It’s the beginning of their bicentenary year – and a nod to Samuel Seabury. So this is the sermon which I preached at the Convention Eucharist this evening
It is an honour and a delight for Alison and for me to be with you for your Diocesan Convention. I thank Bishop Mark for his kind invitation and generous hospitality.
You are at the start of your bicentennial year of celebration and new commitment. Bishop Mark is doing as all bishops must do. The bishop has many roles and the bishop is blamed for many things. But he or she is first the leader of mission – the person who calls the church to mission – who says to the church, ‘lift your eyes from your worries about budget, building and decline – our future with God is over there – it is out there among God’s people where the harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few.
I am here also to bring you greetings from the Scottish Episcopal Church. Our two churches share history – a moment of time expressed in the consecration of Samuel Seabury as your first bishop in 1784. That shared Seabury moment – in the mixture of history and myth which comes to us over nearly 250 years – still shapes us today. And not only us but also the still-developing and sometimes troubled story of the Anglican Communion.
Here today at this Convention, those two themes are woven together – our shared past and our mission in the fields ready for plentiful harvest
Up in Highland Perthshire, we have a little church on the edge of the village of Blair Atholl – near Blair Atholl where the Dukes of Atholl maintain the only private army in Britain. Queen Victoria was a regular visitor to the area, particularly after the railway opened in 1863. The church – first mentioned in 1275 – is dedicated to St Adamnan, Abbot of Iona in the 7th century and biographer of St Columba. We call it Kilmaveonaig. In the porch as in many of our churches are two pictures which are iconic for us – and one of them is the consecration of Samuel Seabury by the Scottish Bishops led by my predecessor as Primus, Robert Kilgour, on 14 November 1784. Why did this happen? This too was a turbulent time. After the War of Independence Seabury couldn’t swear allegiance to the British Crown. The Scots were as nearly always in difficulty because they would not pray for the Hanoverian monarchy. We were always slightly on the edge
It’s misty-eyed stuff. I sometimes say it was our ‘Cinderella went to the ball’ moment. But from that past come threads which profoundly shaped both our churches and what become the Anglican Communion . It was a post colonial moment because of American Independence. The Communion still struggles with colonialism. It began the shaping of a Communion in which we are all in communion with the See of Canterbury. But we are also all independent provinces. Our two societies are not dissimilar – a distaste for establishment and a markedly secular character which in Scotland derives from the Scottish Enlightenment. One of the hidden effects of the secular is that it liberalises societies – so we both find ourselves shall we say on the progressive edge of the Communion
But let’s leave aside global ecclesiastical issues and speak of mission. Let us ask what we offer to our societies out of our tradition. In Scotland we would say this – and you may find it familiar. In a secular society we offer spirituality – space, contemplation and prayer. We offer liturgy of drama and colour in which God can be glimpsed. In a society which thinks that there is nothing more than what we see, we offer a sacramental mindset – relationship with God whose graciousness we can touch, taste and see. In a society which is deeply suspicious of institution and authority, we place the focus of authority rather more towards the democratic than the authority of office. Beyond that I know that in your church under the leadership of my friend your Presiding Bishop run passions for racial justice, for local mission and for inclusion.
And so we are back looking out on these fields and the plentiful harvest. What is interesting here is how the mission field is described – disease and sickness; harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. So familiar at this point in the story of your nation after the Presidential Election and of the UK after the Brexit Referendum. It is the story of our times – anger everywhere; struggles between vision and nostalgia; challenges to the authority of the state and to the integrity of leadership. We are not at ease with ourselves. And so our mission calls us to healing and peace. It involves connecting people to the deeper realities – declining to be consumed by the struggle and strife of daily life and politics – seeking to be touched by the deep peace of the eternal life of God.
It is a real joy for me to be with you these few days. I pray for ever deeper friendship between our two churches. More than that, I pray for the success of your mission in a world in need of God and his peace.