THE General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has approved the joint Columba Declaration with the Church of England, after hearing the Archbishop of Canterbury apologise personally for the pain felt by the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) about the agreement.
Archbishop Welby spoke during the Assembly’s debate in Edinburgh on Wednesday, to urge support for the Declaration, and to repair relations with his Anglican colleagues north of the border (Comment, 20 May).
Speaking as the first sitting Archbishop of Canterbury to participate in a debate at the Kirk’s General Assembly, Archbishop Welby apologised to the SEC for the way the announcement of the agreement was handled late last year (News, 1 January).
“[It] caused much consternation and deep hurt,” Archbishop Welby said. “That hurt is exclusively my responsibility, and I want to put on the record to you and to them my apology.” The SEC was both the Kirk’s partner in Scotland and one of the C of E’s closest Anglican neighbours, and as such would play a full part in the continuing ecumenical talks, he assured them.
The Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness, the Rt Revd Mark Strange, acknowledged Archbishop Welby’s apology on behalf of the SEC, but spoke of how the Columba Declaration had shaken his Church profoundly.
The Church of Scotland is the SEC’s best friend, Bishop Strange said, and the C of E its sister. Therefore: “it was a bit difficult when our sister begins to take an interest in our best friend; especially when our best friend shows interest back. . .
“Yes, we are hurt, but now let me ask you: if this happens in your family, then surely you try and fix it, you try and sort it out.”
The Columba Declaration had been approved by the C of E’s General Synod earlier this year (News, 26 February). Archbishop Welby acknowledged that, in many ways, the two Churches would not find themselves walking in step — citing debate on same-sex marriage as one example — but said that there was much that drew them together, including a shared concern about inequality in society.
“We know there are serious issues to be faced in our relation with you around recognition and reconciliation of ministries. But more than that, it is about the call of Jesus Christ to visible unity, so that he may be known.”
The Columba Declaration and its accompanying report were warmly received by members of the General Assembly, and in particular by armed-forces chaplains.
The Revd Geoff Berry said that, three years ago, he had stood in a morgue in Afghanistan, alongside an Anglican chaplain and three soldiers, who were grieving for their comrade who had been killed in action. “These young men did not care which denomination we were from, just the comfort of our presence and the limited words we could offer.”
The Revd Andrew Chulu, a representative from the United Church of Zambia, questioned why the Churches that had sent missionaries to Africa, who had taught the importance of unity, could not yet be united at home. He quoted Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “I am because you are — there will not be Church if you are absent.”
The motion that welcomed the Columba Declaration was carried unanimously; but it was also amended to note the “sadness” with which the Kirk received the latest report of discussions with the United Free Church of Scotland. These talks have been “paused” because of disagreements over same-sex marriage (News, 27 May).