The Church of Scotland and the Church of England announced the Columba Declaration on the morning of Christmas Eve. Because the launch has been so public, this has stirred considerable feeling and concern in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Therefore I need to make an initial personal comment about potential feelings and concerns from a Scottish Episcopal Church perspective.
On Christmas Eve, the Scottish Episcopal Church issued the following statement. It recognises that the two national churches in Scotland and England will have questions of common interest and concern which they may wish to explore. But it also suggests that the Columba Declaration goes further than this – entering areas which are properly the concern of the Scottish Episcopal Church as the church which represents the Anglican Communion in Scotland.
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.