’ve been thrilled at the way the contestants have fulfilled the remit by finding the Cross… well, everywhere,” Dr Fair said.

“Sometimes obviously, sometimes somewhat hidden and, at other times, requiring a second and third look to spot.

“And isn’t that the truth when it comes to the Cross? It’s there every day and in every place. May our eyes be open to see.”

Primary school

For the primary school category of the competition, Dr Fair’s wife Elaine, a primary school teacher, was tasked with picking the winners.

“Oh my word, what a job I had selecting a favourite,” she said.

“To narrow it down, I decided to select something unique. I loved the creative Crosses you had made and was amazed at the Crosses you spotted in the fences and doors, lamp posts, maps and masts, but the two I have selected were quite different.

“Well done to everyone who took part – I hope you had fun Cross-spotting.”

Our primary school winner is:

Abigail and Izzy
Abigail and Izzy, primary 3 and primary 5.

And our primary school runner-up is:

Lily aged 9
Lily, aged 9. 

Secondary school

Our secondary school winner is:

Finn Davie
Finn, aged 13.

“The photo was taken on one of my favourite walks, one I’ve done lots of times. The lighting and the frame of the trees drew my attention to the road signs making the cross in the distance,” Finn said.

“I’m really happy to have won and delighted that a local charity will benefit from it.”

And our secondary school runner-up is:

Caroline Taylor-Smith
Caroline Taylor-Smith.

Caroline Taylor-Smith, submitted by her mother Moira Taylor-Wintersgill, a 4th year candidate at New College and locum minister at Gorgie Dalry Stenhouse Church.

“They were taken by my daughter Caroline Taylor-Smith when she was at school. She became a very keen photographer and it helped her overcome a period of low self-esteem that she encountered. She even started to earn some money from it as she did a wedding shoot, fashion photo shoots and made cards with her pics to sell in a local craft shop. She had such an eye for beauty, and for the small details that add vibrancy interest and colour to life.

“She would have been 24. She died in a road traffic accident in 2015. That is why I am submitting them on her behalf, I just want to share her work.”

18+ category

Our 18+ adult category winner is:

Kenny McCartney
Kenny McCartney.

“The cross on Princes Street is the tram support in the middle, steady and unwavering in the middle of rush hour,” Kenny said.

And our adult category runner-up is:

Kirsty Smith
Kirsty Smith.

“I really loved taking part in this and opened me up to being more aware of God’s presence and love all around me every day… it’s given more opportunities to connect with God but also to make connections too between my community and God’s work within it,” Kirsty said.

“This was a sunset reflection created from the wooden panels of my living room door opposite, along with the reflection of a heart ornament onto the cross which made it even more powerful… this was something I had never, ever noticed before on the wall.”

Each winner will receive a £50 gift from the Church of Scotland to donate to a charity of their choosing.

A big thank you to everyone who entered the competition, and a special congratulations to our winners and runners-up.

If you haven’t yet had a chance, you can still view our photo gallery to see all the entries for ‘Hidden In Plain Sight’.

Tartan Day star turn for Edinburgh Presbytery clerk

Scottish Americans will be given an insight into the significance of the colours of the Kirk’s official tartan.

Rev Marjory McPherson will explain the symbolism in an online address to the Saint Andrew’s Society of the State of New York’s online Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan service tomorrow.

Rev Marjory McPherson
Rev Marjory McPherson wearing a Church of Scotland tartan stole

The Clerk to the Presbytery of Edinburgh said it is an “honour” to be invited to speak to the New York City-based organisation to mark Tartan Week.

The five colours of the tartan are associated with the liturgical calendar, Christian tradition, traditional uses in the Church of Scotland and links with the nation of Scotland.

  • Purple – Royal colour, sovereignty of Christ, divinity, mountains, heather, thistle.
  • Red – Fire/flame, blood of Christ, Burning Bush, Scottish Lion Rampant.
  • Blue – the sky, Mary, blue associated with the Kirk, St Andrew and the Saltire flag.
  • Green – Growth, ecology, the earth, glens, moors and the thistle.
  • White – light of the world, brightness, joy in Christ, cross in the official emblem of the Church of Scotland and the Saltire flag cross.

The cloth, recorded in the Scottish Register of Tartans, has been used to make ties, bow ties, scarves, facemasks and stoles and can also be purchased for skirts and kilts.

Mrs McPherson wore a stole in her video address for the service, which is usually part of the Tartan Day parade celebrations in New York City on a Saturday close to April 6.

The annual event recognises the contributions of Scottish-Americans.

The minister said the Kirk’s tartan tells a story of faith, heritage, association with the land and of things that “matter in history and throughout time”.

“It serves to remind us of the roots of our tradition whether sacred or cultural and in binding these elements together roots us and links us and shapes us for the way ahead,” she added.

Unity and oneness

Mrs McPherson said fans of TV sci-fi programme, Star Trek, will be aware of the concept of warp drive that takes a person from one place to another in a mythically short space of time.

“The pandemic may have bred warp drive in us as we strive to manage this extraordinary time, it may have deepened or caused a profound sense of isolation,” she added.

“So today in our tartan we remember the weft that we can weave into our days to demonstrate the importance of community and all the strands that make up our lives for Christ called on all people to find unity and be one.

“On this special day when you celebrate the song of your heritage, hearing the pipes and drums and seeing the cloth from which you were woven, may we all together cherish the connections of land, colour, and imagination that can fire us as we seek to follow in faith wherever Christ will lead us as together we are woven into his community on earth.”

The Saint Andrew’s Society of the State of New York was founded in 1756 to help Scots in need.

In the present day, it provides charitable relief, academic opportunities, and fosters fellowship around a common Scottish heritage.

For more information about Church of Scotland tartan goods and a full price list, email