THE contentious agreement between the Church of England and the Church of Scotland is not intended to draw Anglicans in Scotland away from the Scottish Episcopal Church, its authors have insisted.
Although the Columba Declaration between the two Churches, first publicised late last year (News, 8 January), mentioned the hope that C of E members who ventured north of the border would worship at Kirk parishes, the full report insists this is not the aim.
“We have absolutely no desire to discourage Anglicans who move across our shared border from joining Episcopalian congregations,” the report — Growth in communion, partnership in mission — states.
The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC), the Most Revd David Chillingworth, had previously expressed dismay and shock when the Columba Declaration was announced, and suggested that it was improper of the C of E to seek ecumenical agreement with the Kirk while it had an Anglican Communion partner Church working in the same country.
The full report, published ahead of a General Synod debate on the issue in a fortnight’s time, strikes a markedly less ambitious tone than the earlier Declaration.
The Declaration said that the Churches of England and Scotland would work towards full interchangeability of ministry, and appeared to suggest members should worship at each other’s Churches when visiting across the border.
But Growth in communion, partnership in mission is more cautious and nuanced, merely exploring the ties between the two “national” Churches alongside their differences as Presbyterian and Anglican Churches.
It insists that its recommendations are “modest and light touch”, amounting to an annual meeting of a “contact group” between the C of E and the Kirk.
At a Synod press briefing, the General Secretary, William Nye, said that conversations had taken place between the C of E and the SEC since the New Year, which had begun to smooth over hurt feelings.
He also stressed that the SEC had been involved in the talks with the Church of Scotland, and had sent an observer to all of the meetings.
“Perhaps at Christmas and New Year’s not everybody realised that, but we have since had many conversations with the SEC to get more understanding of both the process and the nature of the report,” he said.
The report also places the Columba agreement as the most recent in a long line of ecumenical talks between the two Churches, going back to the 1920s. It repeatedly notes that its details have been modelled on earlier agreements such as the Reuilly Agreement (between the English and Irish Anglican Churches, and the French Reformed and Lutheran Churches).
Mr Nye also said that mention of Kirk and C of E parishes working together had been misinterpreted. There are never going to be any C of E congregations in Scotland, but there were a handful of Church of Scotland parishes in England, close to some diocese in Europe parishes across the continent.
“It would quite good for those parishes to co-operate,” he said. Furthermore, although Kirk ministers would now be allowed to take part in worship or preaching at C of E churches, they could “obviously” not administer Communion.
A statement from the SEC responding to Growth in communion, partnership in mission said that their Faith and Order Board would draw up a full response to the report later this year, after the Synod had discussed the issue.
The convener of the Church of Scotland’s Ecumenical Relations Committee, the Revd Alison McDonald, said: “The Joint Report sets out clearly the shared foundations of faith of the Church of England and the Church of Scotland, which enable us to recognise one another formally for the first time.
“This provides a sound basis for our ongoing co-operation and for exploring future partnership.”
Before members debate the report, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Dr Angus Morrison, will give a presentation.