Scotland Says No!

The Scottish Episcopal Church has resoundingly rejected the Anglican Covenant as a way forward for the Anglican Communion. At the same time, the Synod passed a motion rejoicing in our commitment to the Communion itself. What we have said is No to the Covenant, but Yes to the Communion.

The vote was decisive – 6 in favour of the motion adopting the Covenant, 112 against and 13 abstaining.

Interestingly, I didn’t speak in the debate. I didn’t need to.

Once upon a time, I would have been on my feet encouraging, threatening, cajoling. I’d have been sowing fear, uncertainty and doubt. I would have been at work behind the scenes, bending people’s ears, twisting people’s arms – all to get them to reject the Covenant.

In the end, I didn’t need to. It just turned out to be something that the church overwhelmingly felt was not the way forward.

We should not underestimate the significance of the decision though. It will resound around the communion. In the Church of England, there was not enough support in the dioceses to bring the thing to Synod. In Scotland, we took a different strategy – ensuring that it did come to Synod. We took a clear vote and said a clear no. We are the first province to reject the Covenant in a synodical vote, I think.

No to the Covenant. Yes to the Communion.

You heard that on this blog first.

It is now the policy of this Province.

Thanks be to God.

Looking at the Covenant

Just a few weeks to go until the Scottish Episcopal Church’s General Synod. As usual I’m looking forward to it and trying to get my head around the things that we will be talking about.

One of the big things on the agenda this year is a vote in principle on the Anglican Covenant. A year or two ago, when we were talking about it, it seemed like one of the most controversial things that we would ever vote on. Now we get closer to the vote, I’m less sure. A lot of water has gone under the bridge over the last couple of years. There were great fears that if we voted against the Anglican Covenant, as it always seemed we might, then this would put us at odds with the Church of England. And, notwithstanding our proud independent streak, there were dire fears as to What That Might Mean.

In the event, the Church of England beat us to it and threw it out itself.

However, all the Anglican Provinces need to make their minds up. The Covenant isn’t dead yet, though there’s no doubt it is severely wounded by the dioceses of the C of E standing up to their bishops and archbishops and refusing to fall in line.

Now, the different Provinces will all do different things. I think that what is likely in Scotland is that we will simply say no to the Covenant and then focus our energies on a second motion on the agenda which will allow us to do some creative thinking about what kind of Anglican Communion we are looking for. At least, that’s what I hope will happen.

I was surprised though recently to hear from American friends who were saying that they thought that the US based Episcopal Church was likely to affirm the first three sections of the Covenant but not the fourth section. The fourth section is the one that deals with discipline – the ability to throw a naughty Province off the councils, networks and committees and what have you that make up the Anglican Communion’s ways of working.

I was surprised because it meant that there were no apparent fears about the first section, and it is that which I think is the more dangerous. This may be because theological statements are sometimes read differently by different people.

In Scotland we used to get people saying that we should affirm the first three sections but not the fourth section only up until the time when we really got down to talking about it. At last year’s General Synod it became apparent that some of us were very troubled by section one – particularly because affirming it would mean that once again we would have to affirm the Thirty-Nine Articles.

Now there are all kinds of reasons why affirming the Thirty-Nine Articles isn’t a good idea. I was on my feet a year ago saying that coming as I do from a city troubled by Catholic-Protestant sectarian tensions, the last thing we need to be doing is affirming once again the anti-catholic Thirty-Nine Articles. And that isn’t even to begin to deal with the things that those articles condemn which some of us hold dear in our worship still.

Now, the US-based Episcopal Church has the Thirty-Nine Articles in its Book of Common Prayer and we in Scotland don’t. (We did for a bit but we don’t affirm them any more). The Americans cope with them, I think, by thinking of them as Historical Documents – things that show us where we have come from but don’t necessarily regard them as things which should guide our faith for today.

Not so the Church of England. Or at least, not so all of the Church of England.

The release this week of a long denunciation of same-sex marriage from the Church of England Evangelical Council should give the Americans pause for thought before they affirm any part of the Covenant which promotes the Thirty-Nine Articles. Anyone reading it will be in no doubt that the Thirty Nine Articles are no mere historical document in some parts of the Church of England. For some, they are the Thirty-Nine Weapons of the Church of England in this long and tiresome culture war in which all the bullets are theological concepts ad all the collateral damage seems to be in terms of souls lost to the church and wholesome relationships between gay folk traduced by the loud, the ignorant and the shallow.

The US based church should make no assumptions at all about the nature in which the documents listed in the first section of the proposed Anglican Covenant are read in other parts of the world.

I remain convinced that we need to say No to the Covenant and say an unequivocal Yes to the Anglican Communion. And that No needs to be a clear and deliberate rejection of all the sections of the Covenant. Our American friends put themselves at some risk from those who would do them harm if they don’t understand this.

Glasgow & Galloway and the Anglican Covenant

People keep asking me about how this diocese dealt with the Anglican Covenant and whether or not we passed it.

Well, we were very faithful to the current processes of the church and engaged in quite a thorough consultation session at the diocesan synod on Saturday.

I had quite a lot of input into how the processes of this synod were to work and after it was done felt reasonably pleased with what we had managed to do. People kept telling me that they thought they had been consulted and that was exactly what we were trying to do. (NB I think it was a far better process than last year’s “Indaba” Process at the General Synod, but that’s another story).

The synod in G & G this year met around little tables in a large hall. This may seem like old hat to the good people of Edinburgh who have been meeting at tables for ages, but this was the first time it had been tried here. People were assigned to tables randomly, which meant that they were almost certain to meet and engage with people they did not know during the day.

When it came to the covenant debate, we asked each table to consider three questions which flashed up on the screens.

1 – What questions remain unanswered for you about the Anglican Covenant

2 – Would your table accept the Anglican Covenant? (Possible answers were Yes, No or Can’t Decide).

3 – What would you like the Scottish Episcopal Church to be saying to the Anglican Communion at this time.

After each question, Cedric (the Vice Provost) and I did a walkabout chat-show style consultation with people in the hall, going from table to table with roving microphones asking people about their conversations and conclusions.

It was a very revealing process. Rather like General Synod last year, people had come underestimating the strength of feeling against the Covenant. The presumption had been that it would have a fair bit of support but that there would probably be quite a few against. This presumption was wrong. There was a very small amount of support for it and an overwhelming number against.

We had 24 tables on the go discussing the thing. One table came out in favour, 19 were clearly opposed and the other few couldn’t come to a common mind.

By far the most interesting part of the discussion was the last question, I think. It was very clear that the Anglican Communion is very important to us. We want it. We love it. We are not prepared to throw away and discard the bonds of affection that hold us together in favour of a legal, punitive process.

The message from Glasgow and Galloway was very clear indeed.

We don’t want the Covenant. We do want the Communion.

Remember the Anglican Covenant?

Do you remember the Anglican Covenant? It was an attempt to find a way of the Anglican Communion working together.

Well, strictly speaking, it still is an attempt to find a way of the Anglican Communion working together. It isn’t dead yet, though there are some signs that all is not well for those who advocate the proposal.

Here’s a quick summary of the most obvious problems that people have found with the text of the proposed Covenant:

  • It introduces new credal statements over and beyond the historic creeds of the church which everyone is supposed to sign up to, even though we know that not everyone believes them.
  • The text is scattered with proof texts from the Bible used completely out of context as though the bible foresaw the Anglican Communion and provides obvious solutions to its ills.
  • The Covenant requires us to hold in honour the [anti-Catholic] 39 Articles of the Church of England when plenty of us don’t believe all of them. (“Have you actually read them?!”) This is a particular problem for some of us in Scotland. Many of us would argue that using an obviously sectarian text to try to find modern unity is deeply inappropriate.
  • The fourth section is a statement of how the communion will take punitive action to limit the involvement of churches which are naughty. (And Anglicans just are not like that).
  • The Covenant is a proposal to try to resolve or contain differences over homosexuality but it does not deal with the issue directly.
  • The Covenant goes some way to setting up a magisterium – an official teaching of the whole “Anglican Church” which certain bishops will determine and which everyone will be expected to believe. (And again, we are not really like that).

For those in favour of the proposal, the Covenant is an obvious solution to our troubles. For those opposed, it significantly raises issues of identity and church culture.

Anyway, we’ve been thinking about it in the various Anglican provinces for quite some time and make your mind up time is coming to us all.

Now, the presumption has always been that quite a few people in Scotland would be lukewarm to the proposal and that it might not get through our General Synod as there might not be a majority. Even so, it was presumed that there would be quite a few people in favour. The Church of England, meanwhile was presumed to be generally in favour of it and a lot of people, including me, thought it would just go through on the nod down south.

Well, it is far too soon to be counting chickens, but it would appear at this stage that some of those presumptions were a bit wide of the mark. In Scotland it is quite hard to find anyone arguing in favour of the Covenant. At last year’s General Synod we had pseudo-Indaba groups which reported pretty negatively on the whole business and it was difficult to find anyone from any of the groups who had encountered anyone at all who thought well of the proposal. The message which I’ve consistently heard since then from around the church is people saying that the Anglican Communion is very important to us but that the kind of communion that the Covenant proposes is not the kind of communion that we see as being desirable. Indeed, the strong message seems to be pro the Communion but against the kind of setup that would be a consequence of accepting the Covenant. The presumption that there would be widespread disagreement about the Covenant in Scotland doesn’t really seem at this stage to be holding up. So far as I can see, there isn’t a great deal of disagreement at all about it.

Down in Englandshire, things are just as interesting. Down there, the Covenant is going through a process of being considered diocese by diocese. However, as the results of these diocesan debates indicate, there has been something of a surprise. So far (and again, it is relatively early days) the Covenant has been defeated in twice as many dioceses in England as those who have accepted it.

The significance of this is very great. The Anglican Communion is predicated on everyone being in full communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is consequently very tricky to have a communion divided into two tiers with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s own province in the outer layer of somehow impaired or restricted communion.

Some have worried that we might be the first province to declare ourselves out of sorts with the Anglican Covenant. However, that may not be the case. It could be that in England the Covenant will have run into almost insurmountable trouble before we even get to our General Synod in Scotland. What might be the case is that our Synod might be one of the first at which, the Covenant as it stands having largely lost its way, some articulation can be made of more positive ways of the Communion living its common life.

The Scottish Episcopal Church has been responsible in significant ways for the way the Communion is at the moment and it may well be that we need to be thinking at the moment about being a church that can articulate positive ways of living in Communion in the future. I feel very warmly towards this possibility. I’d much rather we were able to articulate positive things from Scotland than simply be shouting at one another about a Covenant which won’t resolve any differences at all.

There is a cynical view of the Covenant, which is that it was really only ever an attempt to keep people talking and that it was never intended actually to be resolved – whilst we are all talking about it, somehow we hold together. This view holds that it was Rowan Williams’s genius to advocate something where the process of debating the Covenant itself was the functioning method of keeping the churches in communion with one another.

My hunch is that if there is any truth in that thesis, its days are numbered. Rowan Williams is widely reported to be considering leaving his post. If he wants to be able to think that the Covenant held things together on his watch, he should perhaps go sooner rather than later.

Sermon preached on 8 January 2012

here’s the sermon I preached at Fr Chucks Iwuagwu’s first mass.

I’m really very proud of him. Can you tell?

UPDATE – Here is the text.

Now then. Chukwuemeka Christian-Iwuagwu! Do I have your attention? [Read more...]

We drink from our own wells

Here’s what I had to say in the pulpit this morning:

In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Lifegiver. Amen.

A long time ago now, I took myself off to study theology. I was not a priest or clergy person. I did not even belong to any church. I just had religious questions and for me that was how I tried to answer them.

I enjoyed my studies very much and eventually I started to understand the questions that I had and began to work out which of them might be answered and which were never going to be answered by which were instead pathways into wonder and mystery and delight.

But there were never complete answers. Nothing was ever completely sewn up. Indeed, the number of things I could be absolutely certain of became fewer rather than greater the longer I studied. [Read more...]

Preferring me dead

The worst thing in listening to a debate about the Anglican Covenant is that there generally comes a point when I realise that there are speakers who would prefer me to be dead. Often those speakers would think of themselves as liberals rather than conservatives too.

Perhaps it would be easier on your ears if I said that there are those who would prefer me and people like me never to have existed. When you are on the receiving end of it though, the distinction between the two is not really one that’s easy to make.

Is it any easier on your ears for that to be expressed as a wish that gay people had never come out, never raised their head above the pulpit, denied their existence to themselves never mind to other Anglicans and all for the sake of the Anglican Communion?

I find it difficult to write about what it is like to listen to these debates. For there are no real words to describe what it is like to know that there are people, good people, in most other respects liberal people, who would prefer your non-existence to your existence. There are really no words to express what that is like.

I listened to the debate about the Anglican Communion on Wednesday which took place on Wednesday in the Church of England. Clearly there are very many Anglicans in England who would choose a faux church unity (a unity which doesn’t even remotely exist) rather than stand up for the well-being, the ministries, the lives, the souls of gay people in our churches. If its not done in the name of church unity and the Anglican Communion, its being done in the name of supporting the Archbishop of Canterbury. Its a simple request – support the Archbishop, he needs our support – the gays are expendable again.

Whilst I don’t like the values, morals and mores of the conservative evangelicals in all this, at least they make sense to me. At least there is a coherence. There is logic in it, however perverse. There is little logic in the apparently moderate voices who make that choice – to sacrifice gay lives, gay ministries, gay well-being, the possibility of gay role-models, often gay friends, for the fantasy of preserving a Communion that has already split.

The price was never worth the candle anyway.

The lowest point for me in the debate on Wednesday was hearing someone (I can’t remember who it was) defending the Covenant by saying that we needed to be able to throw churches out of the Communion. And he gave an example, saying that we needed a mechanism for removing any church which, for example, was complicit, so complicit in advocating racial prejudice that it was supporting state sponsored apartheid. Such a church would have to be expelled, for to do such calculated harm to people of a different race would take that church beyond the pale – they would no longer be worthy of being thought of as Anglicans.

Yet, in all this there was no mention of the churches which exist in our communion which have advocated precisely that harm to those of us who are gay. No mention of the Anglican voices from Uganda, Nigeria, Rwanda which in league with others in their society would do gay people harm, would deny their existance, would prefer them to have no voice, would prefer me to be dead.

Such voices, such churches, must be kept at the table. Such voices, such churches must be included in. If their prejudice involved racial violence, they would be excluded. But its the gays instead, so we must change all our rules of how our churches function to include those churches in. The gays are expendable after all. We are apparently, a price worth paying.

I have no real words to describe what it is like to hear these debates. I have no real words to describe what this does to my well-being. I have no real words to describe what I think this does to my soul. I have no words to describe what it does to God.


Well, the proposals have been published which will allow Anglican clergy to more easily defect to Rome. I’ve not heard of any Episcopal clergy in Scotland interested in taking up the offer. It is said that the Traditional Anglican Communion is joining up. But then I’ve never heard of them nor do I know anyone who knows anyone who claims to be a member.

Look out, you Presbyterian friends. There is a current attempt to get the Pope to come to Scotland next year. Don’t be surprised if he arrives announcing that the Wee Frees have been petitioning him for a church within a church and that the way is open for Personal Presbyteries within the RC church.

Alan Turing

Just days ago, I added my name to a petition asking the Government to make some kind of apology on behalf of the mathematician Alan Turing. I’m consequently delighted to see that Gordon Brown has issued just such a statement.

I remember hearing about Alan Turing when I was a young mathematics student. Brilliant, troubled, persecuted, he was one of the people whose skills made a world war end earlier than it otherwise might have done. It is very good to see Gordon Brown make the statement that people hoped for. It helps underline how unacceptable anti-gay prejudice has become in the public sphere in this country and it is most welcome.

It is funny how a statement from a figure with some authority can make a differerence. Gordon Brown is quite right that Alan Turing was judged under the standards of his own time, and equally right to use that to show how far we have come.

I remember a few years ago, when the Anglican Communion stuff was hotting up, that Bishop Idris made a comment at a synod recognising the hard work that gay clergy were doing in the diocese in the face of it all. That little comment meant quite a lot to a number of people who were working incredibly hard to keep both the Diocese and the Province alive.

Have a look at Gordon Brown’s statement. One day, bishops and archbishops will be making similar statements about the persecution of gay people in the church. At the moment, most of our bishops in Scotland seem to think it is helpful to offer their support to gay people merely in private. That dynamic is becoming increasingly unhelpful and there are other, more ugly, words that could be used to describe it, than support.


In the middle of the maelstrom of voices talking and shouting about sexuality in the Anglican Communion, some voices are seldom heard. In particular, gay people have found it difficult to be heard and indeed have in some cases been silenced despite repeated promises that they will be listened to.

This video features members of the LGBT group at St Mary's speaking with their own voices. They discuss the congregation, Gene Robinson's visit and some of the international aspects of what we do. It was made as part of an exhibition at Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art. (Yes, it is part of that exhibition that all the fuss has been about). My thanks to Anthony Schrag who produced it and to all those who took part.

The exhibition itself runs at GoMA until 22 August 2009.

The troubles of the Anglican Communion will not even begin to wane until there is a recognition that we too speak with our own voices and drink from our own wells.