Tension after Columba with C of E easing, says Scottish Episcopal Primus

26 May 2017

SCOTTISH EPISCOPAL CHURCH

THE Primus of the Scottish Epis­copal Church (SEC), the Most Revd David Chillingworth, has written positively of the “renewed friend­ship” between the SEC and the Church of England, 18 months after the Columba Declaration caused “deep concern” for their relation­ship as Anglican Churches.

The Columba Declaration — named after the fifth-century Irish missionary St Columba, who is said to have introduced Christianity to Scotland — was an agreement be­­tween the C of E and the Church of Scotland, published in December 2015. It committed the two national Churches to “grow together in com­munion and to strengthen our part­nership in mission”.

It was widely criticised for making no mention of shared mission with Scottish Episcopalians. Bishop Chillingworth said at the time that the Declaration would cause “real difficulty” in the rela­tionship between the SEC and the C of E in the future (News, 1 January 2016).

The Declaration was approved by the C of E General Synod (News, 26 February 2016), and later by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, during which the Arch­bishop of Canterbury apologised for the pain that it had caused the SEC (News, 27 May 2016).

But, in a foreword to the 34th annual report of the SEC, published last Friday alongside the agenda and papers of its forthcoming General Synod, next month, Bishop Chil­lingworth writes that the Churches had improved their relations since the “unexpected” Declaration had been made.

“We are always positive about ecumenical agreement. But there were aspects of the Declaration which caused deep concern. During 2016, through discussion in a num­ber of fora, we have been able to renew our relationship of friendship and mutual regard with the Church of England. We have also entered into sig­nificant dialogue with the Church of Scotland. ‘Our Common Calling’ will enable us to consider together our shared Christian witness in Scotland today.”

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The Church Times understands that the Scottish Episcopal Church is due to participate in the first meeting of the Columba Declaration Group, later this year — the fruit of a joint study-group led by the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, and the Revd Dr John McPake, a minister in the Church of Scotland.

The Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness, the Rt Revd Mark Strange, a member of the SEC’s Interchurch Relations Committee (ICRC), said last Friday: “Since the unexpected publishing of the Col­umba Declara­tion in 2015, two areas of discussion and relationship build­ing have de­­veloped. The first of these is ‘Our Common Calling’, a bilateral pro­cess between the Scot­tish Episcopal Church and the Church of Scotland.

“The conversations, which have so far proved to be fruitful, have covered the areas of history and doctrine, and have looked at how to further develop relationships be­­tween our Churches.”

In his review of the year, Bishop Chillingworth also addresses human sexuality, pointing to the “highly sig­­­­­nificant” meeting of the Anglican Primates in January last year (News, 15 January 2016). A second reading of a revised Canon 31 on the sol­em­nisation of holy matrimony, which would allow clerics to con­duct mar­riages for same-sex couples in church, is due to be debated at the Synod on 8 June.

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