Choosing between the Scottish Episcopal Church, the ACNA, and marriage equality in Edinburgh

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It was July 2006, and the United Kingdom’s Parliament had recently authorized Civil Partnerships in what would become a first step towards marriage equality. The bishops and synods had yet to agree on how the church would respond, but in a parish outside Edinburgh, a quiet but steadfastly joyful celebration was slipping under the radar, one of the first to bless a same-sex covenanted union within the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Twelve years later, the law of the land has progressed to include marriage equality, and the church has had more than several conversations about how to respond. Last year, the Scottish Episcopal Church voted to remove language from its canons that restricted marriage to a man and a woman. Individual clergy retain the right to decide for themselves whether or not to officiate at same-sex marriages.

Even so, at least one congregation in Edinburgh is planning to leave the SEC rather than continue in congress with those offering marriage equality.

The Telegraph reports:

One of the largest churches in Edinburgh has voted to split from the Scottish Episcopal Church amid tensions over its decision to become the first Anglican body in the UK to endorse gay marriage.

St Thomas’ is the latest evangelical parish to quit the official Anglican church in Scotland and back a rival splinter movement in reaction to the vote supporting gay marriage in June last year. …

St Thomas’ is one of the largest Anglican churches in the capital and the move to split from the SEC will be seen as a major blow to Scottish bishops trying to hold together the deeply opposed factions over same-sex marriage.

The Revd David McCarthy, Rector of St Thomas’, told The Sunday Telegraph that while around 20% of the congregation had left the congregation since its vote to split away from the SEC, more would have left if the parish had stayed.

“I would have walked,” he added.

McCarthy suggested that offering alternative episcopal oversight might have been one way to keep congregations like St Thomas’ within the SEC fold, telling The Sunday Telegraph

“That was not offered here,” he said. “The bishops are not willing to surrender any of their power.

“With new people come through for ordinations they will make a big thing about obedience. It is all very controlling from the bishops.”

A spokesperson for the SEC told The Sunday Telegraph that the numbers leaving over the marriage equality vote as small, adding

“We understand that the decision to allow gay marriage in church is difficult for some. It is always regrettable when people chose to leave.

“We have been working very hard to try and maintain unity.”

Read the full Telegraph report here.

The first vote for St Thomas’ to leave the SEC took place back in May. An Update from the Vestry on St Thomas’ website includes this explanation

Following recent meetings and the vote on 13 May, the vestry and trustees propose the following course of action.
A small task force of vestry members, trustees and members of the congregation will write an amended constitution which will reflect our desire to leave the oversight of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

This amended constitution will not be about us coming under any other jurisdiction. That is a decision for a later date, should we be led to join a group which emerges in the UK. We will simply return to what St Thomas’ was at its founding – an independent evangelical and Anglican congregation. We will however have the support of Anglican primates from around the world, as well as Bishop Andy Lines.

Once amended, this will be made available to the congregation for comment and discussion. Following that, as our current constitution requires, we will consult Bishop John Armes (the bishop of Edinburgh). We will also ask the
Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) to respond to the proposed amendments.

A vote on the proposed changes to the constitution is expected by the end of the year.

According to the church website, the congregation, founded in 1844, has been a full member of the SEC only since 1991, and

Unlike other Scottish Episcopal churches, we own our own buildings. Title is vested in 3 congregational Trustees and the Diocesan Trustees do not have any role to play.

Although the congregation says it will not immediately join any other umbrella group, Bishop Andy Lines, mentioned in the Vestry Update, was ordained by the Anglican Church of North America as a Missionary Bishop to Europe shortly after the SEC’s marriage canon vote last year.


Photo via the St Thomas’ website

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So, for those of us with long enough memories, this decision by St. Thomas' has most in common on the American side with the decision of Mariners Church of Detroit to leave the Diocese of Michigan. There were certain distinctive characteristics of how Mariners became part of the Episcopal diocese (as there appear to be certain distinctive characteristics of how St. Thomas has participated in Edinburgh) that make this possible for them, while very different for most other congregations.

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