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[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] A proposed ecumenical agreement between the Church of England and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland is not about “novel doctrinal statements or additional institutional structures, but about growing in communion and partnership in mission, so that people may be drawn to the good news of peace, the gospel of Jesus Christ,” the co-chairs of the talks say in the introduction to their full report, Growth in Communion – Partnership in Mission, which was released today.
Part of the report, the Columba Declaration, was released on Christmas Eve and had been criticised by the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) over concerns about shared worship and exchange of ministers. Today, the SEC issued a second statement, in light of the full report, which seems to soften its position.
In it, the SEC say that following its initial statement, “we have been in direct contact with both the Church of Scotland and Church of England and have obtained a copy of the final report. . . We have been able to ask a number of initial questions which have been helpfully answered jointly by the Church of Scotland and the Church of England.”
They say that a formal response will be prepared by its Faith and Order Board in September, following discussions next month by the C of E’s General Synod and in May by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. In the meantime, they say that “the Board believes that publication of Growth in Communion – Partnership in Mission now provides an opportunity to build on the warm relations which the Scottish Episcopal Church already enjoys with the Church of Scotland and very much looks forward to continuing discussions. The Board similarly looks forward to strengthening our relationship and mutual regard with the Church of England.”
The Bishop of Peterborough, the Rt Revd Donald Allister, chairs the C of E’s Council for Christian Unity. In a covering note to the report for members of the General Synod, Bishop Donald explains that the text of the report has “undergone an extensive process of scrutiny and revision” by both the C of E and the Church of Scotland.
“The contents of the chapter on ‘Establishing Shared Foundations: Agreement in Faith’ and of the Columba Declaration itself are closely modelled on existing agreements between the Church of England and other churches, including in particularly the Reuilly Common Statement between the Anglican Churches of Britain and Ireland and the French Lutheran and Reformed Churches,” he said.
“The Synod is not therefore being asked to make affirmations that are substantially different from those it has made in other ecumenical contexts. What is different is the particular church about which those affirmations are being made, and about the particular relationship that exists here.
“The Church of England has not made a new formal agreement of this kind with one or more other churches since the Anglican-Methodist Covenant was signed in 2003. It is therefore not unreasonable to ask why it should enter such an agreement at this point with the Church of Scotland.
“The view of the Church of England participants in the conversations has been that such an agreement would be valuable in enabling us to place our long-standing relationship with the Church of Scotland on a clear, public footing; work together more effectively on matters of intersecting priorities, particularly in relation to our public roles as ‘national’ churches with constitutional standing; provide a stronger framework for addressing practical issues of sharing in ministry and mission and making the fullest use of opportunities here; [and to] coordinate the many different facets to the current relationship in a way that enhances them all.”
In a statement released today, the convenor of the Church of Scotland’s Ecumenical Relations Committee, the Revd Alison McDonald, said: “The joint report sets out clearly the shared foundations of faith of the Church of England and the Church of Scotland, which enable us to recognise one another formally for the first time.
“This provides a sound basis for our ongoing cooperation and for exploring future partnership.”
Under the terms of the proposed declaration, “both denominations would welcome one another’s members into congregations and ordained ministers would be allowed to exercise ministry within the existing discipline of each church only within England and continental Europe,” the Church of Scotland said.
In their foreword to the report, the two co-chairs of the talks, the Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Dr Peter Forster, and the The Revd Dr John L. McPake, convenor of the Church of Scotland’s Panel of Doctrine, say: “We believe that approval of the Columba Declaration by our two churches will represent a significant step in the long history of their relationship, one that affirms the place we have come to and opens up new possibilities for the future.
“The new arrangements we are proposing are modest and ‘light touch’: a small contact group meeting yearly and reporting to the ecumenical bodies within each church. The new possibilities that energise us are not about novel doctrinal statements or additional institutional structures, but about growing in communion and partnership in mission, so that people may be drawn to the good news of peace, the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
- The full report, Growth in Communion – Partnership in Mission, including the full text of the Columba Declaration, can be read here (pdf).