The Columba Declaration was approved yesterday by the Church of England Synod. I’ve been doing quite a bit of commenting in the media – and here is a comment which I wrote for our own Inspires:
People expect churches to work together. In the Scottish Episcopal Church, we are keen to work whole-heartedly with the Church of Scotland. Our histories are intertwined with one another and with the history of Scotland. Much of that history has been painful and difficult. So it is important that the new chapters which we write together are positive and creative.
The tasks which we need to address together are very clear to me. We are living through a time of change in Scotland. Nobody knows where Scotland’s journey will end – but Scotland is on a journey. Faith communities need to focus on Scotland and the way in which faith is represented and shared in this changing context. We also need to work together on new understandings of how we can share in local mission across the whole of Scotland. We need to support one another and work together. None of us can do this on our own.
I 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 Church of England approved the Columba Declaration. But it was clear that many people in the General Synod were uneasy – aware that something about this is not quite right but not quite sure what. Ecumenical matters are usually carried through by churches without significant debate. Yet here 50 people voted against and 49 abstained.
This tells us that we all have work to do. The desire of the two churches to get approval for the Columba Declaration has inhibited their ability to have real dialogue with us about its implications for our future relationships. Now that it has been approved, the time for that has arrived. We welcome the opportunity for a real dialogue with both partners and pray that out that will come a healing and renewal both of our relationships and of our shared mission.