The Columba Declaration – ecumenical relationships in Scotland #pisky #anglican

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.
Columba Declaration

 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.

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Preaching in the Cathedral in Kolkata #pisky #anglican

A visit to India is never particularly easy. It’s heat, noise, crowds and the time difference. Then there is the food that you are apprehensive about eating in case you get Delhi belly. And then there are the cross cultural differences

Last week was my third trip to the Diocese of Calcutta – my fourth to India. I have to confess that, before we went, I was beginning to wonder how much more life there was in our Companionship Relationship. But I have come back feeling that we have now moved it to a new level. Five clergy, a Lay Reader and Alison came with me. They all worked very hard at networking and building relationships. The fact that it was my third visit meant that I didn’t start from baseline.

This was the Sermon which I preached at the Service which marked the close of their Bicentennial Year. It was an extraordinary honour in itself to be asked to do this. The President of India came for a cultural programme which followed the service.

You’ll find in the Sermon some of the themes which developed as the week progressed – the state of the church today; the colonial and missionary past and its links to our diocese; the status and safety of women in India today; the place of the Christian community in a society which seems to be at risk of losing the aspiration to diversity in favour of Hindu nationalism.

I spent the week struggling with very flakey wifi – so I’ll be posting more material about the week as time allows over the next week.

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Placed and Displaced in Kolkata #pisky

India always comes as a shock – particularly the contrast with the kind of winter we have been having in Scotland.  Misty smog may prevent the sun shining.  But the temperature is 26C and there is a riot of noise and colour.  We watch what we eat really carefully – and then remember that the driving is simply terrifying.  On a long drive yesterday, I decided it was necessary to lose interest in my surroundings and got on with the email.  There is a lack of clarity about which side of the road they drive on.  This may be a post-colonial urge to move from left to right.



  We’ve been with one of the most impressive of the agencies of the Diocese of Calcutta – Cathedral Relief Services.  The dynamic leader, Rig, took us to the Dum Dum Project which is an area of Kolkata where communities of the poorest are being moved to make way for the development of apartments.  The project provides support for women – helping them to develop sewing skills and to become economically independent – and offering education for their children.  It seemed to us hugely important and positive.
  The schools are fascinating.  St John’s Diocesan School for Girls provides high quality fee-paying education for girls.  There are 4000 pupils and it is deeply impressive.  I found the staff extraordinary in their commitment to the future of the next generation of women in this society – for India has big issues about the place and the safety of women.  While we are here, we will be taking part in a seminar on women’s issues run by Moumita Biswas.

By contrast, we visited yesterday the Chinsurah Project which provides for children who come from homes where there is simply nothing.  Before or after school, they come for a range of activities and are given a good meal.  It’s a simple project but it is hugely important and effective.  And of course the founder of the school next door was Alexander Duff from Scotland

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Off to Kolkata. #pisky #anglican

  We are off to Kolkata for a week – eight of us from our diocese.  The Diocese of Calcutta is our Companion Diocese and we are going for the celebrations to mark the end of the 200th Anniversary Year of the diocese.  As always things get a bit complicated – what with the weather and the closure of the Forth Bridge.  But Poppy the cat was safely handed over in the car park at Stirling Services so we are ready to go.

We are going to be doing a bit of exploring in the diocese and, probably, quite a bit of sitting in the Kolkata traffic.  We have most of the contents of several Boots Pharmacies with us so all should be well.

I’ll be preaching at the Anniversary Service and we hope to meet the President of India who will be there. To put it mildly, there is still a bit of work to do on that.  Rev Dan O’Connor has been briefing me about Thomas Middleton, the first bishop.  And there is the colonial past and the Scottish part in that.  And more recently the birth of the Church of North India as an icon of visible unity.  A lot to think about.

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Thought for the Day – BBC Scotland #pisky

This was this morning’s Thought for the Day It’s Scottish Interfaith Week so I wrote about religiously-motivated violence

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‘For a time like this’ – Scottish Interfaith Week Lecture #pisky #anglican

I was honoured to be asked to deliver the annual Scottish Interfaith Week Lecture last night in Dunfermline.

The controversy about the Church of England’s video advert has given Interfaith Week some focus. But far more importantly, the events in Paris and the nature of Islamic jihadist terrorism which is now a significant threat all over the world demand a discussion about how it is that religious movements allow themselves to be used in the cause of violence and division.

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The Prayer for Everyone Video #pisky #anglican

We added this statement to the Scottish Episcopal Church website yesterday:

Prayer for Everyone
November 22, 2015

In commenting on the refusal by leading cinemas to show a short advert of the Lord’s Prayer, The Most Rev David Chillingworth, Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church says: “I watched the ‘Prayer is for Everyone’ video which will now not be shown in cinemas. I was personally moved by it. It shows a very diverse group of people. They connect their everyday life and work to the Lord’s Prayer. This is not an attempt to package or to ‘sell’ religion. Rather it seeks to help people to make connections between life and faith.

“We are living through a time of great sensitivity about faith issues. The terrible events in Paris last week demonstrate that religiously motivated violence is one of the great challenges of our age. This is Scottish Interfaith Week, which reminds us of the challenge and the richness of living in a multi-faith and multi-cultural context. It is not in the best interests of our society that we should cultivate excessive sensitivity about what can be expressed. We all need to be able to look at and appreciate the integrity of one another’s faith. Most of all we need to be able to distinguish good religion from bad and not make the mistake of assuming that all religion must be seen as potentially offensive.”

The Primus spoke about this on BBC Radio Scotland’s ‘Good Morning Scotland’ programme on Monday 23 November at 07.55 – – his interview starts at 01:55:20
– See more at:

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Bridge of Allan and Scottish Interfaith Week #pisky

It’s been an interesting day – and the juxtaposition of the marking of the Solemnity of Christ the King as a Patronal Festival at St Saviour’s, Bridge of Allan, with the launch of Scottish Interfaith Week has travelled with me all day.

Our congregation in Bridge of Allan is lively and interesting. They prepare their worship with great care – so I had an interesting morning with them. I’m always very aware of whether or not congregations are used to listening to sermons – this congregation seemed more than usually attentive. So I gave them this fairly forthright sermon about what Christ the King might look like in the very difficult context of our times.


During the Service I presented Sue Horne with an RSCM Long Service Medal in recognition of 40 years as Assistant Organist at St Saviour’s.  Sue began playing in the parish at Horspath, just outside Oxford, at the age of 15.  By remarkable coincidence that is the church in which I first climbed into a pulpit.  I still have the Sermon but won’t be publishing it here!


We then moved on to the launch of Scottish Interfaith Week in the Dynamic Earth Centre in Edinburgh – the venue marking the theme of this year’s Interfaith Week about Caring for our Environment. It’s difficult – but I felt that the theme had been overtaken by events in Paris which remind us that interfaith issues – and issues of multiculturalism – are among the most important issues of our times. I’ll be delivering a lecture in Dunfermline on Tuesday evening as part of Interfaith Week and I’ll take time to explore some of those issues further.

The picture is of Maureen Seir of Interfaith Scotland signing a Climate Change Declaration with Dr Aileen McLeod, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform in the Scottish Government

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Stepping out in Ministry. #pisky

Last Sunday we celebrated in the Cathedral the ordinations of Nerys Brown to the Diaconate and of Margaret Dineley to the Priesthood.   We are gradually growing ministry within the diocese.  It’s not that we seek to be Sinn Fein (ourselves alone) about it – more that vocation and ministry arising among us are signs of spiritual vitality.  Nerys will serve a Curacy at St John’s Perth and Margaret will continue to serve at St Finnians, Lockgelly

And on Thursday, Denis FitzSimons was licensed for ministry as a Lay Reader at St John’s, Alloa.  We have been trying to establish ministry support for the congregation st St John’s and a sort of patchwork has been developing.  Denis will join Revd Swarup Bar from our Companion Diocese of Calcutta who has been providing a Sunday ministry at St John’s alongside his PhD studies in Edinburgh.  Rev Nick Green, Rector of St Mary’s Dunblane has been chairing the Church Council.  It’s a sort of antidote to ‘ourselves alone’

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That they may be one #pisky

On Saturday, I took part in the 25th Anniversary Service for ACTS – Action for Churches Together in Scotland.  We gathered in the magnificently-restored Catholic Cathedral in Glasgow to tell the story of the journey so far and to pray for unity.

It has become fashionable to say that we are in something of an ecumenical winter.  I understand why people might say that.  But I don’t altogether agree with it.   When ACTS was established 25 years ago, churches were institutionally stronger – now things don’t feel quite so secure and there is an element of institutional exhaustion around.   I often think fondly of the remark which Archbishop Donald Caird suddenly dropped into a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Church of Ireland.  ‘Why are we institutionally tired?  Because we walk around on tip toe all the time trying to be bigger than we really are’

But we are gradually learning how to move in ways which are appropriate for today.  Not so much on tiptoe – but certainly more fleet of foot.  We learn to do a lot with very slender resources.  We are less denominational and less institutional. And we are learning to prioritise mission and to focus our resources to that end.

I’ve said before that I have always stayed away from formal ecumenical relations and the bodies which manage them.  I always got the feeling that people felt that they were dealing with the formal diplomatic relationships of nation states.

I came away from Saturday’s 25th Anniversary Service asking myself how a body like ACTS might be shaped for the future.   I suspect it needs to learn the same lessons as the churches.  That means for me a post-institutional ability to see convergences and possibilities – to identify where churches might benefit from working together and where resource-light churches might support one another.  

And what might be on my list?   Well it would be things which are about mission and growth and which are foundational for the churches in the next generation.  That means identifying areas of convergence in the training of clergy and lay ministers.  And education for discipleship.  And shared local mission – for we all struggle to achieve national coverage.  It’s  what the Church of Scotland calls its territoriality debate.  And there is the whole area of how faith communities handle the dialogue between themselves and wider society ….. And many more

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