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Scottish Primus accuses protesters against next Bishop of Aberdeen & Orkney of ‘subversion’

08 January 2018


Aberdeen, looking out to sea

Aberdeen, looking out to sea

THE Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Mark Strange, has condemned a protest against the election of the next Bishop of Aberdeen & Orkney, Canon Anne Dyer (News, 17 November). He accuses its authors of seeking to “subvert the outcome of the canonical process”.

Writing to the protesters on Monday, Bishop Strange stated that he, the other electing bishops, and Canon Dyer “fully believe and trust that they have been led by the Holy Spirit”.

He was responding to an open letter published last Friday, which accuses the bishops of having chosen to “ignore the opinion of the Diocesan Synod”, and requests that, if consent is not sought from the electoral synod, Canon Dyer should consider withdrawing her acceptance.

Eleven priests are among the signatories, including seven of the diocese’s 14 stipendiary priests. Among them are the Rector of Westhill Community Church, Aberdeen, the Revd Ian Ferguson, and the Priest-in-Charge of St Drostane’s, Insch, and All Saints’, Fyvie, the Revd Alastair MacDonald, both of whom have expressed concern about the Church’s change of canon law to permit gay marriage (News, 17 June 2016).

SCOTTISH EPISCOPAL CHURCHThe Bishop-Elect of Aberdeen & Orkney, Canon Anne DyerThe letter highlights the resignation of Canon Ferguson from his canonry of St Andrew’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, and that of another signatory, the Very Revd Dr Emsley Nimmo, from the Chapter, and as Dean of the diocese. There are also four lay signatories, including two members of the diocesan standing committee.

Noting that the resignations were “because of their unhappiness concerning the process”, the letter warns that “Others are considering similar action. There is a clear possibility that the actions of the Bishops will, among other things, have an impact on the recruitment of new clergy to a Diocese now so unsettled and which currently has a considerable number of vacant parish posts.”

The letter of protest accuses the bishops of having made an appointment “which directly goes against the established wishes of the Diocese on the views it would hope that our new Bishop would hold, and minister to us from the perspective of them”. An accompanying press release says that it “should not be ‘spun’ in any way which makes it seem to be about women as Bishops or same-sex marriage”.

It says: “There are those signing the letter who would disagree with the new Bishop over her views on such matters while there are others signing who support her views. Our protest concerns the manner in which the appointment was carried out.”

In June, the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church voted to allow its clergy to solemnise marriages for same-sex couples in church (News, 8 June). Canon Dyer voted in favour of the change, and has officiated at same-sex weddings as Rector of Holy Trinity, Haddington.

The letter complains that the bishops failed to meet the standing committee or cathedral Chapter. It says that the appointment has caused “disquiet and division”, and that a request by clergy and members of the diocesan standing committee for an “early meeting” was refused by Canon Dyer, who said that she was looking forward to meeting them after her arrival in the diocese. The letter repeats this “urgent request”.

In addition to concerns about the appointment, and the process leading to it, the letter speaks of “disquiet” about the fact that Canon Dyer is reportedly not a car driver, in a diocese that is “largely rural”.

The protesters and the Primus agree in their letters that canonical process was followed by the bishops. The preparatory committee convened for the election of a bishop to the diocese was twice unable to produce the minimum number of three candidates, prompting the bishops to exercise their right to elect one themselves. The protesters argue, however, that “it has long been our proud claim that a Scottish Diocese elects its own bishop,” and ask that consent be sought from the Electoral Synod of the diocese. “If this is not deemed to be a canonically possible action, then we would ask that Canon Anne consider withdrawing her acceptance.”

Bishop Strange argues that, having followed canonical law in electing a bishop, it was not possible “unilaterally to alter such a process by introducing new elements”. Canon Dyer’s election followed “deep prayer and reflection on the part of the bishops”, who “fully believe and trust that they have been led by the Holy Spirit in their election of Canon Dyer. She too shares that conviction and looks forward to becoming the new Diocesan Bishop in response to God’s call.”

He writes: “We regard it as particularly regrettable that you have chosen to communicate with us by publicly releasing your letter and press release without any prior indication to us of your intentions, and we are dismayed at the invidious position in which it places Canon Dyer as the Bishop-elect of the diocese. We deplore that you have sought to subvert the outcome of the canonical process which led to Canon Dyer’s election. . .

“Your letter does not purport to speak for the Diocese as a whole and we would wish to point out that there are many in the Diocese who have expressed their delight at the prospect of Canon Dyer becoming their bishop.”

The letter concludes: “We would appeal to the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney as a whole to come together now to welcome Canon Dyer as your new Bishop. We invite you to join with us in supporting her and to commit yourselves, as we do ourselves, to pray for the Diocese as a whole, and for Canon Dyer in particular, as she prepares for her consecration and future life with you.”

Canon Dyer, the first woman to be elected to the episcopate in the Scottish Episcopal Church, is due to be consecrated in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, on 1 March.

When her election was announced, she said that she was “very aware in my own congregation and dioceses across our Province that there were some who were very disappointed by” the vote to enable same-sex marriage. “A bishop has to be very mindful of those who are finding this difficult, and our change requires us to pay particular attention to everybody’s personal conscience with patience and kindness.”

“I continue to look forward to my consecration and ministry as Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney with great anticipation,” she said on Monday. “As the date approaches, I am becoming increasingly aware of the demands of leadership in the diocese, and of my new role within the wider Church, and am grateful for the prayerful support in my preparation for this.”

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