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Pact between Churches of England and Scotland criticised

01 January 2016


Prominent presence: Canongate Kirk, on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh

Prominent presence: Canongate Kirk, on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh

THE Scottish Episcopal Church is “deeply hurt” by a new agreement between the Church of England and the Church of Scotland, the Primus, the Most Revd David Chillingworth said in a series of blogs this week.

The Columba Declaration — named after the fifth-century Irish missionary St Columba who is said to have introduced Christianity to Scotland — was announced on Thursday of last week. It is the fruit of a joint study-group led by the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, and Dr John McPake, a minister in the Church of Scotland.

The agreement commits the two national Churches to “grow together in communion and to strengthen our partnership in mission”.

Bishop Chillingworth said that the Declaration would cause “real difficulty” in the relationship between his Church and the C of E.

He questioned whether English Anglicans who visited Scotland would now be assumed to worship in Church of Scotland parishes rather than the SEC, and he was surprised, he said, that the Church of Scotland seemed to be focusing its efforts on reaching across the border rather than strengthening relations with other Scottish Churches.

He questioned whether it was “proper” for the C of E to enter an agreement about “ministry and ecclesiastical order” in a country where it had no jurisdiction. “The Anglican way is to recognise the territorial integrity of each province — they are autonomous, but inter-dependent,” he wrote.

“What would really help this situation — mitigating the damage already done to long-established relationships, and avoiding further damage — would be for the two Churches to decide to delay publication of the full document to allow time for consultation.”

Dr Forster said that the Declaration was “catching up with the Queen”, who has historically considered herself an Anglican while in England, but a member of the Church of Scotland as soon as she crosses the border.

“Relations have not necessarily been bad between us; they have just not really been developed. . . We have just been occupying different parts of the universe, really,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “It’s a bit like building a house: you’ve got to start with the foundations.”

The agreement commits the two national Churches to “grow together in communion and to strengthen our partnership in mission”. It is due to be debated at the next meeting of the General Synod in February, and at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May.

Besides endorsing formal congregational partnerships between Church of Scotland and C of E parishes which are near to each other, the agreement also pledges to enable ordained ministers to “exercise ministry in the other Church, in accordance with the discipline of each Church”.

In the future, the agreement foresees the “interchangeability of ministers” after growing communion between the two denominations has led to “fuller unity”.

The Declaration notes a possible problem in such discussions: the lack of bishops in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. It says: “We acknowledge that personal, collegial, and communal oversight (episkope) is embodied and exercised in our churches in a variety of forms. . .”

Joint work between the two Churches has already begun. The Churches’ Mutual Credit Union, which offers low-cost credit and savings accounts to priests and church employees, was launched as a partnership between the C of E and the Kirk, along with the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church, and the Church in Wales (News, 20 February).

Fresh Expressions was referred to in the announcement as another example of how the two Churches are already working together.

The Declaration is part of a 15-page report that outlines the history of the two Churches’ partnership, and where the Churches agree on various issues. It also commits the Churches to work together on social and political concerns in public life, and to identify and “address” theological hurdles to greater communion.

In a statement, a spokesman for the SEC welcomed further ecumenical discussion, but said that, as the SEC represented Anglicanism in Scotland, the C of E might have over-reached itself.

“We fully understand the desire of the Church of Scotland and the Church of England, as national Churches, to discuss and explore matters of common concern. However, certain aspects of the report which appear to go beyond the relationship of the two Churches as national institutions cause us concern,” the statement said.

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