Well I declare. Why the Church of England Synod has got it badly wrong.

The St Columba declaration has been voted through by the Church of England. This is a commitment to work more closely with the Church of Scotland, in particularly to enable Church of England priests to work in Church of Scotland churches, and to encourage Anglicans to worship in Church of Scotland congregations.

Here are my observations on what I’ve seen and heard:

Firstly, the debate contained some quite thumping inaccuracies, two of which I think came from the same person, the Bishop of Chester.

He suggested that the Scottish Episcopal Church was “perfectly content” with this declaration. I have no idea where he got this from, but it wasn’t widely to be found either on social media or anywhere else. Although our Primus, David Chillingworth has spoken in very measured tones about this, I’d be surprised if he wasn’t furious – I would be. I’d be spitting feathers, having kittens and generally doing things that would make me look like a creature only seen in a particularly gruesome Alan Moore comic.

Actually, credit where it’s due, I’ve been proud of our Primus during this, in speaking honestly but without rancour and what could have been justifiable grievance. But what he has pointed to in his blog posts and interviews has become increasingly sharpened by this declaration going through the Church of England Synod. The Church of England has just voted through the idea of Church of England priests working without permission or consultation in the diocese of another Province.

The most controversial parts of this declaration for me are the following:

“We acknowledge that one another’s ordained ministries of word and sacraments are given by God as instruments of grace and we look forward to a time when growth in communion can be expressed in fuller unity that makes possible the interchangeability of ministers”


“We commit to…. welcome one another’s members to each other’s worship as guests and receive one another’s members into the congregational life of each other’s churches where that is their desire”

They are in effect looking towards some form of unity, where Church of Scotland ministers and Church of England clergy can be licensed as Rectors or Ministers in one another’s churches, and where Anglicans are welcomed or encouraged to worship at, and eventually become members of, the Church of Scotland, and vice versa.

In effect, that the Church of Scotland will be in a similar relationship with the Church of England that the Scottish Episcopal Church is, with respect to clergy, and with respect to welcoming laity.

The Bishop of Chester said, in something of a light-hearted moment, that his understanding was that the Church of Scotland wouldn’t’ mind having Bishops, if only they weren’t like “English Bishop”. I’m not sure what he meant by that one, but if “being an English Bishop” included saying something in complete ignorance of the facts, I have to agree.

That comment in itself, and others in the debate, emphasised what I feel is a complete lack of understanding about the nature of the Church of Scotland, and the very real differences between the two denominations. It is utterly, utterly inconceivable to many Church of Scotland congregation that they should ever have Bishops, and would be regarded as a complete betrayal of their ethos and their history. The further away from 121 George Street Edinburgh the church gets, the more this allegiance to the Presbyterian model gathers importance. The comment was a light hearted one, but one which I think betrayed a wide gap between what people in the Church of England think the Church of Scotland is, and what the Church of Scotland thinks it is!

Equally important, whilst the worship styles of the some evangelical Church of Scotland services may be similar to some evangelical Church of England services, the majority are significantly different from one another. The Church of Scotland is not a Eucharist-based worship, whereas the Church of England is – even in places where there are too few clergy to have a Eucharist every week, that is regarded as the main gathering point of the congregation. This pervades the whole ethos of the church. The Church of Scotland is just a different beast to the Church of England, a beautiful and noble one, it is true, but far, far different than I think the Church of England realises.

But the bit which genuinely hurts, the bit which gripes and twists, is the idea that Church of England laity are encouraged to worship with the Church of Scotland. I have never worked in the Church of England, but have always regarded it as part of my church, my communion, my people. Whenever I go down South, I always search out my local Anglican church, and I find it utterly bewildering that the Church of England encourages their members now to visit, not my church, but another denomination. How can they hold their communion with us so lightly? Why does the Church of England think that being the established church is more important than being Anglican?

The consequences may be long lasting to this: to my mind the Church of England has behaved without respect or responsibility to its church in Scotland. As we gather at our Synods to discuss the issues of same sex marriage, which we have been told could split our communion apart, what does this declaration, this frankly crass and thoughtless declaration, say about the value that the Church of England places on the communion they claim to hold so dear? Distressingly little, and it will be hard for those who are voting not to bear that in mind.


About frpip

Priest, Dad, A long way away. You can call me Father Father Father.
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17 Responses to Well I declare. Why the Church of England Synod has got it badly wrong.

  1. Canon Roger Knight says:

    I am also puzzled about the time spent on such a relatively minor issue when most people aren’t interested in church whether they are ‘national’ or not. But we Anglicans do love to ‘talk’ rather than to ‘do’ !
    Although I have worshipped in the C of S, both not and south of the border, I have always attended the Piskie church and preferred its liturgy and ethos. Why weren’t the Scottish Episcopalians included in the talks?

    • frpip says:

      Thanks for this Roger. I believe the piscy church was involved at a very early stage of these talks but pulled out – I think on the grounds that what was being discussed then was more about national church issues of which it could have no part, not being an established church. However I think (and this is speculation) the parts of the declaration I quoted were news to everyone.

  2. Kirstin says:

    I couldn’t agree more Pip. As I said elsewhere today, they are acting as if Scotland was a colony to impose itself upon.

  3. Stephen hogg says:

    As a member of the English general synod who asked to speak and was not called., and as one of the 50, I thank you for this. Please will those who care write, shout, email, publish and do all they cab to stop the Church of Scotland approving this nonsense?

    The bishop of Chester, in my view, lied. Several speakers were very patronising about Scotland. Golf and holiday homes is what they think.

    • frpip says:

      Stephen I much appreciated your tweets and your efforts at Synod. I said in this post, I hope clearly enough, that I felt it was Synod, not the whole of the church of England, which made the wrong decision. I don’t know whether the BIshop of Chester was being unintentionally or deliberately misleading, but it was certainly misleading.

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  5. Eddie Green says:

    Whilst I think this is a mess, the CofE’s partnership with the CoS is pre-existing. Fresh Expressions is a good example.

    • frpip says:

      Indeed Eddie, and no-one would object to that, or many other forms of partnership. The parts I find troubling are the points I raised above, which call into question the notion of Anglican Communion. Also, of course, apart from everything else, the way this has been done is simply rude. That was apologised for in a way at Synod, but I would have thoguht that when it became clear this was not a straightforward agreement, it should have been possible to get a representative from the SEC to speak to General Synod. I suspect the reason they did not ask anyone was because of the response which would have been given.

  6. Freddie Moran says:

    I am really confused as another Christian faith where this leaves the Scottish Episcopal church – seems very confused, also think David’s comments have been very measured as part of the Anglican now so called community.

    Confused as to what all this really means.

  7. iolaire1 says:

    Very well said. And I find it very interesting that the questions this dubious agreement has raised, have not been answered in any way by the ABC.

  8. Eamonn says:

    ‘The Church of England has just voted through the idea of Church of England priests working without permission or consultation in the diocese of another Province’. That’s really the nub of the issue, as you rightly say. I’m not sure I’m remembering this accurately, but wasn’t that one of the things that the Lambeth Conference, either in 2008 or even 1998, said shouldn’t happen – specifically in relation to incidents like the Bishop of the Yukon attempting to exercise functions in the Diocese of New Westminster?

  9. Gordon says:

    Pip, you could argue that the former moderators act as bishops in the General Assembly in terms of decision making, but there is no equivalent to bishops in relation to supervision of clergy. The “former mods” have a right to a seat and when they speak they are listened to. The moderator’s uniform has also changed over the years to include a pectoral cross and doing away with the tricorn hat (which I kind of liked). Overall the C of S has become more ecclesiastical. It also got rid of synods which effectively downgraded the role of presbyteries (the opposite of what was intended).

    However, amongst my friends who are C of S ministers those most against the Columba declaration sre those who are from the liturgical / ecclesiastical / high end of the kirk. Those on the more radical edge are seeing this as a big ecumenical step and ecumenical = good (always).

    There is quite a lot of envy amongst some presbyterians that the C of E has bishops in the Lord’s. Maybe a former mod will be invited into the lords just as the chief Rabbi is (by tradition rather than legislation)? I know that this is something that would be welcomed by many.

    Will be interesting to see what the general assembly makes of it.

    [Disclaimer: I am not a member of any of the three churches involved in this]

  10. John-Julian Swanson says:

    We American Episcopalians know about all of that! Remember that a renegade “Archbishop” of a schismatic group in America and Canada was invited to the recent Anglican Primates Meeting! We Episcopalians were the first to have our national ecclesiastical sovereignty compromised by intrusion from outside.
    There is now “The Episcopal Church in the United States of America” and “The Anglican Church of North America”—paradoxically, the former is a member of the Anglican Communion and the latter NOT a member (but invited by the ABC to a meeting of Anglican Communion Primates).
    I think the C of E is simply playing fast and loose with the polity we had all assumed was universally applicable. And soon England will be seeing the African mission churches popping up in your own back yard. Damn fools!

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  12. I am puzzled by this. The Columba Agreement is a Meissen-type agrement, which precisely does *not* allow “Church of Scotland ministers and Church of England clergy [to be] licensed as Rectors or Ministers in one another’s churches.” The Columba Agreement makes it possible for CofE members to worship in a Church of Scotland church if they wish. It does not say they should. In this it is rather like the situation in Germany with the Bonn agreement (full communion) and the Meissen agreement (mutual eucharistic hospitality and pulpit exchange). The latter makes it possible for an Angican to worship in an EKD church but many will choose to attend an Old Catholic church for preference if there is no Anglican chaplaincy anywhere near.

    • frpip says:

      Charlotte, I accept that that may well have been the intention of the report, but it is not in the end what it says. The Declaration itself states explicitly that the churches are working towards a time when ministers are interchangeable. Even the twenty-two page report, which, outside Synods and Assemblies is likely to be read by fewer people than the number which contributed to its writing, says something similar – in saying that future work which is opened up includes “mutual recognition and reconcilliation of ministries”.
      If this agreement intended to encourage people to attend C of S churches where there were no Anglican churches geographically present, such as in parts of Europe, then it should have said so. This would be perfectly acceptable, as the Diocese of Europe is part of the province of Canterbury. But this declaration makes no reference to geography. Indeed, it very explicitly refers to C of E members moving to Scotland, and vica versa.
      And the most important thing about it is that it contains no reference at all to the Scottish Episcopal church. All it would have taken woudl have been a wee phrase, such as “when appropriate, working with the Scottish Episcopal church” or something similar.
      I have no beef with the C of S about this – they are not part of a communion in the way that Anglicans are. I just feel that the C of E has gone far beyond its jurisdiction in making this agreement

  13. Reuben Addis says:

    One of the strengths of the Scottish Episcopal church has been the diversity of understanding and practice; partly because of priests and congregation members are drawn from such a wide range of countries and church backgrounds. The danger of the current debate is that in our anger we will try to re-imagine ourselves as a more tightly defined by a more limited set of theology and practice that are seen as “distinctively Scottish”. I hope that we instead remain a church open to new “resourcement” (creativity growing out of the broad historic christian tradition).

    Our distinctiveness comes not from narrow nationalism but in being open to the gifts of the spirit given to churches in particular (Scottish) contexts. Our rhetoric on these issues needs to reflect this, as does our openness to hear what the spirit is saying now. Our primary identity is as brothers and sisters with all who are seeking to serve Christ. Reading recent writing on the Columba agreement I am anxious that we may lose this perspective. This could mean that we we might reject the moves of the spirit across the whole church, for example in terms of the role of the laity (Vatican II etc) and forms of mission (fresh expression etc). I am, also keen that we build bridges and heal relationships with both Church of England and Church of Scotland colleagues (offering and receiving forgiveness from each other).

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