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.