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Scottish Episcopalians query Columba Declaration

08 January 2016


Across the fence: part of the border between Scotland and England

Across the fence: part of the border between Scotland and England

THE Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) 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 last 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 Christmas Eve. 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.

Would English Anglicans who visited Scotland now be assumed to worship in Church of Scotland parishes rather than the SEC, he asked. He was surprised 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 also 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 worships with fellow Anglicans while in England, but publicly attends Church of Scotland services 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."

In a later article (below), Dr Forster said that the SEC had initially been part of dialogue between the C of E and the Kirk, but had not wanted to join a common declaration. It had, however, been invited to all the meetings between the C of E and the Church of Scotland, and had taken part as an observer in the drawing up of the eventual agreement.

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 meeting of the General Synod next month, 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).

The Declaration is part of a 15-page report that outlines the history of the two Churches’ partnership, and where they agree on various questions. It also commits them to work together on social and political concerns in public life, and to 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.

The spokesman also said that the SEC’s Faith and Order Board decided against entering into an ecumenical agreement with the Churches of Scotland and England as it was already a sister Church of the C of E.

"We suggested instead that three-way talks might proceed on a range of theological issues. In the event, the Church of Scotland and Church of England were keen to maintain momentum and in the light of that decided to proceed on a bilateral basis, with the Scottish Episcopal Church being invited to send an observer."


Anglo-Scottish ecumenical move misfires - Letters to the editor


Churches 'facing similar issues' 

by the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster

WHEN the General Synod meets in February, it will welcome the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Revd Dr Angus Morrison, and hear a presentation from him.

In 2012, the then Archbishop of Canterbury addressed the General Assembly, and was well received. He emphasised the parallel responsibilities which the Church of England and Church of Scotland had as "national Churches", with a call to maintain a Christian presence in every community in their respective countries.

After the Moderator’s address, the Synod will hold a debate on Growth in Communion, Partnership in Mission: Report from the Church of England-Church of Scotland joint study group.

As co-chairman of the Study Group, I will be introducing that item and asking the Synod to approve the "Columba Declaration" from the report. The mutual acknowledgements and commitments that it contains would represent a significant further step in the long-standing and multi-stranded relationship between our two Churches.

Of course, a relationship between two Churches always sits within a much wider context of church relationships, and changes in that particular relationship have the potential to affect the wider context for good or ill.

Members of the Church of England will be particularly mindful of the Scottish Episcopal Church as our Anglican partner north of the border, and, indeed, concerned to ensure that it is properly included in any developments. In the light of some apparent confusion about that, it may be helpful to set out some of the background to the report that is coming to the Synod.

Its immediate origins lie in an earlier report, published in 2010, Our Fellowship in the Gospel, from a joint study group between the two Churches (the present Moderator was a member). That report recommended that a more detailed theological discussion was needed, which should include the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The study group that produced the present report was originally set up in 2010 as a three-way dialogue between the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Church of England, and the Church of Scotland. By 2012, members of the study group had come to the view that they should work towards outlining a formal agreement, along the lines of the Reuilly Common Statement between the Anglican Churches of Britain and Ireland, and the French Lutheran and Reformed Churches.

The Scottish Episcopal Church, however, responded negatively to this proposal when its delegation reported back. The decision was therefore taken in 2013 to reframe the study group as a dialogue between the Church of England and the Church of Scotland, aiming at a formal agreement, with an observer appointed by the Scottish Episcopal Church to attend meetings and receive papers, in recognition of the need for it to continue to be closely involved in all developments and able to comment on them.

It was on that basis that the study group met in 2013 and 2014, with an emerging consensus about the shape and content of the document. The text of its report was finalised in early 2015, and presented to church bodies, including the House of Bishops. It therefore comes to the General Synod in February after a lengthy process of drafting and consultation in which all three Churches have been involved.

The focus of Growth in Communion, Partnership in Mission is on what the Church of England and the Church of Scotland can do together in mission across our borders as the Churches "of" our two nations. We discovered that the issues which we were facing were remarkably similar.

Our aim is emphatically not about either Church seeking to cross those borders, in order to increase its presence and influence. It does, however, recognise the reality that people — including clergy — from our Churches do move over borders, and the choices that face them are not necessarily straightforward.

For all kinds of reasons, some Christians from the "Reformed" Church of Scotland who come to England may want to have some kind of relation to the Church of England, instead of, or as well as, the United Reformed Church; and some Christians from the Church of England who come to Scotland may want to have some kind of relation to the Church of Scotland, instead of, or as well as, the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The study group saw these possibilities in a positive light, as offering both challenge and opportunity, not just for the Church of Scotland and the Church of England, but also for the other Churches to which they stand in close relation.

How, for instance, might involvement from members of the Church of Scotland help a Church of England parish to appreciate better the richness of the Reformed tradition, and thereby assist it to grow in relationship with the local United Reformed Church?

Relations between Churches are not a zero-sum game. Ultimately, growth in unity in Christ with one Church draws us deeper into unity in Christ with every Church.

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