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Some corner of a Scottish field …?

23 May 2014

These Episcopalians seem quite English, says Ian Bradley

St John's Episcopal Church: The history of a worshipping community
David Willington
Ashgrove Publishing £15*

MANY Scots regard and speak of the Scottish Episcopal Church as the English Church. The author of this history of the Episcopalian congregation in Perth attempts to disabuse them of this notion by stating unequivocally on the first page that "the Episcopal Church of Scotland is not at all an English importation, but has its roots in the Celtic Church and has grown up as an indigenous entity."

The interesting story that he proceeds to tell hardly bears out this claim. The Perth congregation began life as an English Chapel falling under the jurisdiction of the Church of England, and threw in its lot with the Scottish Episcopal Church and came under the authority of the Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld & Dunblane only in 1849, after much debate and with some reluctance. It went on drawing its clergy from the Church of England, as indeed was also the case with several of the bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church, perhaps most notably Charles Wordsworth, whose hostility to the Episcopal Cathedral in Perth is the subject of a chapter in the book.

David Willington quotes the comments of a Scottish priest in 1883 on the growing number of English clergy in the Scottish Episcopal Church: "They never take in the situation; they never feel instinctively with the people; whatever they do has a certain foreign air about it." He also admits that a majority of the present-day congregation of St John's Episcopal Church in Perth are "English or Anglo-Scottish". I fear that his book will not persuade Scots to give up the "English Church" jibe.

Dr Ian Bradley is the Principal of St Mary's College, St Andrews.

*This title can be obtained from St John's Episcopal Church, Princes Street, Perth PH2 8LJ. Phone 01738 634999.

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