THE forthcoming referendum on independence for Scotland is
provoking much exploration of what it means to be Scottish - a
debate that, for the SEC, is very much bound up with how others
perceive it. It is viewed here as an opportunity to strengthen both
Scottish and individual identity.
In his charge, the Primus, the Most Revd David
Chillingworth, described the referendum as "a hugely important
choice for this society. The question on the ballot paper is
political and constitutional. Churches and faith groups have
therefore felt that we should be impartial.
"We have within our Church people on either side of this debate.
They are entitled to be so. We are a Scottish Church, deeply
embedded in the story of Scotland. Whether Scotland's future lies
inside or outside the United Kingdom, we shall remain a Scottish
"We may be impartial on the referendum question itself, but not
passive in our concern for the kind of society which Scotland will
be in the years to come. There is an active debate going on about
the place of faith in any new Scotland which may emerge - and in
particular about the place of faith in a written constitution - and
we are part of that conversation."
Assumptions were made that members of a particular Church would
have particular views on politics or constitutional matters, he
said. "That's why I am uncomfortable when people call us the
English Church. The implication is that we may be less Scottish or
less Christian than others, when, in fact, it is our desire to
serve the community and all its people whatever the outcome of the
Synod members were asked to discuss how the referendum affected
their thoughts about the role and identity of the SEC, and what it
was able to offer; what values they would like to see embedded in
Scottish life; and what the SEC could do to help embed these
Many thought that more must be done to accentuate the Church's
Scottishness and emphasise the SEC as more than a brand of the
Church of England: "We do things differently; we have our own
saints" was a recurring theme. "We are a Scottish Church going back
centuries - we have lost some of our Scottishness in recent
They felt that outside perceptions were often of a "bijou"
Church: small and English. Some considered the words "English"
Church to be as pejorative as the word "chapel" to describe the
Roman Catholic Church. Others felt that, while the SEC was seen as
English, it was inclusive, and could help in the aftermath of a
An "English" Church was not necessarily a negative tag in an
independent Scotland which sought to find its place in the world,
and the SEC might "teach a lesson on how to hold different opinions
Many felt that the Church could have a civilising part to play
in what was becoming "a vicious debate": a catalyst that brought
people round the table, "modelling how we deal with this issue -
not binary and adversarial". It could offer impartiality: "Our
churches are communities where people can be safe, and after, can
be spaces to express hurt or joy." It could promote values of
tolerance, respect, inclusivity, non-sectarianism, welcome, and
openness. All felt that significant work would need to be done to
help the country hold together after the referendum.
One major resource is the Grosvenor Essay The Church and
Scottish Identity, produced by the Doctrine Committee and
launched at the Synod by Dr Harriet Harris. History shows that the
issue of the SEC's Scottishness arose at the union of the crowns in
1603, so it is not new, it demonstrates.
The Act of Toleration of 1792 formally recognised it as a legal,
Protestant denomination. It is part of the Anglican Communion, but,
along with the Episcopal Church in the United States, was not
founded by the Church of England.
The 2011 Census demonstrated confusion, the essay points out:
21,289 people in Scotland claimed to be Episcopalian; 8084 said
they were members of the SEC; 4490 declared themselves Anglican;
66,717 regarded themselves as members of the C of E, 2020 of the
Church of Ireland, and 453 of the Church in Wales.
Reference to the "English Church" is inaccurate, given its
distinctive history, and irksome to Episcopalians proud of their
Scottish identity, the essay suggests. It can be interpreted as
being "not Scottish", and therefore, in a pejorative way, not
belonging. The legacy of the history of Scotland is suggested to be
"a binary way of thinking and living that defines Scottish identity
fundamentally in terms of rejecting its perceived opposite".
Binary ways of thinking have too often defined its identity, it
says: Protestant or Catholic; Presbyterian or Episcopalian; Juror
or Non-Juror; saved or damned; Highland or Lowland; Nationalist or
Unionist. "The holding of the 2014 referendum requires Scotland to
make another binary choice: yes or no to independence. That is not
a problem in itself. That's democracy. The problem arises when the
process of making that democratic decision divides us as a society
rather thanbringing us together for the commonweal."
The essay warns: "If we see Scotland in the binary terms of our
duelling polarities - 'Scot against Scot' - then we are indeed