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Scottish Episcopal Synod: Members discuss toll of Covid

17 June 2022

Francis Martin

Members engage in group discussion in the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church

Members engage in group discussion in the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church

REFLECTIONS on the pandemic and discussions about liturgy took up much of the rest of the first day of the Synod meeting.

Canon David Richards (Edinburgh), Rector of St Paul’s and St George’s, Edinburgh, the church in which the Synod was meeting, introduced a session in which members reflected on the pandemic.

“The first thing I want to say, if no one else has said it to you, is simply well done,” Canon Richards began. He quoted the National Clinical Director for Scotland, Professor Jason Leitch, who had described the churches in Scotland as having “played a blinder” through the pandemic.

Canon Richards, who is a clergy member of the Province’s Standing Committee, described his experience of the first few weeks of lockdown, in March 2020, as “exciting, puzzling, challenging, and energising”. St Paul’s and St George’s, he noted, had been well-equipped to transition to online worship, and had more than 5000 viewers on Easter Sunday 2020. “My career as a tele-evangelist beckoned,” he joked.

“But then the novelty wore off,” he said, recounting the personal and professional challenges he faced as lockdown continued. “I hit a wall — physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. I couldn’t lead myself, never mind lead a church.”

The group discussion that followed Canon Richards’s reflection was earnest — flipcharts were used to keep track of contributions — and convivial, as the participants enjoyed the chance to discuss matters in person rather than on Zoom.

The tone remained generally optimistic and defiant: a comment on one flipchart read simply: “This is not a church that gives up.”

During the feedback session afterwards, Canon Vittoria Hancock (Aberdeen & Orkney) said: “Change is good but hard.”

She reflected that what seems “catastrophic” at the beginning might not turn out to be so bad. The pandemic “highlighted the injustices that are already present in society, and highlighted the mental-health epidemic that already existed, and there’s a need to act”.

Other members of Synod drew attention to the positive effects of the pandemic. Canon Terence Taggart (Aberdeen & Orkney) noted that giving had improved. Dr David Simmons (Glasgow & Galloway) said that “everybody was pulling together” throughout.

Although the atmosphere was positive, attitudes were not homogeneous: one group said that lockdown had taught them that the eucharist was not the most important part of collective worship, while another concluded that they had learnt the critical importance of the eucharist.

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