Still wrong. In my Humble Opinion. Responses on the Columba Declaration

A blog post of two halves – the first bit is about my own ecumenical thoguhts, the second about the feedback to my previous post about the Columba Declaration.

I have tried to be ecumenical all my ordained life. I was brought up a catholic, and when I left that particular denomination, it was not rejecting it in favour of another denomination, it was something far bigger than that. I made a sort of vow to myself and to God, that I was not leaving a denomination which had nurtured me and challenged me, but I was opening myself to the whole glorious messy, rich, and strange communion of Christians.

From that moment on, I promised that I would remove every wall of prejudice in myself that I could – Baptists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Orthodox Catholic, evangelicals and Anglo-catholics, liberals and conservatives, they were all part of my faith and religion, however difficult that might be.

I have never refused communion to anyone, child or adult, and have had very regularly had Church of Scotland Ministers and URC Ministers celebrating communion in my church with the piscy liturgy as well as with their own. I complained volubly when I was told that I had to call it a “church of Scotland Eucharist” if I had a CofS Minister celebrating, arguing that it was the Lord’s Supper, not something belonging to any denomination.

I’ve worked hard to try and make every church I have ministered in as open and ecumenical as possible, reaching out to other denominational congregations who often wanted little to do with me because of my theology. I’ve worked with Elim, Baptist, URC, catholic, Independent churches and more, encouraging them to lead worship in my church and vice versa. I try, in short to be catholic in the fullest sense of the world. And that often means doing a hell of a lot of the hard work in order to make it happen.

Nothing would give me more pleasure than for the CofS and the Piscy church to form an agreement where we could work together better, share churches and resources, recognise one another’s ministries better, and have a form of interchangeability of ministries. Indeed this happens in many places in local ecumenical partnerships, and the piscy church has worked very hard to make these things happen. In particular our stance of membership changed so that we are happy for people who are members of the piscy church also to be members of other churches.

But we must acknowledge that ecumenical activity has failed in the past through emphasising unanimity instead of unity. The ecumenical endeavours which failed were structural agreements, and where ecumenism works, it is on a local level. Structure can get in the way of that, and where it does it should change, but it only at the local level that ecumenism can thrive, or indeed, where it matters.

I don’t believe that growing together in unity and love mean growing together in terms of external worship styles, or of language orpractices. Where those things inhibit the growth of the church, they should change. I don’t believe the Columba Declaration makes any ground in doing that, and indeed in many ways inhibits it. The Columba declaration feels like a “leading from the top” structural change – much of which I don’t think the CofE has the jurisdiction to do, and which (again, from the CofE side, rather than the CofS) it has done in such a way as to challenge the friendship of its province in Scotland.

Turning to the issues, the main criticism of my post (or rather critique – we are Christians after all, and none of the comments were intended, or received, as being pointed or aggressive) was that simply the Columba Declaration doesn’t do what I said it did.

Charlotte (in the comments on the Blog post) put it as clearly as possible:

“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.”

Someone (by email) said:

“The focus on sharing ministry is on C of S parishes in England and Diocese in Europe. There is no intention whatsoever for C of E activity in Scotland – they have no canonical way of doing so!”

Those seem to be two contradictory interpretations. One suggests it is not possible, one suggests it is, but only within the “territory” of the C of E, ie England and the Diocese of Europe.

Either of those interpretations would raise no issue with me. But the report and the declaration goes further than that.

The report states:

  1. “The sharing of authorised ministers arises from the same context of people switching residence between Scotland and England”

i.e. the notion that ministry “interchangeability” is within the context mentioned earlier in the report about the movement of people from Scotland to England and vice versa.

The idea that this relates only to Europe and England is absent from the report. If it was intended to be thus it would make the report very one-sided. There are only sixteen CofS congregations within the jurisdiction of the CofE – Eight in England, eight in Europe. Other C of S churches are in places where the church of England has no jurisdiction, such as Bermuda, Sri-Lanka, Jerusalem – and Scotland! I cannot believe for a second that this declaration is intended to be focussed on sixteen churches only. If so, in working towards having CofS Ministers working in England, it is a very one-sided deal.

When it comes to the issue of Anglicans joining CofS churches, and vice versa, Charlotte also makes the point about lay members of one church worshipping and becoming members of another:

“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.”

This is a point which has been made several times by several people in different ways, including:

“As you will know, members of the C of E often find a home in the C of S when they move here – the report doesn’t want to encourage that, but simply facilitate it when it already happens”

But I find that the report and the declaration does, in fact encourage it. Let me say from the outset that I have no beef at all with English people deciding they prefer the CofS to the piscy church – that is their choice. However many choose the CofS simply because they have never heard of us, and I know of many who simply did not find a home in a CofS congregation because they worship style is so different from what they found life in, and being in ignorance of the SEC, they ended up going no-where.

The report states:

“We recognise that church ‘membership’ is a complex and indeed to some extent contested notion for both of us as churches ‘of’ our respective nations, but that may be one reason why those formed in one of them might feel a particular kind of affinity in the other”

And the declaration states:

[we will continue 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;

To answer Charlotte’s point therefore, this is not about someone being geographically separated from their “own” denomination and finding a home in another, it is about moving from one to another with ease.

Again, some little, very little acknowledgement of the piscy church, and the jurisdiction of the CofE in the communion would have allayed many fears.

I know the piscy church will continue to work well with the CofS, and that gradually, as we need them to, barriers towards better and closer working will slowly be removed as necessary. I suspect that our worship styles and language will always be a little different, and there’s no harm in that at all, as long as diversity doesn’t’ frighten us. My issue with the Declaration is not with the CofS, but with the rather leaden-footed way in which those of the CofE pushed this through their Synod, with bland reassurances which they could not make, and suggestions of closer working which they cannot canonically undertake.

Someone on twitter said “this is only a tiny pebble in the cairn of ecumenism”. I believe it’s more of a spanner.



About frpip

Priest, Dad, A long way away. You can call me Father Father Father.
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2 Responses to Still wrong. In my Humble Opinion. Responses on the Columba Declaration

  1. Unlike Charlotte, I actually am very cautious when it comes to the Meissen Agreement. I know that many in the EKD see it implementing a relationship between the EKD and the CofE that is akin to the Bonn Agreement: They believe it is about interchangeability of ministry as much as about pulpit and altar fellowship. Yes, the text does not say this – at least not in its English version. But anytime I read about Meissen in the German context, it sounds a lot like Leuenberg, or, as I said, Bonn. The EKD does not understand our finer distinction between intercommunion and full communion. And, frankly, because Protestants of the Reformed or the Continental Lutheran persuasions do not share and at times do not understand our ecclesiology and our theological convictions about ordination, I fear Columba will be interpreted by the CofS as Meissen is by the EKD.
    I also want to say: Ecumenism is not about finding the smallest common denominator. I am an Episcopalian for many reasons. But one reason is our understanding that there are four orders in the church (lay, bishops, priests, and deacons) and that the apostolic succession is more than a theological connection to the faith of the Apostles. (Whether it is historic or not, I do not want to debate here, but there are documents from the early 2nd century which support the material/manual aspect of apostolic succession.) And there are some of us, for whom this is important. Not the least, because of our Ecumenical connections to the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Old Oriental Churches, and because we are in full communion with the Union of Utrecht. So, to assume that one has to give up not this particular aspect of our identity in order to be properly Ecumenical is rather presumptuous. Somebody pointed said to me in these discussion: I can’t believe that in our day and age the SEC would not recognise CofS orders? Well, that is a bit judgemental, isn’t it?
    I wholeheartedly support “Call to Common Mission” and the “Waterloo Declaration” in the North American context as I do Porvoo. These three documents were able to solve the theological differences. But, at this stage, can we Anglicans really say we see CofS teaching elders as the same as our priest when the theology is so fundamentally different? Are we just too polite?
    This, of course, should not prevent us from working together more closely in mission and from working much more harder to overcome the obstacles. But both sides need to give… And we need to be less nice and more honest and be willing to claim our identity. Just like in the same-sex marriage debate I am mission good theological conversation. We do it, because it is the thing to do – and this, IMHO, gets us into muddled waters just like Meissen did and just like, I fear, Columba will do. And Pip is right: The old style Ecumenism did not work.

  2. Oliver Drake says:

    Absolutely to the point, Fr Pip!!!!! You carry on preaching, I will provide the low D’s!

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