I ended my earlier blog post by suggesting that there are aspects of the agreement envisaged by the Columba Declaration which will cause real difficulty in the relationship between the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church of England.
Members of the Scottish Episcopal Church will have noted two provisions in particular.
The first is the commitment that the Church of Scotland and the Church of England will ‘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’. People will of course make their own choices. But the fact that such a statement is made at all suggests that the Church of England will respond warmly to the idea that its members will worship in Church of Scotland Churches when they visit Scotland. Yet the Church of England’s Anglican Communion partner in Scotland is the Scottish Episcopal Church
The second – and far more serious – provision is that the partners will ‘enable ordained ministers from one of our churches to exercise ministry in the other church, in accordance with the discipline of each church.’ This is in the context of an earlier acknowledgement that the partners ‘look forward to a time when growth in communion can be expressed in fuller unity that makes possible the interchangeability of ministers’
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.
Finally, I want to move back to the questions of context and strategic leadership which we all face in Scotland. I have expressed the deep hurt of the Scottish Episcopal Church at this time. People in leadership roles sometimes have to do that. But the deepest and most important question is about what best serves the development of faith in Scotland at this important moment in our history. I believe that members of the Scottish Episcopal Church and other churches in Scotland want to see the Church of Scotland turning towards a deep engagement with its ecumenical and interfaith partners in Scotland. We believe that the true value of the Church of Scotland’s role will be found in the way in which it can offer leadership – establishing faith as part of the discourse in the ‘public square’ in Scotland and exploring ways in which we can support one another in mission.