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Columba Declaration between the Churches of England and Scotland leaves out the Scottish Episcopal Church

Columba Declaration between the Churches of England and Scotland leaves out the Scottish Episcopal Church

The Church of England and Church of Scotland have proposed an agreement that would allow the “national” churches in the United Kingdom to work more closely together, including allowing exchange of ministries. Problem is that apparently no one consulted the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The Telegraph reports:

The Daily Telegraph has learnt that a formal agreement between the two churches – which emerged separately from the Reformation in the 16th Century – is set to be put before their governing bodies, the General Synod and General Assembly, early next year.

The pact, drawn up by panel of senior clerics after years of discussion, will be seen as a landmark in relations not just between neighbouring churches but two separate branches of Protestantism. It comes ahead of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation….

…Perhaps the most ambitious clause is a commitment to work towards “interchangeability” of clergy with Church of England priests and Church of Scotland ministers being fully recognised – and eventually able to work – in each other’s churches.

Law & Religion UK:

As well as recognising one another’s ministers, the churches exchange views on ministry and come together on initiatives such as  Fresh Expressions, for example. The Church of Scotland also sends a representative to the General Synod while the Church of England sends a representative to the General Assembly.

In a joint statement prefacing the report, joint study group co-chairs Rev Dr John McPake and Rt Rev Peter Forster, Bishop of Chester, write:

“Our hope is that joint affirmation by our two churches of The Columba Declaration would:

  • Affirm and strengthen our relationship at a time when it is likely to be particularly critical in the life of the United Kingdom;
  • Provide an effective framework for coordinating present partnership activities and for fostering new initiatives;
  • Enable us to speak and act together more effectively in the face of the missionary challenges of our generation.”

The report emphasises that joint ecumenical work must also include other churches mentioning the Episcopal Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church by name. At the same time it acknowledges the, “distinctive partnership in the gospel to which our two Churches are called within the United Kingdom, rooted in our shared history and in our parallel and overlapping roles as the churches of our respective nations.”

The report will be presented to the Church of England’s General Synod in February and to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May for approval.

Thinking Anglicans posted two responses from the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Bishop David Chillingsworth, Bishop of St. Andrews, Dunkeld, and Dunblane, and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church writes:

A spokesperson for the Scottish Episcopal Church says “We have noted the announcement today about the Columba Declaration agreed between the Church of Scotland and the Church of England.

“We welcome the opportunity for the further ecumenical discussion referred to in today’s press statement and look forward to being able to consider the full text of the report when we receive this. We fully understand the desire of the Church of Scotland and the Church of England as national churches to discuss and explore matters of common concern. However certain aspects of the report which appear to go beyond the relationship of the two churches as national institutions cause us concern. The Scottish Episcopal Church, as a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, represents Anglicanism in Scotland, and we will therefore look forward to exploring the suggestions within the report more fully in due course.”

I think that the first surprise in the announcement of the Columba Declaration is how little it says about the shared concerns of two churches which have a particular status in the national life of England and Scotland. Clearly there are constitutional issues which are common to the Church if Scotland and the Church of England. But there is little mention of them. Nor is there any discussion of one further matter which concerns the Church of Scotland and its ecumenical partners in Scotland. That is the issue of territoriality – the question of how the Church of Scotland and its ecumenical partners will together sustain mission and ministry across the whole of Scotland.

The second area of interest is what it tells us about how the Church of Scotland appears to see ecumenical relationships within Scotland. That is part of how we read and understand the context in which we find ourselves in Scotland today. Scotland is changing rapidly. Whether or not it becomes independent at some stage in the future, Scotland is becoming a more distinct place – more sure of its own identity. The Scottish Episcopal Church is a church which prioritises ecumenical and interfaith relationships. My reading of our context in Scotland today leads me to the conclusion that the Scottish Episcopal Church should work to develop our relationship with other historic, Scottish-rooted churches – primarily the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church. Our history as Episcopalians in Scotland is interwoven with the history of Scottish Presbyterianism and of Scotland itself. The Columba Declaration turns the Church of Scotland towards the Church of England in a way which to me seems to be a misreading of our context. The ecumenical family of churches in Scotland needs the leadership and active involvement of the Church of Scotland at this critical time in our national life.

But the aspect of the Columba Declaration which will cause most concern to the Scottish Episcopal Church is the potential involvement of the Church of England in the ecclesiastical life of Scotland. The Church of England is not a Scottish Church nor does it have any jurisdiction in Scotland. The Anglican way is to recognise the territorial integrity of each province – they are autonomous but inter-dependent, The important question is whether, within that understanding of the relationship between provinces of the Anglican Communion, it is proper for the Church of England to enter into this agreement about ministry and ecclesiastical order in Scotland.. That is a matter which will have to be explored in future dialogue between the Scottish Episcopal Church and both the Church of Scotland and the Church of England.

I shall write more about latter aspect shortly.

And in follow-up, he writes:

…The question here is not whether the development of ecumenical relationships is desirable – for of course it is. The question is about whether that development can take place respectfully and in good order. The Scottish Episcopal Church now seems to be faced with the possibility that Church of England clergy will minister in Scotland under the authorisation of the Church of Scotland and without reference to the Scottish Episcopal Church. Yet the Church of England and the Scottish Episcopal Church are partner members of the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion in Scotland is expressed in the life of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The Church of Scotland and the Church of England seem to have decided that their commonality as National Churches justifies them in setting aside other ecumenical relationships and etiquette. What would really help this situation – mitigating the damage already done to long-established relationships and avoiding further damage – would be for the two churches to decide to delay publication of the full document to allow time for consultation.

I appeal to them to do so…


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Marshall Scott

One dynamic of this is that the both the Church of England and the Church of Scotland are “by law established.” Thus, there is something legal and political that they have in common (and not particularly theological). For historical political concerns, the Scottish Episcopal Church is not “established.” Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much clarification from either the Church of England or the Church of Scotland to clarify just what this would look like in practice.

David Allen

That was one of the points addressed by the Scottish Primus, they are both National Churches respectively, and yet nothing in the CD addresses that aspect of their relationship, which in my mind is the only legitimacy in establishing ties, as it’s the only thing that the two churches actually have in common.

David Allen

However, the Primus is speaking to the joint statement released Christmas Eve by the co-chairs of the study group. The statement is the preface to the report and provides a synopsis of what the report covers. There isn’t a hint that it speaks to them as two UK National Churches.

Paul Powers

It’s possible that the complete 15-page declaration will address their status as national churches in their respective countries. As far as I know, it hasn’t been released yet, and the Primus has asked that its release be delayed to allow more consultation.

Gary Clonk

As a Scot living in London who attends a conservative Anglo-Catholic parish I find this really rather bewildering. I attended an Anglo-Catholic SEC church in Aberdeen for many years, and indeed it was they place I move from my Free Church of Scotland membership to identifying myself as an Anglo-Catholic.

I have a good understanding of both Presbyterian (church of Scotland) and episcopal (church of England) governance and it seems really odd to me that not only is the CofE moving into the SECs territory (which is a full member of the Anglican communion) but also seems to by-pass the historic and thological distinction of the role of the Bishops and their position regarding apostolic succession.

The Chuch of Scotland long ago rejected on (Presbyterian) theological grounds the need for Bishops and therefore the apostolic succession. The Church of England, as a member of the Universal and Catholic Church upheld it – indeed in every ordination ceremony every priest (presbyter) accepts his or her ordination at the hands of the bishop in continued succession from the apostles.

This succession is a core principle upon which the ecumenical ties are made with both our Orthodox and (Roman) Catholic brethren.

David Allen

I was wondering if anyone was going to bring that up!

When TEC worked out full communion with the Lutherans, the ELCA didn’t have Apostolic Succession. Part of the agreement was that TEC would give it to them. Every bishop ordained in the ELCA since the accord has included at least one TEC bishop among the three laying on hands.

TEC is in full communion with the North American Moravians and they already had the Apostolic Succession through their bishops.

The Declaration states;
1 a) Acknowledgements
(v) We acknowledge that personal, collegial and communal oversight (episkope) is embodied and exercised in our churches in a variety of forms, as a visible sign expressing and serving the Church’s unity and continuity in apostolic life, mission and ministry.
1.b) Commitments
(iv) enable ordained ministers from one of our churches to exercise ministry in the other church, in accordance with the discipline of each church;

At this point I don’t see how that is possible.

David Allen

Marshall, to my knowledge, all the Lutheran Churches in Europe, the Lutheran bodies in the Porvoo Communion, have maintained the Apostolic Succession, but no Lutheran bodies in the US, to my knowledge, make such a claim.

And of course, I believe, by the time of the accord between TEC and the ELCA, TEC Succession included both Lutheran and Old Catholic lines. But symbolically a Lutheran bishop holding Apostolic Succession participating in the ordination would have been very respectful.

Are we sure that this didn’t happen? Also, how did our Canadian counterparts handle this, did the ACoC share Apostolic Succession with the ELCiC?

Marshall Scott

David, we might recall that, while the ELCA per se did not have historic succession, Lutherans did, in that succession was maintained in the Church of Sweden. We helped restore that locally, perhaps; but part of our recognition of ELCA was that the Lutheran community as a whole had maintained both apostolic teaching and historic succession. I have often thought things would have gone down more smoothly if we had insisted that the first ELCA episcopal ordinations had involved Church of Sweden bishops with or instead of Episcopal bishops.

Gary Clink

A major distinction with the Church of Scotland of course is that unlike our Lutheran brothers, they simply don’t have bishops at all (at least in the sense the word ‘bishop’ is commonly understood).

There is indeed a “laying on of hands” performed in a Church of Scotland ordination (carried out at least by a Moderator – page 15) but of course this isn’t a Bishop in the sense that an Episcopalian, Catholic, Orthodox or Anglican would understand the office of a bishop to mean.

I don’t understand, even if a similar agreement is created such as the TEC with the Lutherans how this could possibly work theologically with the Church of Scotland. Either the Presbyterian side accept the role of a bishop, at least in terms of ordination if not in daily governance, or the Anglican’s move away from their historic position of it being necessary for the validity or Holy Orders.

It’s certainly going to be an interesting year.

JC Fisher

“the ELCA didn’t have Apostolic Succession. Part of the agreement was that TEC would give it to them.”

I don’t believe that’s how the ELCA views the agreement though.

What makes a really good agreement is that it enables all sides to see it in the light they wish to! 😉

Cynthia Katsarelis

So colonial of CoE…

Prayers go out to our Scottish cousins, as I recall that TEC came about and flourished because of SEC, not CoE. Praise God!

Paul Powers

The Episcopal Church came about and flourished thanks to both the C of E _and_ the SEC. Its debt to the C of E is acknowledged in the Preface to the BCP:

“The Church of England, to which the Protestant Episcopal Church in
these States is indebted, under God, for her first foundation and a long
continuance of nursing care and protection…” Many of the parishes that later got together to form the Episcopal Church were established by C of E organizations like the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.

To the SEC, we owe thanks for the consecration of Samuel Seabury, the first US American bishop, the (now) Rite 1 Eucharistic Prayer of Consecration, which was based on the Scottish Communion Service of 1764 (which is much more “Catholic” in tone than the 1662 English BCP), and the lesson that one can be Anglican without being English.

Prof Christopher Seitz

Seabury wanted to be consecrated in the CofE. The CofE properly determined that the oath to be administered would place him at odds with the United States’ revolutionary stance, and imperil him (oaths were at the time the solemn way to assure compliance under God). So Seabury went north to Scotland. The concession made of him was the epiclesis, which the SEC had picked up from talks with the Orthodox.

Seabury was an ardent Tory. Just for this reason White and Provoost worried about his churchmanship, and it was Seabury who insisted on compliance to CofE requests re: HOB, descent clause, and other matters of PB and polity.

June Butler

Indeed, the action shows lamentable rudeness to a sister church and near neighbor, but it is not at all surprising from my vantage point in the Episcopal Church. Both Justin Welby and his predecessor, Rowan Williams, interfered in our governance and offered sympathy and invitations to bishops and clergy in the schismatic ACNA.

Daniel Lamont

In answer to Jerald’s question, while it is hard to generalise, the SEC tends to be more liberal than the CofE; for example, it hasn’t gone through the contortions the CofE has about the ordination of women as priests and bishops and is looking again at its canons about marriage. It has to be remembered that the SEC is not the outcome of Henry VIII’s politics or the Elizabethan settlement which created the CofE since the Reformation took a very different path in Scotland to that in England. The SEC has a quite distinct history from that of the CofE. For much of the eighteenth century, the SEC was proscribed for fear of it having Jacobite sympathies, being forbidden to hold services for more than five people. Part of the price for lifting the proscription was being made to accept the 39 Articles. In 1977, the SEC abandoned them and they are not part of the formularies of the CofE.

Thus the CofE has form in interfering in the SEC and I could cite more recent examples. However, I agree with Father Kelvin’s comment that the current example is just rudeness. London centred bureaucracies, whether it be government or the CofE, just don’t ‘get’ Scotland and tends to treat it with the lordly arrogance it used to treat the colonies. It is hardly surprising that the movement for Scottish independence is as strong as it is. I am surprised, however, at the Church of Scotland’s acquiescence in this situation.

Daniel Lamont

Correction. In my hasty typing, I should have said that the 39 Articles are not part of the the formularies of the SEC, not the CofE. They are of course still in force for the CofE. Could the editors please correct this. Thanks.

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