The Church of Scotland's governing system is presbyterian, which means that no one person or group within the Church has more influence or say than any other. The Church does not have one person who acts as the head of faith, as that role is the Lord God's. Its supreme rule of faith and life is through the teachings of the Bible.
Church of Scotland government is organised on the basis of courts, mainly along lines set between 1560 and 1690. Each of these courts has committees, which may include other members of the Church, and at national level employ full-time staff. Our councils, forums and committee pages include more about their work and remit.
At a local level – the parish – the court is a kirk session. Kirk sessions oversee the local congregation and its parish, and consist of elders presided over by a minister.
At district level, the court is a presbytery. Presbyteries consist of all the ministers in the district and an equal number of elders, along with members of the diaconate (a form of ordained ministry, usually working in a complementary role in a ministry team in both parish and industry sector contexts). There are 41 presbyteries across Scotland, England, Jerusalem, and International.
At national level, the court is the highest court of the Kirk, the General Assembly. The General Assembly consists of around 400 ministers, 400 elders, and members of the diaconate, all representing the presbyteries. Visit our General Assembly page for more information about how it functions.
The Kirk and the State
The King is not the supreme governor of the Church of Scotland, as he is in the Church of England. The sovereign has the right to attend the General Assembly, but not to take part in its deliberations. The Oath of Accession includes a promise to "maintain and preserve the Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Government".
The King maintains warm relations with the Church of Scotland, where he worships when in Scotland, and from which the chaplains of the Royal Household in Scotland are appointed.
The Church of Scotland (the Kirk) is not State controlled, and neither the Scottish nor the Westminster Parliaments are involved in Kirk appointments.
The Kirk's status as the national Church in Scotland dates from 1690, when Parliament restored Scottish Presbyterianism, and is guaranteed under the Act of Union of Scotland and England of 1707.
In matters of doctrine, government, discipline, and worship, the Church of Scotland is free of State interference, operating under a constitution largely contained in the Articles Declaratory, which were recognised by Parliament in 1921. Our Church law pages include more information and the acts and regulations of the General Assembly since 1929.
Individual congregations belong to a larger presbytery, which is overseen by a Presbytery Clerk. There are currently just over 20 presbyteries in the Church of Scotland, although the Church is currently undergoing a mission planning process that will see the number of presbyteries reduced to around 10 over the next few years. A list of current presbyteries can be found on our presbytery contacts page.