[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The General Assembly of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland has this morning approved the Columba Declaration – an ecumenical agreement between it and the Church of England. The body also endorsed the creation of an ecumenical “contact group” which would include representatives of the two churches and also the Scottish Episcopal Church. A similar motion was approved by the C of E’s General Synod in February.
When the two churches announced the Columba Declaration on Christmas Eve, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church expressed concern at certain aspects of it. This morning, in what was the first ever speech by an Archbishop of Canterbury as part of a debate of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly, Archbishop Welby apologised for the hurt that was caused for the way that news of the ecumenical agreement had been handled.
“The Columba Declaration is one that I support strongly and I hope you will, but the handling of its announcement caused much consternation and deep hurt to the Scottish Episcopal Church,” Archbishop Welby said. “That hurt is exclusively my responsibility and I want to put on the record to you and to them my apology.
“We know that the goal of unity envisaged in the Columba Declaration cannot be pursued by some churches in isolation from others, and in our context that must mean a particular place for the Scottish Episcopal Church as your Anglican partner in Scotland, and as our immediate neighbour in the Anglican Communion.”
He said that “the key question” for the two churches was not just “what shall we do,” which was very easy to answer with clichés, but “what shall we do now?”
This was “a very hard question” which was “only askable with any sense where there is vision.”
He continued: “What the Church of England and the Church of Scotland do next if you vote in favour of the Declaration this morning will be guided not only by the context of our existing ecclesial structures, but also by the context in which we find ourselves. We are united in witness to Christ as churches of our two nations within the one country of the United Kingdom. That gives particular parameters to our unity in witness.”
He said: “We are not and never can be united by the process of doctrinal discussion and agreement alone. It is essential, but it is not sufficient. Because we are always already united by a person, Jesus Christ, in whom we worship the Trinitarian God and to whom we bear witness in word and deed.
“Not a lot else matters if we are doing those two things – worship and witness, and all that flows from them – and nothing is worth doing unless its rationale and grounding are in those two vocations.”
The Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness in the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Rt Revd Mark Strange, an ecumenical representative to the General Assembly welcomed the Columba Declaration and Archbishop Welby’s apology for the way it had originally been disclosed.
He referred to what he called the “spaghetti maps” at the back of history books about the Church in Scotland, detailing the “divisions and reunions of the Scottish Church.”
“There was the Scottish Episcopal Church – divided from our brethren by the question of apostolic order and loyalty to royal dynasty. Our sister church, the Kirk, remain divided over that and other issues; but we still have the same roots. We came through the same Reformation.
“So this episcopal limb of the Church of Scotland, that survived despite the political pressures placed on it, begins to have to make new friends. Firstly, with the Americans who received the order of bishops from us; and then as we begin to make friends with the other episcopally led churches in the UK and ultimately became part of the Anglican Communion – the first non-colonial part of the Anglican Communion.
“And so all would seem sorted. In Scotland we are in company with our sister church . . . and in the rest of the UK we share much with our friends in the Anglican Communion. So it was a bit difficult when our sister begins to take an interest in our best friend – especially when our best friend shows interest back. We just needed a bit of time to go away and sort that one out in our heads; to observe the relationship and to wait for the promised report of the relationship to be published.
“Unfortunately, an unexpected announcement – not an engagement, but a declaration. And yes, we are hurt. But let me ask you: if this happens in your family, then surely you try and fix it. You try and sort it out. And so, Archbishop Justin, thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for words today acknowledging those difficulties and the surprise of the announcement.”
He told the members of the General Assembly that the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church “see many things differently” after 300 years of theological divergence. “But that doesn’t stop us loving one another and finding ways of working together,” he said. “Now is the time to get on with the real task in hand – sharing all we have in the furtherance of the Gospel of Christ.”
- This article was corrected on 26 May 2016 to show the correct photo caption. The Church of Scotland Moderator in the photo is the Very Revd Dr Russell Barr, and not the Very Revd Angus Morrison as originally stated.