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Shall we evade the conflict? No, Scottish General Synod is told

13 June 2024

Scottish Episcopal Church

The eucharist is celebrated by the five Scottish Episcopalian bishops. To the right stand the Revd David Railton, the next Bishop of Argyll & The Isles, and the Acting Bishop of Aberdeen & Orkney, the Rt Revd Dorsey McConnell

The eucharist is celebrated by the five Scottish Episcopalian bishops. To the right stand the Revd David Railton, the next Bishop of Argyll & The ...

MEMBERS of the Scottish Episcopal Church’s General Synod were encouraged to put their heads “above the parapet” on Thursday morning, in an address by the Primus, the Most Revd Mark Strange.

Bishop Strange, who is also the Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness, said that the Synod’s agenda — which includes items on the environment, the war in Gaza, and nuclear weapons — was “outward-looking”.

“There are always those who worry whenever we put our heads above the parapet, and I understand that; yet there are many occasions, may I suggest, that this is exactly what we are supposed to do,” he said.

“If we do not call out when we are aware of turmoil and suffering caused by actions that go against the teaching, life, and example of Christ, then we are in danger of ignoring our call. Yes, sometimes we will be criticised, sometimes we will see people storming off in disagreement, but do we believe people join us because of our silence, or because of our action?”

He referred to the war in Gaza, and said that “as peacemakers we need to talk of peace, not ignore the conflict”.

This, however, also created a responsibility to “work our way through those matters which are affecting us directly”, he said, referring to results from the 2022 census, released last month, which showed that 51.1 per cent of respondents in Scotland said that they had “no religion”: an increase from 36.7 per cent in 2011.

Earlier this week, Bishop Strange was urged, in an exchange of letters seen by the Church Times, to condemn comments made by spokespeople for the Bishop of Aberdeen & Orkney, the Rt Revd Anne Dyer (News, 10 June).

Bishop Dyer is currently suspended, pending a disciplinary tribunal, which is understood to relate to accusations of bullying (News, 21 May).

On Monday, six people who had complained about her behaviour wrote to Bishop Strange, saying that her spokespeople had “made the baseless accusation that the complainers are homophobes and misogynists”.

On Tuesday, the Primus responded: “It is not appropriate for me to make comments whether at General Synod or otherwise, about any person involved in the current Canon 54 process.

“Any comments to the effect that ‘the complainers are ‘homophobes and misogynists’ have not been made by the Scottish Episcopal Church nor published on any of our platforms. You would therefore need to direct your concerns to those responsible for making and/or publishing any such remarks.”

In their reply, the letter-writers argued that it would be “entirely appropriate” for the Primus to make a public statement, suggesting that not doing so amounted to a failure to “protect us from further abuse”.

Bishop Strange did mention the disciplinary process in his address, but only to say: “We must all respect the process taking place, and no further comment on the current situation should take place at Synod.”

 

THE first session of the Synod on Thursday afternoon began with a trial of a new voting system. A test vote on the motion “that this Synod prefers coffee to tea” was carried in all three Houses, but revealed a split within the House of Bishops: two on each side, with one recording an abstention.

There are currently only five bishops in post, owing to the suspension of Bishop Dyer, and the death last September of the Bishop of Argyll & The Isles, Dr Keith Riglin (News, 25 September 2023)

Dr Riglin’s successor, the Revd David Railton, is due to be consecrated in August (News, 24 May), but is present at the Synod, together with the Acting Bishop of Aberdeen & Orkney, the Rt Revd Dorsey McConnell, a former Bishop of Pittsburgh who has retired to Orkney.

The first substantive vote at the Synod was to approve the use of electronic voting. It had to be rerun, after one member asked how they could vote electronically on whether they should be able to vote electronically.

“We’re in a chicken-and-egg situation,” the convener of the Standing Committee, Bridget Campbell, admitted. The vote was carried, regardless.

The voting system was discussed again after lunch, as Ms Campbell introduced a motion asking the Standing Committee to develop proposals for a permanent solution to the current ad hoc arrangements.

She acknowledged that all votes at Synod had, effectively, become secret ballots, as a consequence of the shift to electronic voting — a move which had been brought in during the pandemic to facilitate hybrid meetings.

It was, she said, clear from feedback that “many people rather like voting electronically”, but that there were some who thought transparency was paramount.

The motion was to “test your general appetite for using electronic voting in the future”, she said, and to consider possibilities such as publishing voting records after the meetings.

Concerns were raised from the floor about accessibility for people with visual impairments and ADHD, the cost of hiring the devices, and the environmental impact of an electronic system.

Ms Campbell also paid tribute to John Stuart, who is retiring this summer after 28 years as the Synod’s Secretary General. She described him as the “architect” of the Synod in its current form (News, 15 December 2023).

Mr Stuart’s replacement is to be Dr Dee Bird, currently chief executive of Edinburgh Napier Students’ Association (News, 22 March), and a new post of Chief Operating Officer has been created, to be filled by Dr Patricia Krus, who is the acting chief executive for the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland.

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