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Scottish Episcopal Church the 'ghost at the party' in Synod debate

26 February 2016

geoff crawford

Presence and absence: the Moderator of the Kirk’s General Assembly, the Rt Revd Dr Angus Morrison, at Church House last week

Presence and absence: the Moderator of the Kirk’s General Assembly, the Rt Revd Dr Angus Morrison, at Church House last week

THE Scottish Episcopal Church was like a “ghost at the party” during the General Synod debate on the contentious Columba Declaration, the Primus, the Most Revd David Chillingworth, has said.

In a blog published shortly after the Synod voted to press on with ecumenical dialogue with the Church of Scotland (News, 19 February), Bishop Chillingworth said that he had watched the debate with a sense of “unreality”.

“The Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) was like a ghost at the party — often referred to and talked about, but not present,” he wrote.

Although the Synod voted by a clear majority to approve the Columba Declaration and continue talks with the Kirk, many in the Synod were obviously uneasy, Bishop Chillingworth said.

“Ecumenical matters are usually carried through by Churches without significant debate. Yet here 50 people voted against, and 49 abstained.”

He also reiterated his concerns about the Declaration, arguing that it places the Church of England in a “compromised position” with the SEC. “We are the presence of the Anglican Communion in Scotland, and we expect the Church of England to respect that.”

Several speakers in the Synod debate last week opposed the Columba Declaration, which was first announced at the end of December (News, 8 January), and suggested that the C of E should heed the dismay and hurt expressed by some Scottish Episcopalians.

Mark Russell, a lay member from the diocese of Sheffield, proposed an amendment that would have meant further delay to discussion of the Declaration, and argued that the SEC had been left between “an ecumenical rock and a hard place”.

The Revd Andrew Foreshew-Cain, of the diocese of London, said: “There is a real sense of offence in the Scottish Episcopal Church, our sister Church, about this report and what it is suggesting. The continued exclusion of the SEC is sowing seeds of ecumenical distrust.”

But Synod members rejected Mr Russell’s amendment, preferring instead one from the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, which added to the motion a clause that included the SEC in future talks.

Now that the Columba Declaration had been approved by the Synod, the SEC would begin the task of reopening dialogue with the Churches of England and Scotland, Bishop Chillingworth said.

“The desire of the two Churches to get approval for the Columba Declaration has inhibited their ability to have real dialogue with us about its implications for our future relationships,” he concluded.

“We welcome the opportunity for a real dialogue with both partners, and pray that out of that will come a healing and renewal, both of our relationships and of our shared mission.”

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