Dear Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church

Last weekend I signed the following letter which was sent to the Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church. It was organised by a group of clergy in the diocese of Edinburgh. The fifty or so signatories were those who happened to learn of this over a couple of days last weekend. There will no doubt be others who would have wanted to sign it who simply didn’t hear about it.

I expect that others may also post this on their own blogs. I’m not going to comment on it as I think it speaks for itself, other than to thank those who organised it for doing so. They and those who signed it restore my hope at this time.

Dear Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church,

We read with dismay the Guidance for Clergy and Lay Readers in the light of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014.

We appreciate that we are bound by the law, and that until our canons are changed, we cannot legally perform same-sex marriages. However, we are disappointed by both the timing and the tone of the document. We have been urged by you to enter into ‘cascade conversations’ in a spirit of open and sensitive listening with people of all views on this matter. This document only makes this process much harder for us, even impossible for some. Far from acknowledging the reality of differing experience and views in the church, it gives the impression of a definitive answer to the question we have yet to discuss or debate. The document ought to make it clear that the restrictions it describes may be temporary, if the church decides to change its canons. Because of the confusion created by this document, we now believe that such canonical change should be decided in Synod as soon as possible.

But we were especially dismayed by the section of the document which refers to clergy, lay readers, and ordinands, should they be in a same-sex relationship and wish to be married. In particular, we find the warnings to ordinands, both currently training and those who might be training in the future, to be unrepresentative of the generous and communal characteristics of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Even though our church has not yet agreed to solemnise same-sex marriages, they will nevertheless become a civil institution which we will recognise like everyone else under the law. It is our firm belief therefore that any prohibition on obtaining a civil marriage is outwith the moral and canonical authority of a bishop.

We acknowledge that this process is one which creates anxiety for all church leaders, and bishops in particular. We empathise with the difficult situation that you as bishops are in, and reaffirm our desire to support you in your leadership of our church, and as fellow members of it.

Nevertheless, some of us are now uncomfortable about solemnising marriages at all until such time as all can be treated equally, and all of us will continue to feel morally compromised in our ministries, and wish to make clear our continuing commitment to affirm and support all people in our church, and to recognise and rejoice in all marriages, of whatever sexual orientation, as true signs of the love of God in Christ.

Yours sincerely,
Revd Carrie Applegath,
Revd Philip Blackledge,
Revd Maurice Houston,
Revd Canon John McLuckie,
Revd Canon Ian Paton,
Revd Kate Reynolds,
Revd Martin Robson,
Revd Malcolm Aldcroft,
Dr Darlene Bird (lay reader),
Revd Jim Benton-Evans,
Revd Cedric L. Blakey,
Revd Andrew Bowyer,
Revd Canon Bill Brockie,
Revd Tony Bryer,
Revd Steve Butler,
Revd Christine Barclay,
Revd Lynsay M Downes,
Revd Markus Dünzkofer,
Revd Canon Anne Dyer,
Revd Janet Dyer,
Revd Jennifer Edie,
Revd John L Evans,
Revd Samantha Ferguson,
The Revd Canon Zachary Fleetwood,
Kennedy Fraser,
Revd Kirstin Freeman,
Revd Frances Forshaw,
Revd Ruth Green,
Revd Bob Gould,
Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth,
Revd Ruth Innes,
Revd Ken Webb,
Rev’d Canon Mel Langille,
Revd Kenny Macaulay,
Revd Simon Mackenzie,
Revd Duncan MacLaren,
Very Revd Nikki McNelly,
Very Revd Jim Mein,
Revd Nicola Moll,
Revd Bryan Owen,
Revd Canon Clifford Piper,
Revd Donald Reid,
Revd Colin Reed,
Revd Canon John Richardson,
Revd Malcolm Richardson,
The Revd Gareth J M Saunders,
Very Revd Alison J Simpson,
Very Revd Andrew Swift,
Kate Sainsbury (lay reader),
Patsy Thomson (lay reader),
Prof Revd Annalu Waller

Revd John Penman,
Revd Tim Morris,
Revd Anna Garvey,
Revd Bill Eilliot.

Generous Episcopacy: The Rt Rev Michael Hare Duke RIP

I gather from a twitter correspondent that the Rt Rev Michael Hare Duke has died. Bishop Michael was the bishop with whom I first tested my vocation. Having been a bishop since 1969, he saw and influenced the entire modern story of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Where to begin with memories?

  • The time I sat in his study as he asked me about my vocation whilst his beloved dog, Tobermory pushed twelve full bottles of whisky from one side of the room to the other and back again. And again. And again.
  • The time he was in hospital and Baa, to whom he was married, turned up on my doorstep late at night announcing a full scale emergency. It turned out that the emergency was not his health but that he was dictating faxes from his hospital bed and Baa was struggling to send a message to the Crown Prince of Jordan.
  • The time and time again when he penned articles for newspapers in absolute certainty that mission in his diocese depended on people like him offering leadership, inspiration and puckish humour to the whole of society not just the people of the pews.
  • The time and time again his words have brought people to God and God to the people, as he was one of the triumvirate of poet-priests who wrote the bulk of the modern Scottish Eucharistic rite.
  • The extraordinary influence in the world of mental health that Michael had.
  • The gay couples he was blessing 40 years ago.
  • The unpredictable, chaotic, sometimes infuriating but human and humane episcopacy that he inhabited and made his own, which must today remind so many in the Scottish Episcopal Church of more generous times.

Here he is in his own words in 2003:

If sex has been one of the flash points over the last 50 years, the painful changes have also given me the joy of helping people to discover that the church does not condemn them, as they had expected, but accepts their integrity without imposing oppressive orthodoxy.

I’ve no idea how they are going to celebrate Bishop Michael at his funeral next Tuesday 23 December 2014, which will be in St Ninian’s Cathedral at 10 am. At one point the then cathedral organist kept the Fauré requiem in the repertoire specifically so it would be ready for Bishop Michael’s funeral. (A fact that led one of my predecessors as Precentor there to remark that a few choruses of Hooray and Up She Rises might well be just as appropriate).

I have a particularly strong memory of him over-consecrating vastly one Maundy Thursday. Whole chalices of consecrated wine were left over.

Not a bad way to remember him.

The world was richer for him and poorer at his passing.

Heaven seems a deliciously more giddy prospect.

It actually is time. Today.

It actually is time. Today. Congratulations everyone.

The Peace and Unity and Order of the Church

One of the things that I’ve occasionally raised in blog posts is the question of whose responsibility it is to promote the unity of the church.

I think this was focused for me particularly at the consecration of the Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane just over 9 years ago when the preacher preached a sermon which was one of those sermons that you remember. It was one of those sermons that you remember because something about it niggles away at you. Sometimes that can be a good thing and sometimes not so good. At this particular service, it was a sermon that I knew at the time I disagreed with but I couldn’t immediately work out why. The gist of the sermon was fairly simple – we were at the consecration of a bishop and the preacher, Lord Eames, spoke of the ministry of the bishop as being a particular gift to the church – that of being an icon of unity.

I remember thinking at the time that it didn’t just sound odd to me but foreign.

Years later I remember that sermon and I think I was right in what I thought. It is a foreign idea to us in the Scottish Episcopal Church. It doesn’t belong here.

In the Church of England, bishops are expected to be the focus of unity in their dioceses. Their Ordinal says so. In Scotland, our Ordinal says no such thing.

But it is more profound than that. You see the truth is, the responsibility for promoting the peace, unity and order of the church doesn’t simply rest upon bishops in Scotland, it rests upon all of us who are in authorised ministry in the church. It isn’t that this is their responsibility it is that this responsibility belongs equally to the rest of us who minister too.

If you enter authorised ministry in the Scottish Episcopal Church then you make a series of promises, one of which is this:

I will show, in all things, an earnest desire to promote the peace, unity, and order of the said Church….

It is perhaps worth thinking this weekend about what the peace, unity and order of the church look like and how we take seriously our oaths to promote each of them.

I take the promise to promote the peace, unity and order of the church very seriously. So seriously, I’m prepared to fight for them in ways that don’t always look peaceful. Indeed I know friends from other denominations who can’t understand how Episcopalians cope with saying what they think to one another in the ways that we do. Politeness is a sacrament in some churches but I don’t think it is so in my own. Kindness is worth striving for but I don’t think we tend to paper over the cracks when things get tough.

Things have certainly become tough this week. I referred earlier this week to a new document that has been published by the Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church which deals with the changes in the law regarding marriage in Scotland which come into force this week. I don’t think it is overstating the case to say that the publication of this document has seriously disrupted the peace and unity of the church. It was an attempt to say something about the order of the church which the bishops thought it important to say. The manner and timing of it though has caused more disruption to the peace of the church than I can remember for many years. (And I can remember more years of our church’s life than several of our bishops). It is my view that the bishops didn’t expect the sense of outrage which many feel about this. I also believe that it must be ghastly trying to do the right thing and be presumed to be malevolent in return.

I personally seek the peace, unity and order of the church.

I seek peace in the church by trying to bring the church to a place where all can stand united in our love of God and able to freely share that love with those who do not yet know it. I don’t believe we are in that place of peace at this time and I yearn for it, hope for it and pray for it.

And I am praying for that which my heart does not entirely desire but which my oath demands.

You see, what I want in my self is every church to be a welcoming and safe place for gay people, including those gay couples who chose to get married. My conscience demands that I hope and pray for that. But my oath to promote the peace, unity and order of the church demands that I put at least some of my own needs to one side and ask what will bring that peace to the church which will allow us to stand side by side.

The oath I’ve taken demands that I seek a place to stand for those who disagree with me. It demands that I defend their rights to be upset and grumpy and cross. It demands that I weep when they are weeping.

And in recent years, I think I can say that I’ve developed a far greater respect for those who say they disagree with me on gay rights than I do for many of those, particularly those who have power over other people’s lives in the church, who claim to me in private that they think I’m right. (Mind you, there are plenty who once disagreed with me who don’t now, so we can’t presume that these are two immutable categories of piskies).

I have to search for peace, unity and order in the church and my view is that we won’t have anything that looks like that until we have a church in which I can marry gay members of my congregation one unto another amidst great rejoicing whilst simultaneously defending the right of a sister or brother priest not to have to do so. And I have to hope that the desire to reach Scotland with the good news will allow colleagues who do disagree with me to search for the same peace that will allow us all a place to stand in order to reach out united to a world that needs the love of God.

I don’t believe and have never believed that the oaths to seek the peace, unity and order of the church are oaths involving any kind of conformity. And one of our troubles at the moment in my view is that our bishops have mistaken conformity for collegiality. The two are different. Collegiality is required of the College of Bishops. Collegiality is also required in a different way from the rest of us. Demands from any of us that look like conformity though do not look like the road to peace.

The sooner these issues that trouble us are resolved the better. It is my view that the bishops of our church have struggled to lead us towards peace. I pray for them, as I hope they pray for people like me.

Right now, the need to find peace, unity and order are becoming urgent. The mission of the church is compromised by our inability to live peaceably together.

I personally never renew my ordination vows at the annual chrism mass where such things are done. (Not least because we don’t have an authorised liturgy for such things in the Scottish Episcopal Church and I’m led to believe that doing things we don’t have an authorised liturgy for is somehow rather naughty).

I take my oaths more seriously than to think they need topping up once a year. I renew them daily as I live my life.

And today, as I see the peace of the church more seriously disrupted than I’ve ever known, I find myself reminding myself of my own vow.

I will show in all things, an earnest desire to promote the peace, unity, and order of the said Church.

And I will do so knowing that we will only get these things when we are ready to come together and accept that we all need a place to stand.

The church will have no peace whilst those who believe in the dignity of God’s gay and straight children alike are told that they belong to a church in which such a thing is impossible

This could all be resolved very quickly if people were minded to do so. Prolonging this argument is leading us further from the godly peace we need.

New Statement from College of Bishops

There’s a new statement from the College of Bishops today about same-sex marriage.

It can, and should, be read in full – see here: College of Bishops Guidance re Marriage 2014

I’m appalled by its contents and in particular appalled at the way the Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church are treating gay clergy and lay readers in the church. The homophobic bullying of candidates for ministry – ordinands and candidates for lay readership is particularly unpleasant.

I expect I will have more to say, in many ways and in many places.

Breastfeeding in church?

Mary Breastfeading for blog

10 questions arising from the misogyny of a “headship” bishop

Plans were announced last night to appoint a new bishop in the Church of England who will specifically believe that women are subordinate to men to minister to, encourage and represent those in the Church of England who believe this, ie that men have been given headship over women by God, to be true.  (This isn’t a joke, this is real).

This had been planned for some time and was part of the deal whereby that church agreed to open the Episcopate to candidates who happen to be female.

It rather neatly proves some of the terrible things I was saying about the Church of England earlier in the week to be true.

On this occasion, I take no pleasure in being right.

The following questions arising from the misogyny of a “headship” bishop should now be raised:

  1. To Members of Parliament: Are you really comfortable with 1 million children being educated every day by an organisation with these values?
  2. To candidates in the next election: Will you support the disestablishment of the Church of England because organisations which behave in this way should have no privileged place in parliament?
  3. To the Archbishop of Canterbury: Do you realise that this makes you personally look like a misogynist too as suffragan appointments are always personal to the bishop involved?
  4. In the General Synod of the Church of England: …. and if people ask for a bishop with racist views to represent them, will we do that too?
  5. To the BBC: Why are you not covering this story as a major news item?
  6. To those who serve in Church House, Westminster: Why do progressive changes to the Church of England have to go through years of debate at General Synod and regressive ones don’t?
  7. To Primates around the communion: Why is this novelty and abuse of the episcopate acceptable when the appointment of a man who happened to be gay was so unacceptable?
  8. To the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Question Time: Does the Prime Minister share the concerns of many in this country that the Church of England is institutionalising misogyny.
  9. To the silent Church of England Bishops who believe themselves to be liberal: How do you sleep?
  10. To the first woman to be consecrated as bishop in the Church of England: Was it worth it on these terms?


What does it mean to belong?

So, here’s the thing.

Over the last few weeks we’ve been doing our usual gathering of names for the congregational roll at St Mary’s. We ask people here to fill in a form each year before the AGM indicating that they want to be included on the congregational roll. It has taken a few years for some people to get used to this, but now most people accept it for what it is – a simple clerical device that means we can keep the roll in a constantly changing congregation up to date.

This year, I’ve as many questions about the result of this exercise than I have answers.

You see, there are people indicating to me that they want to be regarded as members of St Mary’s who I didn’t expect. In particular, people who live at a distance who don’t ever set foot in the building from year to year.

Now in once sense this is unremarkable. Most congregations will have people who are on the roll whom they never see. The thing that makes this a new development is that some of these people live very much at a distance and are indicating that they think of themselves as active members due to the way they participate online with St Mary’s.

Furthermore, some clearly go to other congregations physically and receive the sacrament there but are indicating that they want to think of themselves as being on the congregational roll here. This is, I think, to do with our ethos.

Moreover, there are people who are a couple of ministers in other denominations who are actively working in parish life but who are indicating to me that they want to be included on the congregational roll of St Mary’s.

Now some of this is easy but other aspects are really complicated. The Scottish Episcopal Church doesn’t actually allow for dual membership of it and another denomination to start with, but I’m not sure that people are indicating to me that they want to be Scottish Episcopalians when they indicate to me that they want to be members of St Mary’s. The Scottish Episcopal Church doesn’t, strictly speaking, allow for people to be members of more than one of its congregations either but I’m not so sure that it matters what the church thinks – actual members do believe that they belong to more than one congregation anyway.

From time to time, the Vice Provost and I have conversations about reviving the idea of a Friends of St Mary’s for those living furth of the city of Glasgow who have some allegiance to the congregation. I think that idea of a supporters group is probably a good one. However, I don’t think that is quite what we are talking about when we think about church membership.

I think people want to belong to St Mary’s and not think of themselves as friends of St Mary’s but as actual participating members who are distant from Glasgow.

Now, what does this mean? (That’s a real question and I’d welcome responses in the comments below – I’m still trying to work this out for myself).

What do we need to do to make sense of this? What do we need to do online and with our communications generally to facilitate this situation. Clearly the internet and what we do with it here is having an impact on our life together including our life together apart.

What should the church say about multiple membership?

What does church membership mean in the age of the internet and how is it changing?

I’m interested to hear John Chalmers of the Church of Scotland say today that he wants the church to think about what impact online engagement is making on membership of that denomination so it seems to me that this is an ecumenical matter. This is particularly significant given how negative he has been about social media in the past.

I’m obviously interested that some of the people who do turn up to the Church of Scotland are actually thinking of themselves in the core of their being as belonging in some way to us too. (We must presume that the converse is true too, though I know of no examples).

There’s probably more that I want to say about different types of belonging in another post further down the blog and there’s certainly a lot to be said about ecumenical matters.

However for now, what does it mean to belong?


Quiet Wednesday – one week to go

Guest blog post from the Vice Provost, the Rev Cedric Blakey

Quiet Wednesday is the idea at St Mary’s Cathedral, an antidote to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. A day with no work, no shopping, no card writing or food prep. A day, well up to 6 hours, without emails, blogging or social media. A day in company with a dozen or so others at a small monastery in the heart of Glasgow.

The idea? To give yourself a little space before things get too frantic. In fact to turn up and be looked after. To hear a couple of short talks on the subject “Great Expectations: a look at waiting and longing”, and most importantly, to find a space to read, to think, to pray or simply be.

Last year, one person wrote “it was just what I needed, a day when I felt I had permission to stop and to rest and be ministered to with quality words and in a beautiful, peaceful place. To have this day a couple of weeks before Christmas made all the difference. It was simply divine”.

People can still join the day on Wednesday 10 December starting at 10.00 using the form on the cathedral website. And those at a distance can join in too. Perhaps by planning a day at home or in a park or glen.

Episcopal Novelty and the Church of England

I seem to have caused a small flurry (a flurryette?) of comments over on a thread on Thinking Anglicans by expressing the view that the Church of England is in the process of introducing a novelty into the episcopate that is undesirable and which they should at least have consulted the rest of the communion over.

The novelty that I am talking about is this – that the Church of England has got itself into a position where it is formally going down a path whereby some of its bishops will not be in full communion with other bishops within the same church.

This has come about because the compromise that the Church of England has adopted over the consecration of bishops who happen to be women is to give an assurance that there will still be new consecrations of bishops who still refuse to accept that women can be consecrated as bishops.

This means that some bishops of the C of E will not accept that other bishops of the C of E are bishops at all.

I say that is a novelty and I say that the situation is absurd.

Now, to be absolutely clear, I think that it is a great thing that great new opportunities are opening up to great people. Of course the episcopate should be open to women and men. Of course it is exciting that women are going to be consecrated in the Church of England. The price though, was a muddle that I think that many will one day regret. It is also a price that women are going to be expected to pay.

All this is just a further extension of something that I think will probably one day be called (inaccurately) the Anglican Heresy. I think this heresy (which strictly speaking is more of a Church of England thing than something which affects most Anglicans in the world) is the notion that one should be able to accept or reject a bishop according to whether or not they fit with one’s theological peccadilloes. This seems to me to have come in initially through the ministry of suffragans who often seem to have been appointed to give “theological breadth” to episcopal oversight in any one diocese rather than to simply share in the episcopal oversight of the diocesan. Thus we have had evangelical parishes wanting to associate with and be on the receiving end of episcopal oversight from an evangelical bishop and anglo-catholics doing likewise.

This got worse with the appointment of the so-called Flying Bishops who wandered around the Church of England ministering only to those disaffected by the ordination of women as priests.

It has now reached the point of absurdity with bishops being appointed who don’t believe other bishops being appointed to be bishops.

Notwithstanding the genuine joy that many feel at the forthcoming consecration of female candidates as bishops, I also know both male and female friends who feel somewhat hesitant at the terms on which this will be done.

Are we really getting to a point where some people will be ordained as bishops in the Church of England who will not be able to participate by the laying on of hands in the consecration of other bishops in the Church of England?

If so, that is a novelty of monumental proportions. It is an absurd situation which others within the Anglican Communion are likely to feel very concerned about indeed.

People often say that the ministry of a bishop is centrally concerned with being a focus of unity. It seems to me that the Episcopate in England is becoming the very definition of disunity.

(Incidentally, it is always worth remembering that the Ordinal in Scotland doesn’t mention bishops being a focus for unity whilst the Ordinal in England does).

Now when I say things like this, people are apt to say several things:

  1. This isn’t a novelty, haven’t you heard bishops who have been out of communion with one another before?
  2. Isn’t it more of a novelty that women are ordained in the first place?
  3. What would you do then, would you turf these objectors to the consecration of women out of the church?
  4. Why hasn’t the Scottish Episcopal Church consecrated women and who are you to complain about the Church of England when you’ve not done it in Scotland anyway?

Let me deal with these one by one.

Firstly, the situation that I’m describing as a novelty is not bishops being out of communion with one another – that, is something of a commonplace. Grumpy bishops have thoughout the centuries declared themselves to be out of communion with people they’ve been grumpy with. What I’m describing as a novelty is bishops within one church being formally out of communion with one another as a matter of course. The fact that the Church of England seems to be intent on describing this situation as a positively inclusive force is very much a novelty. Has ever there been a church of the Western Rite claiming the apostolic succession which has asserted that it can have bishops who don’t think other bishops are bishops?

Secondly, I can understand that some feel the ordination of women to be a great novelty but I don’t. I simply think that the episcopate should be open to women and men because God has made women and men in God’s own image. That women have been excluded is an error that I’m pleased is being corrected. There have been bishops who happen to be women in Anglican and Lutheran churches we are supposed to be in full communion with for years anyway. Where’s the novelty now in that?

Thirdly, my personal preference is that women should not have been expected to bear the price of the disunity of their fellow Christians. Women are being ordained as bishops in England but not on the same terms as men are ordained bishops. (Clergy and congregations will be able to formally opt out of their care – no-one has that option on male episcopal ministry). I’d prefer equality to what has taken place. What people then decide to do in a situation where men and women are regarded as equals is their business. I can see a case for allowing priests to continue in a church where they are out of sorts with the idea of women being consecrated as bishops but I see no way of resolving the ecclesiastical nonsense of continuing to consecrate men who won’t accept female episcopal ministry now. I wouldn’t turf anyone out but I certainly wouldn’t make the situation worse in this way.  (And yes, I do partly blame the advocates of women being consecrated for caving into this situation – their episcopal sisters in later years will wonder why they did not stand up and be counted).

Finally, the reason the Scottish Episcopal Church has not yet consecrated a bishop who happens to be a bishop is more about size than anything else. There are currently more episcopal vacancies in England than there are the total number of bishoprics in Scotland and we have  no vacancies at all. They don’t come around often and we struggle sometimes to find good candidates (men and women) for the jobs anyway. The only way we could currently consecrate a women at the moment would be to bump off a bishop and consecrate a woman, possibly against her will – this is probably unacceptable to society at large. Until a women is consecrated by due process we just have to wait, secure in the knowledge that when she is consecrated she will be the equal of her episcopal brothers.

This is an Anglican Communion matter that we should all be more concerned about. The irony for me is that though I stood full-square against the Anglican Covenant, it might have been useful in this situation – stopping the Church of England from introducing for the foreseeable future novelties into the Episcopate that make no sense at all. However, the Anglican Covenant was itself a novelty too far and though I might wistfully think it might be useful now, its own introduction would have changed our churches from the communion of provinces that it currently is.

Incidently, if a woman is consecrated as a bishop in Scotland and faces the situation whereby a congregation claims they can’t accept her ministry, she will be free to try to sort it out herself. She could, for example, invite another bishop, (either a retired bishop or one from the College of Bishops she is a member of) to assist her in her ministry. So could a man in a similar situation.

The Church of England is of course more or less free to do what it likes within the Anglican Communion. I dare say here in Scotland we will regard all its bishops as bishops. It seems beyond stupidity that members of the Church of England will not necessarily have to do the same.