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.


  1. Let it be known that the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) is NOT the English Church in Scotland. It has Scottish origins and has existed unified and undivided since 1690. The Columba Declaration forgets this fact and mistakenly (all be it with best intentions) are promoting this wrong thought. Thank you Bishop David for your sensitivity and leadership in reminding us all that we are the Scottish Episcopal Church.

  2. Deepest sympathy for you and colleagues who have to retrieve something from this blunder. To have made such a crass mistake, the sort of people involved in this Declaration, both CofE and CofS, can have little awareness of the long history of ecumenical conversation, and of the knowledge and mutual sympathy required to build on it. It is inconceivable that the calibre and experience of the CofS participants whom we met in, say, the ‘Multi-laterals’ could have let this happen.

  3. Surely the Scottish Episcopal Church should work to develop its relationship with all Christian groups in Scotland.

  4. You know, I’ve moved around quite a bit over the years, I have been welcomed in all three of these churches (also Congregational and Methodist) without the need for official declarations. I have witnessed the so called ecumenical behaviour of all of them from a lay perspective. I am really grateful for the grounding in faith that I have received from their individual ministries. But I don’t see why this ‘Columba Declaration’ is necessary, it states the obvious, it is simply a list of what is already happening. (All be it an incomplete list as it excludes by omission.) It seems to me it is just fluff in the navel of an institution which has lost sight of its original purpose.

  5. I seem to remember the setting up of a tripartite conversation between the CofE, the CofS and the SEC, something I warmly welcomed. One of the good things about such a forum should have been to avoid just the issues +David is raising. While I am pleased to see the good relations between the CofS and the CofE, I too am concerned about the CofS / SEC dimension. As far as I am aware the Columba Declaration will have to be ratified by the General Assembly of 2016, and matters will have to be clarified before that.

  6. Rather dismayed that the Episcopal Church has been left out of the Columba Declaration
    Why is this ?

  7. This is a very calm response from SEC. In fact the proposals are an insult to SEC and contravenes every ecumenical principle.

  8. Well said, +David. Pity they forgot the applicability of a suitably adapted version of Article 37: ‘The Archbishop of Canterbury hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of Scotland’.

  9. My first reaction on reading Bishop David’s comments was genuine surprise that it should be necessary. This brings me back to the days of the British Council of Churches and occasional difficulties for the Irish Council of Churches. From time to time the Irish Council of Churches felt it necessary to remind officials in BCC that, while ICC was a constituent member of the BCC, the Irish Council of Churches has a voice of its own in the Irish context. My own assessment of what was happening was the result of an unconscious imperialism which was latent in a body based in London. This is now a long time ago, hence my surprise. Of course, the BCC has morphed into CTBI with a different way of working. No such radical change has happened within the dear old C of E. Well done, Bishop David.

  10. Very interesting. But the absence of firm, significant, and visible commitment and action by the Scottish Episcopal Church towards genuinely developing ecumenical relationships with other churches in Scotland, especially where there have been frameworks, such as EMU, which might have enabled it to do so, rather undermines the reservations raised here at the behaviour of the two national churches. “The Scottish Episcopal Church is a church which prioritises ecumenical and interfaith relationships” is not a readily recognisable statement. If it were, this blog would carry a lot more authority. “Prioritises” implies the sort of commitment which moves things forward at all levels, rather than rests content with the undoubted blessing of good neighbourliness.

  11. Thank you for a very informative and thought provoking article. As a member of a church which is linked to the Scottish Episcopal church by our membership of EMU, and to the CofS through ACTS I will be very interested to see how this develops.

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