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Scottish Episcopal Synod: closer relations forged with Church of Scotland

18 June 2021

Pat Ashworth reports on last week’s Scottish Episcopal Church Synod


The Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, with the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Mark Strange, marking the signing of the Saint Andrew Declaration between the two denominations

The Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, with the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Mark Strange, mar...

THE difficulties of trying to make policy via Zoom were evident throughout the two-day meeting of the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) last Thursday and Friday.

It led to feedback from a flipchart rather than debate on the floor. So it was with the invitation to define a new strategic direction for the SEC over the next ten years: a big question asked at the outset of the meeting by the convener of the Standing Committee, Bridget Campbell. Like many items on the agenda, it was acknowledged to be a work in progress.

It was a struggle not to lose a grip on motions to which a string of amendments were attached and mostly carried, with the addition of long wording to be absorbed on screen. There were two of these motions on Friday, both resulting from a survey of clergy well-being in 2019: the approval and adoption of a Complaints Procedures and of a Bullying and Harassment Policy.

The Bishop of Brechin, the Rt Revd Andrew Swift, acknowledged this to be “a complicated business we are navigating”. The Revd Diana Hall (Edinburgh) described the absence to date of such procedures as “a gaping and unconscionable hole in our procedures”. She welcomed the new procedures, but identified the lack of a timescale and the absence of a clear means of appeal, and raised questions of support structures and pastoral care.


Election of bishops 

HOW the Church elects its bishops has long been a point of contention, highlighted by the ongoing independent review of the appointment in 2018 of the Bishop of Aberdeen & Orkney, the Rt Revd Anne Dyer (News, 8 January 2018).

The current system under Canon 4 is an electoral synod, comprised of lay and clergy members of the diocese, which is given a shortlist of candidates approved by a preparatory committee with input from the wider Province. In a breakout session, Synod members were asked whether they would prefer to keep the present system or to choose an electoral council, which would include representation from the wider Province.

The Canon 4 review group’s report concluded that there was “strong, though not unanimous support” for the electoral synod. “This was expressed in terms of wishing to retain diocesan power over the electoral process — at the point of election, there should be no provincial input. The choice of bishop, furthermore, was felt to be a matter for every charge in the diocese, not a select group of electors. In most dioceses, there are diverse constituencies (rural, urban, island, for example), each of which may have a different perspective.”

The review also revealed that “many were looking for a canon which was more obviously compassionate to all involved. In particular, the publishing of the names of those on the electoral shortlist was considered by many to be unnecessary, and cruel to those not elected.” The Bishop of Edinburgh, Dr John Armes, described the process as “fairly brutal”.

This was an indicative vote only, and not binding. But the Synod showed little appetite for change at this point: 74 voted to retain the electoral synod, and 39 for the new council.


Relations with Kirk 

THE Synod approved, by a simple majority, the Saint Andrew Declaration, which formally recognises a shared faith and commits the SEC and the Church of Scotland to closer working as ecumenical partners: to “respond to a common calling to proclaim the reign of God to all the people of Scotland by strengthening our partnership in ministry and mission”.

The Churches have acknowledged their shared history and have “named past conflicts, divisions and hurts. In doing so, we have learned from one another and asked forgiveness of one another where we have caused pain by our words and actions. . . We have acknowledged that the theological, sacramental and liturgical emphases within our respective churches are consonant with the tradition that each presents.”

Canon John McLuckie, the convener of the Inter-Church Relations Committee, said that the religious landscape still bore the scars of the bloody history of the 17th century. Two sister Churches were forged in the same turbulent history, but there was a growing convergence of Christian spiritualities. Here was something organic, he said. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach. We share human, physical, and spiritual resources for mission. It is the start of a journey.”

The Revd Sandy Horsburgh, convener of the Church of Scotland’s ecumenical committee, spoke of his Church’s approval of the declaration at its General Assembly. “So many of our congregations work together on community projects,” he said. “We have moved from neighbours living parallel lives to something much deeper.”

He continued: “We cannot pretend times aren’t tough for churches in Scotland. We need one another. Out of that need, we find we can be more efficient when we work together on our ministry and mission.” The declaration had “clearly struck a chord with clergy and congregations”, he said. “It follows patterns adopted by other ecumenical agreements: it is tried and tested territory.”

The Revd Markus Dünzkofer (Edinburgh) supported the move as “the first time our Churches have been able to name their painful history”. But he warned that care should be taken how it was understood and interpreted: this was not and could not be, at the present time, a statement of full communion.

There was a plea to “get our history right” from the Revd Dr Stephen Holmes (Edinburgh). Others urged the SEC not to see this as “a nice document we all approve of and then go away and forget”. After acknowledging the hurts of the past, the Churches “must now turn to the needs of the present and the challenges of the future”.


Climate motions 

FOUR motions on climate change ensued from the SEC’s resolution in 2020 to achieve net zero carbon emission by 2030 (News, 11 December 2020). It called for the Synod to make changes encompassing almost all aspects of the life of the Church, using a programme of actions at every level. Ten points of guidance now embrace matters from reducing energy use in all buildings to using less polluting forms of transport, developing wildlife-conservation schemes, and promoting sustainability through preaching, liturgy, teaching, and example.

Dr Donald Bruce, a scientist and theologian, said that human activity was “catastrophically changing” global patterns. “We and our forefathers have been living off the legacy of fossil fuels. What we do in the next five years will determine the state of the planet for [the next generations]. It is a race against time.”

Professor Alan Werritty (St Andrews, Dunkeld & Dunblane) advised “a set of actions shovel-ready to be funded”. Canon James Currall (Moray, Ross & Caithness) applauded the Church in Society group for bringing all this forward, but found it “a bit of a curate’s egg”: something that “could have been written by any secular organisation. Our action needs to start by asking God for help — we are all complicit, and we need to repent of what we have been part of.”

He identified the “elephant in the room” as over-consumption, and deplored the injustice of “getting rid of our waste at the expense of others”.

Canon Liz Baker (St Andrews, Dunkeld & Dunblane) identified another as the political dimension: “We need as a Church to be undermining the neo-liberal economic model.”

The Revd David Atkinson (Aberdeen & Orkney) warned of a potential tendency to become bored with the issue over the next nine years: “It is important we get climate change seen as the heart of our mission, ministry, and discipleship.”

All four motions taking action plans forward were overwhelmingly carried.


Clergy well-being 

ONE of the issues arising out of the Clergy Wellbeing Review was that of “time off”. The present guidelines envisage a six-day working week for stipendiary clergy, with a total of 36 days’ holiday each year. New proposals before the Synod envisage two days off per week, five weeks’ holiday (25 days), plus the equivalent of ten public holidays, equating to a total of 35 days per year.

Jan Whiteside, the convener of the the Personnel Committee, observed: “The current pandemic has created issues for our clergy that could not even have been imagined before this. They have had to become more imaginative in offering services and support online, by telephone, by mail.

“For many, that was and continues to be a source of anxiety. Some have had to be shielding, and have therefore been not able to move around. Caring for their congregation has taken on the whole new meaning. Concerns about mental health, unemployment, poor finances have multiplied. These issues have all ended up at the door.

“I believe that this change will also support existing clergy who have young families and/or caring responsibilities. The proposed change to the guidelines is one which will also send a message to our clergy that they do matter: namely, that the Scottish Episcopal Church has listened and cares about them, their families and their well-being.”

Bishop Swift said that, as clergy did not have contracts, “key issues of self-care, healthy patterns of life and recreation, are so vital. . . There is a need for clergy to take time off. Will every cleric take two days off a week? In reality, not always. Sometimes, clergy and, sometimes, congregations don’t respect the boundaries.”

The Revd Roxanne Campbell (Brechin) expressed gratitude for the proposals, “which support those of us with young families and care responsibilities”.

Dr Vicky Clark (Edinburgh) took issue with the wording of “two days per week”. How should the working week be defined? What about evenings, nights, and weekends? Would it not be more appropriate to put it in terms of hours: for example, 40 hours a week?

The Revd Peter Mead (Brechin) referred to a correlation between hours worked and the cost to the NHS of people unwell through overwork. There was work in parts of the world to reduce a working week to four days: “We should keep looking at it; envisage change. Let’s stay up to date.”

The vote was overwhelmingly carried.


Liturgical revision 

THE first reading of the Scottish Liturgy 1982 with Alternative Eucharistic Prayers (2021) came before the Synod as part of the continuing process of liturgical renewal, and received support among both the clergy and laity. It incorporates changes in language with reference to humans and to God, “to reflect the changes in English usage that have come about since 1982 and to improve on and make formal the changes to gendered language permitted since 2010”.

The inclusion of Jane Haining in the SEC calendar drew warm support. She was a Church of Scotland worker in Hungary who perished in Auschwitz on 17 July 1944. She was the only Scot known to have died in the camp. Her mission work was with Jewish children, whom she refused to abandon.

She was arrested on 25 April 1944 for, among other accusations, “weeping when putting yellow stars on girls’ jackets; listening to a news broadcast from the BBC; having British visitors; sending British prisoners-of-war food parcels”. She rejected accusations of being involved in politics, declaring that she was “too busy” for all that.

Hugh Morison (Moray, Ross & Caithness) spoke of his wife, a Hungarian Jew born in Budapest. “Were it not for [Jane Haining’s] courage, I don’t think my wife would be here today,” he said.



THE ethical-investment advisory group set out its proposed policy framework for investing SEC Unit Trust Pool monies in pooled funds: investments in holdings that are themselves comprised fundamentally of other investments selected and managed by a fund manager.

It acknowledged a danger that such investment “may jeopardise the SEC’s approach to ethical investment, in that a fund might at some point in time be invested partly in one or more entities which the UTP would not choose to invest indirectly for ethical reasons”.

Alan McLean QC said that the Church recognised that investment was not value-neutral: the Synod had put down red lines around such areas as tobacco, arms, and gambling. The last investments in fossil fuel, with the Total company, had been disposed of in 2020. Indirect investments, in those funds compromised by others, “may be investments we wouldn’t wish to hold directly”, he said. The policy framework was a compromise. It was a “wheat and tares” situation in which “absolute purity may be impractical.”

The vote was overwhelmingly carried.


Primus’s Charge

THE Primus, the Most Revd Mark Strange, acknowledged at the close of the meeting that, without the opportunity to meet together, network, and discuss, it had been “not the easiest way of doing things”. But it had enabled the synodical process to continue.

He had spoken in his Charge of the difficulties posed by the pandemic: the “valley of the shadow of death”, in which many, including him, had found themselves, and he had urged: “Let’s try to uncover that place of quiet waters as we sit in Synod, using this time to discover the things we can use to bring hope and joy to those we meet on our pilgrimage, discussing how we can help those on the edge of society, acknowledging that we can disagree on detail but always trying to agree on the message we are asked to proclaim. The message revealed in the Good Shepherd, the Lord and Saviour of us all. The message of love.”

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