The Queen has applauded the role congregations from the Church of Scotland have played in offering support to Ukrainian refugees since the war broke out.
Around 400 ministers, elders, deacons and special guests are gathering in Edinburgh for its General Assembly, with more joining online, as the church opens its annual meeting, first held in 1560.
In a letter read out at the Assembly Hall meeting, the Queen said “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,” she said in the letter read out by the Rev Dr George Whyte, chaplain-in-ordinary and principal clerk of the Church of Scotland.
“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.”
Of the Covid-19 pandemic, the monarch said that throughout the last year it had “continued to be a burden”, and added: “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.”
The Queen is represented by Lord Hodge, the deputy president of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.
Delivering his speech remotely, he commended the Kirk for its truthfulness.
Lord Hodge, the Lord High Commissioner for the 2022 General Assembly, 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.”
Commissioners to the annual gathering will on Monday 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.
Other topics that will be discussed include the war in Ukraine and the Kirk’s work around social care through its CrossReach service.
In her letter, the Queen said: “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 Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields was also made the new moderator of the General Assembly on Saturday.
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.”