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Archbishop of Canterbury causes consternation in Scottish Episcopal Church

Archbishop of Canterbury causes consternation in Scottish Episcopal Church

In the past year, the Church of England and the Church of Scotland have worked out an agreement known as the Columba Declaration that was recently approved at the  General Synod of the CoE.  One section of that agreement covers the mutuality of ordained ministry in each church.

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.

The Scottish Episcopal Church has raised some concerns about this agreement because it has the appearance of one Anglican Church (CoE) seeking to do ministry in the province of another (Scottish Episcopal Church).  Though this type of border crossing has become commonplace in North America as several African Anglican churches have set up jurisdictions opposed to the progressive stances of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, such happenings have not been as commonplace elsewhere.

David Chillingworth, Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane and Primus of the Sottish Episcopal Church wrote at his blog that he “watched the debate in which the Columba Declaration was approved by the Church of England with a sense of unreality. The Scottish Episcopal Church was like a ghost at the party – often referred to and talked about but not present.  Concerns  which have been voiced within the Scottish Episcopal Church about the Columba Declaration focus significantly on the Church of England.  The Church of England and the Scottish Episcopal Church are partner-Provinces in the Anglican Communion.  We are the presence of the Anglican Communion in Scotland and we expect the Church of England to respect that.  The concerns are  that the Columba Declaration places the Church of England in a compromised position in relation to the Scottish Episcopal Church.”

The Rev. Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow wrote in his blog concerning the seeming duplicitousness of the Archbishop of Canterbury, asking “Can anyone explain what the Archbishop of Canterbury meant yesterday? I’m struggling to see the truth shining through his words – can anyone help me?”

He writes:

“It is incomprehensible to me that the Church of England establishment, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, can have claimed in the English Synod yesterday that the Scottish Episcopal Church is “content” with the Columba Declaration and sees it as a positive move forward when the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church is describing it as “improper”, causing distress to the Scottish Episcopal Church, says it is not the way we do things in the Anglican Communion and talks of is as an example of the Church of England trying to exercise jurisdiction in Scotland.”


Justin Welby was heralded as a talented negotiator and consensus builder when he was selected for the role of Archbishop of Canterbury, but recently he seems to be coming off as flat-footed or tone deaf first in his evolving explanations of the Primates gathering and now in this clear misrepresentation of the position of the Scottish Episcopal Church.  One wonders whether these are merely missteps, poor communications or signs of a an as yet unclear plan.


To see an interview with the Scottish Primus, go here



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TJ (Thomas) McMahon

“Why would anyone insist on an Oath of Conformity after the Treaty had been signed”
I may be subject to correction by those more knowledgeable, but I believe the language prescribed by the Act of Conformity of 1662 is included in the Ordinal, and there was no option in the rubrics to allow for the consecration of bishops of other nations or to otherwise dispense with that language. It was law of the land as well as law of the Church. Bishops of that time did not have the option to create or alter liturgies to suit the moment.

christopher seitz


Oath taking is an extremely solemn matter due to the separation of Holy Orders from the Roman Church and the need to solemnize before God — in the case of the CofE, this entailed an oath before God warranted by the Crown as Head of the Church.

Obviously when White and Provoost were consecrated they did not travel to Scotland, but by this time the CofE had made provision so they were consecrated there.

You may recall that Provoost and Seabury were not friendly, and the former disputed the orders of the latter.

Paul Powers

That’s correct. The Church of England couldn’t dispense with the Oath of Coformity until Parliament enacted the Consecration of Bishops Abroad Act (1786).

By the way, I believe the SEC’s biggest contribution to TEC isn’t Seabury ‘s consecration (important as it was), but instead the adoption of the Scottish prayer of consecration in the Eucharist.

Kurt Hill

I agree with you, Christopher, that in the Anglican tradition the Blessed Sacrament is reserved to be used, not simply for adoration. That’s why in the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries it was kept in aumbries or cupboards in the sacristy or vestry and not in public tabernacles. This is the most ancient usage, too. Both the Puritans and the nineteenth century Evangelicals were opposed to any kind of reservation (as were a few High Churchmen, e.g. Bishop George Washington Doane). But Bishop Seabury apparently followed the Non-Juror practice of reservation for sick and dying. It’s now so common that even many Evangelical Episcopal parishes practice it.

The reintroduction of public reservation of the Blessed Sacrament for adoration in Anglicanism likely took place in 1847 or 1848 here in America—a decade before John Mason Neal revived it in England. The Society of the Holy Cross, a monastic order for men based in North Carolina, introduced the public reservation of the Blessed Sacrament at the Mission Chapel of their Valle Crucis Monastery, where it was kept in a pyx on the altar. This was likely the first public Reservation of the Sacrament in an Anglican chapel or church since at least the Caroline Period of Anglicanism—if not earlier

And, of course, none of the American Prayer Books have ever contained the so-called “Black Rubric” on Eucharistic adoration, probably another Scottish Non-Juror influence on our Church.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

christopher seitz

Reservation of the sacrament expressly for the sick — not for adoration or benediction — has a long pedigree East and West. But the eastern church has no sense of adoration apart from the service of Holy Communion, and when administered to the sick the communion rite is recited again.

To speak of ‘reservation of the Blessed Sacrament’ and the prayer of consecration which speaks of those of the Body who are not present could be confusing issues. The latter could mean and has been taken to mean, consecrated elements from the said service being then take to the sick. For this one does not need ‘reserved sacrament’ and one may not ever mean adoration or benediction.

Kurt Hill

I agree, the Non-Juror influence on the Prayer of Consecration was important. But they influenced our Church in another way:

Many of the Non-jurors also reserved the Blessed Sacrament by rubric from at least 1718. The English Anglican clergy who also practiced Reservation of the Sacrament could point out that the rubric directing Reservation had been reinstated in the Latin translation of the Prayer Book (Liber Precum Publicarum) ordered by Queen Elizabeth I in 1560. It was subsequently approved unanimously by the Convocation of the Church of England in 1640. At that time the rubric was commended for the use of all the Anglican clergy; the rubric has never been rescinded.

There has long been a school of thought in the American Episcopal Church that asserts that Bishop Seabury worked to normalize the Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in the Church from the very beginning of his episcopacy. This explanation goes far in interpreting what is otherwise a very peculiar formulation in the Prayer of Consecration contained in the first American Standard Prayer Book of 1789:

“And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls, and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee, that we, [worshipers now in this church] and all others who shall be partakers of this holy Communion [those parishioners prevented by illness or infirmity from attending this Eucharistic celebration] may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace [+] and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in them, and they in him.”

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

christopher seitz

The fascinating issue here is when and why the Scottish Episcopalians had an epiclesis to begin with. Of course they didn’t invent or create this. It was in eastern rites. But why would they know this or have access to it? Here is an interesting story of letters passing between the orthodox churches and certain divines in Scotland, and the interest they both had in one another and in an alternative to Roman inheritances. That this in turn was bequeathed to new world Americans is one of those unintended consequences of which history is rich. (I once heard it said by the Orthodox, ‘about Rome we know everything and trust nothing; about Anglicanism we know nothing and trust everything). God has a sense of humour one supposes.

christopher seitz

People are just making things up. Read any history. Seabury was an ardent Tory. Served as Chaplain to the English troops. Went to the CofE to be consecrated. Could not take the oath of conformity because the English warned against it. Had to adopt an alternative and so went north to Scotland, to find non-jurors who would accommodate him in his request. Booked passage to Nova Scotia because he feared he would have trouble re-entering the revolutionary USA. Nova Scotia was the epi-center of Loyalist sentiment. A solid SEC History reminds us that Seabury was an unknown name in Scotland until the 20th century, when it was revived to try to raise US funds to complete the cathedral in Aberdeen.

It is reasonable to be want to take the side of the SEC (which withdrew from the talks in question, let it be remembered) but not in the name of inventing an imaginary history.

One ‘Braveheart’ is enough.

Lenten blessings.

Jeremy Bates

The fact remains that the Church of England refused to ordain any bishop for The Episcopal Church until the Scottish Episcopal Church led the way, and ordained Seabury as bishop.

Any ardency of Seabury’s Toryism did nothing to soften the adamancy of the Church of England against the newly independent Episcopal Church.

Rather Seabury had to go north to be made a bishop by the Church of Scotland.

Some think this was the true beginning of the Anglican Communion–not in London, but in Aberdeen!

Methinks there is a message here for today. Archbishops of Canterbury seem to have trouble with independent churches. Lambeth Palace erred then; in so many ways, Lambeth Palace is erring now.

Jeremy Bates

Yorktown was lost in 1781, Seabury sailed for England in July 1783, and the Treaty of Paris was signed in September 1783.

Nevertheless, Seabury was consecrated in Aberdeen fourteen months later, in November 1784.

Why would anyone insist on an Oath of Conformity after the Treaty had been signed? Methinks this was the Church of England looking out not for Seabury, but for itself.

christopher seitz

“Any ardency of Seabury’s Toryism did nothing to soften the adamancy of the Church of England against the newly independent Episcopal Church.”

You have it exactly backward. Seabury could not sign an oath of conformity without endangering himself. The English bishops counseled against it for his own good.

When later two Bishops were consecrated–they went to England of course and not to the SEC–the revolutionary war was over. But there was still a need for some form of walk-around in respect of oath taking.

Though it may be hard now to believe, the oath was an extremely solemn undertaking. It is what made the CofE separate from the Roman Church.

The non-jurors were a handy expediency, and Seabury took advantage of that. And that was the end of the SEC’s role. White and Porvoo were consecrated Bishops in the CofE.

And Seabury’s name was forgotten until the twentieth century revived it in Scotland.

John Chilton

Wondering about this,

“In England, however, his consecration was considered to be impossible because, as an American citizen, he could no longer take the oath of allegiance to the King. … Seabury’s consecration by the non-juring Scots caused alarm in the British government who feared an entirely Jacobite church in the United States, and Parliament was persuaded to make provision for the ordination of foreign bishops. Seabury’s tenacity in the matter had the effect of making a continued relationship between the American and English churches a possibility. The problem was revealed not to be one of liturgical restrictions (the oath) but of political plans.”

Jeremy Bates

Correction: not the “Church of Scotland” but again, the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Scottish Episcopalians, keep correcting me until I get this right!

Kurt Hill

Yes, Christopher, Seabury was indeed a reformed Tory who made his peace with the Revolution and the independent American Episcopal Church. He came from a High Church family, and had been sympathetic to the Non-Jurors since his student days in Edinburgh. We know this. Tell us something we don’t know…

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Kurt Hill

God bless the Scottish Episcopal Church, true mother of the American Episcopal Church!

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Prof. Christopher Seitz

People should read the history of the discussions, from which the SEC withdrew. There are also major evangelical congregations in the SEC which are not bothered at all by this development and embrace it. Much of this has to do with the anxiety of a very small SEC within the context of the CofS.

JC Fisher

“Much of this has to do with the anxiety of a very small SEC within the context of the CofS.”

That’s the point, Christopher: the SEC is NOT “within the context of the CofS”. Both the SEC and the CofS are within the context (borders) of Scotland.

Therefore, any ecumenical relations that the CofE decides to have w/ ANY church in Scotland, should only be in full partnership w/ the SEC: the representative of the Anglican Communion TO Scotland.

Sam James

This misses a number of facts: 1, The discussions–from which the SEC was encouraged to withdraw from–where never meant to lead to anything like the ‘Columba Declaration’. 2, The SEC not being a party of the discussions did not grant the C of E the authority to reach an agreement of this kind. 3, There are indeed “major evangelical congregations” in the SEC, one can count these on the fingers of one hand. However to say they are “not bothered at all” with questions that include, for instance, which ministers can be appointed in which churches is probably a stretch.

Paul Powers

This was poorly handled by the C of E, but is entering into ecumenical discussion with another denomination really border crossing? The C of E isn’t setting up churches in Scotland in competition with the SEC. Besides the Kirk has parishes in England and in Europe, which are in the C of E’s jurisdiction, not the SEC’s.

Kelvin Holdsworth

I suspect that if the C of E started negotiating with US denominations that were not TEC, then that would be seen as border crossing.

Oh, wait a minute…

Jeremy Bates


If the Church of England were in direct talks with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Episcopal Church would probably think that the Church of England was poaching on TEC territory.

Of course, as you suggest, the Church of England has already done this with ACNA.

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