I felt that many people on all sides of the debate went home from our General Synod with some contentment about what we had done. Some came up to me quietly at the end to say that they appreciated the way in which the process had been shaped.
My own words of appreciation were about the tone and mood of General Synod – and in particular the graciousness of those who believed that conscience and more meant that they had to vote against the proposed canonical change in respect of Marriage. Several voices from that group expressed appreciation of the specific provisions both canonical and pastoral which had been put in place. The intention of that was to make clear that, even if our church makes a specific decision about the proposed canonical change, we will remain a church whose diversity and mutual respect embraces those who cannot support it.
If we had had more time – and it would have needed a lot of time – we might have undertaken a discussion of the various terms used to describe how we belong together as a church. It’s about the nature of our koinonia. I heard ‘unity in diversity’, of course. I also heard ‘walking together’ and ‘being kind to one another’. They express a continuing commitment to one another in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Not just one day in General Synod, this commitment needs to be lived in graciousness and mutual respect every day.
As many of you know, I approach these descriptions with a degree of caution. On the Anglican Communion front, my heart was warmed by the ‘bonds of affection’ description of the ties which the Communion to cohere without the benefit of a single, central authority. But in the end I think that ‘bonds of affection’ are not quite the same thing as relationship which can sustain difference.
So here is what I think is the situation:
The SEC is in process of considering a change to our Canon on Marriage. The second reading may or may not be approved in 2017. If it is approved, that will represent a decision about our attitude to Same-Sex Marriage.
But our church understands that the ‘other view’ doesn’t disappear just because the General Synod may make a decision. Indeed in this case, the ‘other view’ is held by a majority of members of Anglican Provinces across the Communion. That is a compelling statement – except that the Anglican Communion makes decisions within and through the Instruments of Communion and not by majority voting,
Therefore our commitment to ‘walking together’, ‘unity in diversity’ and the rest mean that we shall continue to be a church which holds differing views of marriage within our life. We shall have a clear position based on the canonical position. But we shall hold, honour and respect a diversity of view in our shared life. And we need to do that every day.
It so happened that I was due to give a Thought for the Day this morning on BBC Scotland. So this is what I said:
So now we know. There is some sense of an end point. But this leave result really marks the beginning of a long period – a time for working out of the implications of the choice which the people have made. That will occupy us for years to come.
It’s another beginning too – the beginning of the process by which we find healing after a bruising Referendum Campaign. It’s part of the way we do things that there are some issues so important that we should ‘let the people decide’. But as the campaign has run its course over the past weeks and months, there has been growing concern about whether that has led to a tendency to over-simplify complex issues and to political debate which has at times been fractious and angry. We may regret this – but it also shows how important this choice has been.
So now we have to put it all together again.
Faith can be about many things. I believe that it’s particularly about how we deal the painful past and find healing – in less religious language it how we let go and make a new start. You can probably hear in my accent a bit of Northern Ireland – where I was one of many who worked to lay to rest the legacy – not just of a short and bruising Referendum campaign – but of hundreds of years of bad history.
To say that ‘that was then and now is now’ isn’t enough. You have be able again to recognise the ‘other’ person as somebody of integrity – that person whom you may have thought and maybe said was lying or scaremongering or bringing in issues which were nothing to do with the matter in hand.
That means relationship – lots of coffee and talking which is serious and quiet. It means that, in the period of difficulty and uncertainty into which we are entering, our elected representatives express clarity but have the courage to be flexible.
To fight the political battles with passion – that’s what politicians are for. But they must also build the agreements which bring measured and ordered movement. That’s what the people who have voted now need.
This is the Report which I gave on the Primates Meeting 2016 at our General Synod last week.
This was an important moment – and one of those points at which one attempts to deliver at least two messages which don’t quite fit together.
First – and most obviously – our General Synod was about to discuss and vote on the First Reading of proposals for changes to our Canon on Marriage which would make same-sex marriage possible. So it was important for Synod members to understand exactly how that would affect our relationship with the Anglican Communion. In short, the consequences which were determined in respect of The Episcopal Church of the United States will also apply to the Scottish Episcopal Church. They are set out in the text of my Report.
The proposed changes were coming to General Synod following the decisions which we made at General Synod 2015 – so that process would not change. But it seemed to me important to give Synod members information which would allow them to decide whether or not this would affect their personal voting choices.
I also wanted above all to try and do this without stirring feelings about the Anglican Communion in general and the Archbishop of Canterbury in particular. Some of the press of course tried to do just that. As I said in my Report, I don’t believe that the Primates Meeting has the authority to do what it has done. But I have to accept that it – and Archbishop Justin – were acting to try and preserve the unity of the Anglican Communion at a very difficult time. Archbishop Justin was very generous with his time when I went to London to see him. There is no position of leadership in the church – neither his nor mine – at present which is not complex and conflicted. I wanted to make sure that he understood that we not intending to act in a way which was careless of our diversity. We remain friends and colleagues.
I tried to say in General Synod what needed to be said in as dispassionate a way as I could. I could have said more about the Communion issues which bear on the situation in which we now find ourselves. Archbishop Josiah, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, has affirmed the autonomy of the provinces. But the challenge is how we define the duty and respect which the provinces owe to one another and to the whole. That is variously described as the tension between autonomy and catholicity and as the process of reception through which a province can understand whether an initiative which they wish to take commands acceptability across the Communion. None of this is an exact science.
Nor is any of it static – it’s all moving all the time as the provinces gradually shape their responses in different ways to human sexuality issues. Both internally and externally we in Scotland must model the relationships which we hope to see.
I went to Stirling University this morning for a lecture by Professor Eugenio Biagini of Cambridge University who was speaking about my grandfather, Canon Ernest Bateman. It is a very strange thing to find people making a study of your ancestors like this. I remember Ernest as elderly, cheerful, a constant reader, an every Monday golfer with his clerical friends, very deaf – and because of his deafness a perpetual clutch-slipper and generally terrifying driver. And he remarried at the age of 82. It turns out that the eleven boxes of his sermons which are in the Church of Ireland’s library in Dublin together with his press articles and letters have become a major source for those who want to research the story of the Southern Irish Protestants – particularly in the period after Partition when they could no longer be British and were being pushed very hard by a triumphalist Catholic church.
It was a time when that community tended to be in ‘keep your head down’ mode – for fear that they might invite mistreatment as a minority. It seems that Ernest Bateman did not know about those rules.
I’ve been aware of Professor Biagini’s work for a while. While my mother was still alive, I went to Dublin with her and we read the sermons together. It was an extraordinary experience – for her to hear this voice again and for me to begin to grasp its significance and the parallels to my own experiences at that time in Northern Ireland. Those parallels left me feeling that ‘I have been here before’ – and that applies at least as much to the issues which I deal with in Scotland.
Canon Dom Ind and I sat and listened this morning as the issues unfolded in elegant academic discourse. The most obvious parallel was to the ‘English Church’ tag used of the Piskies, The Irish parallel was West Brit and we heard about the journey in which Ernest tried to express an Irishness which was not nationalistic. And I think I began to understand myself a bit better – why I do what I do and say what I say.
One piece of information was new to me – that when Eamon DeValera’s [he subsequently became President] son was killed in a riding accident in the Phoenix Park, the Garda wanted to bring a priest when they went to break the news. Ernest was the most close at hand and they brought him – the foundation of a subsequent close relationship between them.
And so it goes on. Professor Biagini now wants to read the 50 hard back notebooks of Ernest’s son my Uncle Artie’s diaries. They are written in a microscopic script. My test drillings have revealed that its going to be tough to get much out of them but time will tell. Artie worked on the sports page of the Irish Independent, was a Church of Ireland Lay Reader and had a turbulent relationship with the church in general and bishops in particular.d
Meanwhile my own biographers can make what they can of this blog, the sermons and the 80000 emails ….
Our General Synod ended on Saturday – and then I went off to Belfast to preach at St George’s Parish Church
So I haven’t really had time to reflect on all that happened.
For a start, I wanted to share the Primus Charge in which I tried to set the scene for what followed.
Then there were many things which one would just straightforwardly welcome. Synod was addressed by some of the most capable and articulate young adults that one could possibly hope to meet. We are continuing to see extraordinarily rapid development in the work of the Scottish Episcopal Institute which is training the next generation of clergy and Lay Readers – and growth in our number of ordinands combined with a fall in the average age. We have many real challenges but we’ll find a way.
Meanwhile, I need to come back to the issues around the proposed alteration to our Marriage Canon and the First Reading. I think that many Synod members – for quite a few spoke to me about it – felt that in the way we had addressed this question something very significant had happened. I’ll come back to that shortly. It’s a question about what kind of church we now feel ourselves to be. And I need also to address the related question of where we are in our relationship with the Anglican Communion. So a little more thinking time …
On Sunday, I found myself back in the Parish Church of St George as part of their 200th Anniversary celebrations. I don’t do much of going back to where I came from – even though those who know me are used to the fairly constant internal dialogue which goes on in my mind. I joined the choir here as a teenager in 1967 – my father was Secretary of the Vestry for a long time – and the parish lived through the bombing campaign in central Belfast. The church was constantly and seriously damaged and they just kept on going.
It’s an interesting and unusual place mainly because it is one of the very few churches of catholic churchmanship in the Church of Ireland in Northern Ireland. In 1967, I was there for the music and the music kept some kind of faith flickering. But in God’s greater economy, it was obviously a preparation for my future appearances at All Saints, St Andrews.
I find it quite difficult to make the various connections in these circumstances.But this is my attempt in the sermon
The last media contact in the midst of Friday’s meeting of General Synod came from BBC Radio Ulster looking for an interview for their Sunday Sequence programme. So I ended up in their studio in Belfast on Sunday morning attempting to explain what our General Synod had decided. That in itself was interesting because Northern Ireland is the only part of the British Isles where same-sex marriage is not legal. I watched Roisin Mcauley’s eyes widen as I explained what we had decided.
Last Sunday – Trinity Sunday – was the Patronal Festival for our congregation at Holy Trinity, Dunfermline. But more important than just the 125th Anniversary was the Confirmation Service and a church full … Lots of people, a great diversity of age groups and many children.
I read a comment recently to the effect that the current members of our College of Bishops are ‘positive about Confirmation’ or something similar. I certainly see it like that. Confirmation as a ‘rite of passage’ has been fading – although I think that there is real value in focusing the minds and hearts of young people on Christian faith at critical moments in their growth. So we have some of that – but also more of adults to come at all sorts of times in their lives to make a fresh commitment of faith.
Commitment is not as obvious today as it was formerly. All sorts of organisations find that – political parties and voluntary organisations all find it hard to get people to ‘sign up’. I used to say that it was a challenge of congregational life to help people to move from being ‘welcome visitors’ to being ‘members of the family’. Confirmation – which we sometimes call the ‘Affirmation of Baptismal Vows’ – provides an opportunity for people who have found themselves on a journey of faith to make a specific commitment. I think that is helpful to them and encouraging for the congregation – and it is a real pleasure and privilege for me to be part of it.
It was a great experience to go to the Lecture given by this year’s Templeton Prize Winner, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, in St Andrews University.
‘Not in God’s Name’ is of course a subject which matters to me – since I spent much of my life living with degrees of religiously-motivated violence. The lecture was full of the almost throwaway lines which are entirely memorable – ‘wars are won with weapons – peace is won with ideas’ I’m working my way through the book at present. He has an extraordinary ability to encapsulate in a very few words the biggest changes in human society. And he provides the most comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon of anti-Semitism which you could imagine – that it is not so much about the Jews as a sign that a society is about to break apart.
I was glad to be there .. I should have put this up sooner!
Evensong today in our Cathedral in Perth with choirs from around the diocese gathered with the Cathedral Choir. So I said a bit about the connection – particularly for children – between singing and faith.
Festival of the Arts Evensong
I’m getting into Steve Aisthorpe’s book, ‘The Invisible Church – Learning from the experience of religionless Christians’
It is of course an alluring prospect – that many of those who may have quietly walked away from the churches or not walked into them in the first place may carry faith which they choose not to express in membership of a congregation; that decline is ‘apparent’. So we might see our challenges as being as much about belonging as about believing.
There is careful research here – rather than wishful thinking. But I’ll look forward to exploring the obvious questions such as: is membership of the visible community of faith essential to Christian belief and practice; and how should churches respond to churchless faith.