THERE had been times in the year when simply saying the daily Office had been “like wading through treacle”, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Mark Strange, told the virtual General Synod meeting on Saturday.
The comment came in his opening address, the Primus’s Charge, which laid bare how challenging 2020 had been for both the life of the Church and his own spiritual life. “The Advent message of being led out of darkness into light has never been more powerful, and it is a theme the Church needs to hold dear,” he said.
The smallest issues and arguments had taken on huge proportions, and relationships had, at times, been strained; but moving onwards in hope could be the message of the Synod. “We can sit in the darkness worrying about the structure around us, or we can put on the armour of light,” he said.
The Synod called last year for an anti-bullying strategy to be put in place, following a Clergy and Wellbeing report which exposed high levels of bullying and harassment (News, 10 June 2019). The process that had been put in place to remedy it had been both painful and shaming, the Primus said.
He warned: “We cannot fully proclaim the gospel if we cannot see where our own behaviour is damaging to others. The report revealed bullying at every place in the Church: clergy to clergy, bishop to bishop, bishop to clergy, clergy to bishop, and, disturbingly, vestry [church council] to clergy.
“This training we have undertaken will, I believe, need to be shared across the Church, and processes prepared to enable us all to have the courage to name bullying for what it is, and to deal with it.”
A programme of bias training and racism awareness had also led the Church to address the realisation of its own history in regard to matters of slavery, he said.
As for the pandemic, he had been able to speak to numerous government officials and Scottish ministers about the “care, consideration, and effort being displayed across the SEC: effort to make our places safe; effort in having the courage to say no when things were not safe; and, above all, keeping connected with our communities, foodbanks, clothing banks, delivery to the housebound, letters to the lonely — so many ways that members of our Church have served the people of Scotland”.
At a time of beginning to see a way out of the pandemic, there were questions to ask about what the future should like like in terms of how the Church approached taking care of the planet, and how it used its own investments and resources: “We need to put our own house in order if we are to keep putting pressure on the governments and industries of the world.”
He concluded: “I see a bright future. Not a return to everything we did: a future where we continue to remember that we are are a living, breathing community of faith, not simply another institution that needs to keep going. The light we are looking towards is the light of Christ, who calls us to care and cherish, not maintain and retreat.”
And he admitted to weeping when he looked into the eyes of those coming forward to receive holy communion in the first face-to-face service since lockdown. In subsequent weeks, he had felt “the overwhelming desire of a Church filled with the power of the Spirit seeking to lead others into a relationship with Christ”.