A CONGREGATION in the diocese of Aberdeen & Orkney has voted to break away from the Scottish Episcopal Church, because of the Church’s “revisionist position”.
The congregation of Westhill Community Church (WCC), Aberdeen, voted by 87 per cent to 13 per cent in favour of leaving the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC), last week. It came after the decision of a female bishop to the diocese, the Rt Revd Anne Dyer (News, 17 November 2017), and the decision taken by the Church’s General Synod in 2017 to allow clerics to conduct same-sex marriages in church (News, 8 June 2017).
The Rector of Westhill, the Revd Ian Ferguson, said on Tuesday: “We are deeply saddened that it has had to come to this. Westhill Community Church was formed in the late ’70s and early ’80s with a very small group of regular communicants; since then, the congregation has grown to more than 300.
“Since its inception, WCC has been part of the worldwide Anglican tradition. . . Over the same period, the SEC has increasingly adopted a more revisionist position, deeming it acceptable to modify Christian teaching in order to fit in with modern ideas.
“After much prayer and heart-searching, WCC has sadly concluded that it can no longer with integrity remain under the spiritual authority of the SEC.”
Mr Ferguson was one of 11 signatories of an open letter in January of last year complaining that the SEC had “ignored the opinion of the Diocesan Synod” by appointing Bishop Dyer to the see of Aberdeen & Orkney (News, 9 January 2018). Mr Ferguson resigned his canonry of St Andrew’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, in protest.
He said this week: “WCC will continue to fulfil the mission God has given it in the local community and beyond, with the same vision and values as before. It will continue to work as closely as possible with other churches, including those remaining in the SEC, in the cause of the gospel.
“This whole process has been difficult and painful for all. We will now work with the Bishop of Aberdeen [& Orkney] on the details of how we disaffiliate from the SEC.”
Both Bishop Dyer and the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Mark Strange, have expressed deep sadness at the decision.
The congregation was a “much loved and valued part” of the diocese, Bishop Dyer said in a statement: “I am deeply saddened that they have indicated that they want to pursue potential separation from the Scottish Episcopal Church.
“I will continue to work with Westhill as we begin discussions to enable this potential separation, and will continue to pray for the Rector, Vestry, and congregation in the weeks and months ahead.”
She later told the newspaper The Press and Journal that she would not “block” the congregation from keeping the building. “I told them that if they decided to go I would honour that decision. I knew that they would want to take their building with them. I’m not going to block it. . .
“We will set off into a process where we are imagining the end is separation, but, if at any point during that journey they were to have a change of heart, then I would say: ‘Hallelujah.’ It would mean that we would have to work hard at the diversity but they are so welcome. And they will be so missed because they are so loved.
“I think the same-sex marriage issue might be seen as the last straw. It shows the kind of general direction the Church is now headed in, which I would describe as inclusive and welcoming.”
Bishop Strange described the decision as a “great sadness”, given the work that the SEC was doing to “strengthen” its place in the Anglican Communion. “Our bishops are preparing to attend the Lambeth Conference in 2020, and have begun inviting bishops from around the Communion to join us in Scotland for pre-conference hospitality,” he said. “We will continue to pray for unity and understanding as we strive to further the mission of God to our nation and around the world.”
He also prayed, he said, that, “painful though this process will be for the Church and for the local diocese and wider community, we will all remember that we are all striving to serve as disciples of Christ.”