The Scottish Episcopal Church Option

So, here’s the thing. You’re sitting in your rectory in the Wolds of Nether Essex and turning the wireless dial at the end of a long day in June. Through the crackle and fizz of the static you finally find the Home Service and a plummy voice says with just the tiniest hint of surprise: “The Scottish Episcopal Church agreed overwhelmingly today at its General Synod in Edinburgh to allow gay couples to get married in its churches, becoming the first Anglican church in the UK to do so”. And you are suddenly agog. Could it be, you wonder, that there is another way of being a priest in these islands which might suit you down to the ground? Could it be that you should shake the dust of Basildon and Billericay from your feet and move to Banff or Buchan where the rainbow flag of freedom surely waves proudly in the sky? Your mind starts to imagine swapping Clacton-on-Sea for the true liberty of living in Clackmannanshire. “Harlow Nae Mair!” you cry as you imagine yourself marching with the kilt-clad masses at Helensburgh’s famous Pride March.

Before you know where you are, you are reaching for the back pages of the Church Times and applying for anything north of the border and wondering where you buy Episcopal plaid because the Holy Spirit in her infinite wisdom has revealed to you a sudden and previously unexplored call to the Scottish Episcopal Church that simply can’t be argued with.

Well, if you do seek to live out the Scottish Option, what will you find?  We’ll get to the sex bits further down the post but there’s quite a lot to talk about before we get there.

The truth is, there’s quite a lot of comings and goings between the Scottish Episcopal Church and other provinces of the Anglican Communion. One of the things that matters about the Anglican Communion is that it is relatively easy for those working in one part of the world to move to another part of the world. If you are priest (for example) in one place, then you are regarded as a priest in all places of the Communion. That’s kind of the big idea.

We see quite of lot of trade between the provinces of Scotland and England. The idea of full communion allows people from the Scottish Episcopal Church to work in the Church of England and vice versa. Well, that’s the theory though in reality some people are in fuller communion than others – I would struggle to work in Englandshire as I can’t affirm things that they’ve added to the Creed as essential such as the Five Guiding Principle of the Church of England guaranteeing the flourishing of those opposed to the ordination of women and I could never agree that I would only have a relationship with another man if I was prepared to lie about to to my bishop. But anyway, there’s full communion for some people and come and go they do.

There is quite a lot that is very attractive to people from the C of E coming north. However, one of the most difficult things about making that journey is that from a distance things look the same when in fact they are completely different.

Here’s a few things that are very different that people thinking of hitching their wagons and travelling north need to think about.

Well, the first thing that you need to think about when it comes to moving to Scotland is that you are going to have a relationship with your bishop. More so than you’ve probably had before. Not only that, but the bishop may well have a relationship with members of your congregation in a way entirely unlike  any relationship that you’ve witnessed in the Church of England. I would expect a bishop in a Scottish Episcopal diocese to know all the clergy by name and that they would also know key individuals in the congregation too. We are a much smaller church and that means that we relate completely differently. You are almost always relating to people whom you know rather than nameless officials. There’s an upside to that but there’s a downside to it too that you’ve probably not thought about. To put it bluntly, there’s no-where to hide.

Not only do I know my bishop but I also expect to know all the bishops of the church. I get to deal with them in the course of provincial business (we’ll come to that in a bit) and I would expect that if I had any cause to pick up the phone, I’d get through to any of them quickly and they would know who I am. (And I expected that when I worked in Bridge of Allan too, it isn’t simply because I work in a relatively high profile place).

When it comes to dioceses, don’t forget that there might be no-one in the diocesan office except the bishop, an administrator and maybe a Diocesan Secretary and or Treasurer who themselves may be very part time. Here in Glasgow the diocesan operation consists of a bishop, a canon missioner (currently on maternity leave), three part time people in the diocesan office doing administrative roles and the Diocesan Secretary and the Diocesan Treasurer who work part time and receive a small honorarium rather than a salary. There are no departments. There are hardly any experts. There’s no professionals. There’s just a few people holding things together who are supported by clergy and lay people from around the diocese volunteering to run various small programmes, some of which are almost invisible. It looks hand-knitted. It is hand-knitted.

The kind of clergy who tend to enjoy working in Scotland tend to be Jacks or Jills of all trades – generalists who can throw their hand to anything that their congregation throws at them whilst also join in running some Committee or Board either provincially or in the diocese.

See that word province – that’s how we talk about the Scottish Episcopal Church. It is a province of the Anglican Communion. Coming from England, you’ve probably never really thought of the Church of England as being a province of anything. (And here we’re talking about something quite different to the Provinces of York and Canterbury). You probably think a province is some kind of colonial outpost. Work in Scotland for 2 minutes and you’ll suddenly discover things about Anglicanism that you’ve never thought about in your life before. You’ve probably never realised that most Anglicans are non-conformists, people who worship in churches that are completely separate from the state and which receive no state funding. Here in Scotland you’ll find that you’re not in the most populous church nor even the second most populous church. The Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church are each about 10 times the size of the Scottish Episcopal Church. As an Anglican, you’re very much in a minority. As most Anglicans in the world are.

“Oh, you elect your bishops” you cry quaintly. Yes. That’s what Anglicans generally do. Never forget how odd the idea is that Anglican bishops are appointed rather than elected nor how curious the idea of them being appointed in the name of the head of state.

Don’t forget – the Queen is a Presbyterian.

Don’t forget – the Archbishop of Canterbury has no jurisdiction in this realm of Scotland.

Don’t forget – the Church of Scotland is not something you belong to and if you ever refer, even by accident, to the Scottish Episcopal Church as the Church of Scotland you might as well wear a large garish sign around your neck bearing the words “foreign ignoramus – do not take me seriously”.

When it comes to the Church of Scotland you may not understand the fury that the Columba Agreement unleashed until you’ve been here for some time but don’t underestimate it before coming to work in Scotland. Remember that many if not most priests in the Scottish Episcopal Church don’t really think that ministers of the Church of Scotland are or should be interchangable with priests ordained in our own church. Remember too that most Scottish Episcopalians going to a communion service in the Church of Scotland will happily join in and receive the bread and whatever it is in the cup and think loving thoughts about Jesus but may still feel that something was missing that didn’t make it feel quite the full bhuna. The statement in the Columba Agreement that Holy Communion is rightly administered in the Church of Scotland felt like a very foreign statement. The blunt reality is that lots of Episcopalians don’t feel that way about it.

But wait – before you get uppity on someone else’s behalf, don’t forget that we tend to feel the same way about worship in the Church of England. Take us down to Englandshire and we’ll try to be well behaved but inside we are still rolling our eyes at the Eucharistic prayer (if we can spot it) and on coming home we’ll readily say that there seemed to be something missing somehow.

That’s hard to understand. But look up epiclesis and realise that it isn’t just a word or an nice prayer – it is something that we think a reality.

There’s a lot of other politics to get your head around – both ecclesiastical politics and actual political politics. It is made more difficult because it isn’t all entirely settled and individuals may not entirely seem to be making sense.

Take me for example – I’m in favour of the United Kingdom because I care about the poor child in Carlisle as much as I care about the poor child in Carstairs. For that reason, notwithstanding the fact that I have no truck with the current UK government, I reject Scottish Independence. However, when it comes to religion, I’m the very opposite – hastily defending the independence of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Should the Archbishop of Canterbury put a toe over the border (something which does happen from time to time) you’ll find me suddenly taking on the role of William Wallace, picking up my two edged sword of destiny and whirling it around my Saltire be-painted head to defend the true religion from interlopers. Well, I do this using twitter, but you get the idea. Does this entirely make sense? No. Is it entirely real? Yes.

And it isn’t just me. You’ll find all kinds of things that don’t at first appear to make any sense should you move up to a charge here.

What’s that, you ask, a charge? What’s one of those?

Well, a charge is what we sometimes call a congregation or group of congregations. What else would you call a congregation without a parish?

Yes – learn this and learn it good before you even pick up a pencil to encircle a Scottish advert in the Church Times – there are no Anglican parishes in Scotland. Not one. Zilch. Nada.

Come to Scotland to work and you’ll not be working in a parish. No parish funerals. No parish weddings. No parish schools. Nothing like that at all.

You’ll be working for the people who appoint you and pay you – your congregation. Yes, that’s right, they actually pay you with money that comes from their giving. It isn’t the diocese who pays (though the diocese may appoint a paying officer to gather the money and run a payroll system). It isn’t the province. It isn’t the Queen. It isn’t the Church Commissioners. (Church who?) It is the actual people you will be preaching to on a Sunday who have to dig in their pockets and find your stipend. That’s a fundamentally different situation to that which you’ve experienced before if you’ve worked in English parishes. Make sure you understand what that will feel like. Think of it more like being a chaplain to people who happen to like worshipping this way. People are often rather derogatory when they refer to working in “chaplaincy mode” to keep a congregation going. They forget that chaplaincy models are mission models wherever they are found – just ask a chaplain.

With regards to worship, most but not all of our congregations are liberal catholic to one degree or another. Vestments are usually worn. The sacrament is usually reserved. The liturgy that we use is one that we are rather proud of.

Being a priest in Scotland is about gathering a congregation. It isn’t particularly about offering the ministrations of religion to everyone in your local territory. Someone has that responsibility and it isn’t you. And no matter how important you think ecumenism is, you’ll realise very quickly that you are not running the show.

Talking of ecumenism, ever wondered how it feels if you are not the top dog church? No, you haven’t. Of course you haven’t. You’ve never even thought of the question. But start wondering, particularly if you want to work well with others here.

I happen to love the Scottish Episcopal Church – love it more than is good for me some would say. I think that being a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church is one of the most rewarding things anyone can be called to do. I also think we’ve got stuff for sharing as we attempt to make Jesus known in the world. Stuff to be shared in Scotland and stuff to be shared beyond Scotland. This is a great part of the vineyard in which to work. However, it is only a good part  of the vineyard in which to work if you’ve really thought through how different it is from where you’re coming from.

Don’t assume you understand anything about moving into ministry if you are coming from England.

By the way, we’re as friendly as we’re feisty. We think the two things go together. Odd, isn’t it?

Now before I sign off, and you go to buy your kilt for your interview, what about the sex bits.

Firstly, if you’ve heard about the Scottish Episcopal Church’s recent decision about opening marriage to same-sex couples and think you can come up here because anything goes – please forget this and see a qualified therapist. The truth is, gay couples in the SEC are going to get the opportunity to be married because generally speaking their relationships look to those around them like a stable sacramental way of life that they already recognise. If you want a life of flighty gay fancy, you are probably looking in the wrong direction by looking north.

However, it is the case that I suspect that there will be people who look at the decision that we’ve made and the way that we’ve made it and think that they would quite like to be part of a church that behaves as we have done.  I don’t think that will be limited to gay folk either. The truth is, we’ve worked hard at that decision and gone about it in as grown up a way as any church I know. There’s plenty of room for clergy who want to live and work in a church like that and who think that there a chance that God is calling them to help congregations in Scotland to grow a bit.

If that’s you, we need you. Not only that, we’ll love you and we’ll welcome you.

It says so on the sign by the door.

 

PS – We don’t have flying bishops. I hadn’t thought of mentioning this because, well why would anyone ever come up with the idea of flying bishops and think it was a good idea? However a friend contacted me and suggested I make it crystal clear as those coming from the south might wonder.

All our bishops ordain men and women. We don’t have any resolutions suggesting that some priests are not really priests.

In a sane church you wouldn’t, would you?

PPS – for what it is worth, I think that it is a very difficult thing to move successfully into Episcopal ministry in another province of the Anglican Communion to the one you are working in. It might work but there are plenty of examples of people who just didn’t know what they were letting themselves in for. I’d say that I’ve seen more examples of people trying to do that who have ended up miserable than I would have liked to see. It shouldn’t be surprising that it isn’t an easy transition to make. However, I’ve known several who just didn’t bank on how different it all is. See above.

 

The Columba Declaration – where are we now?

I was present this morning at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for the Church of Scotland’s acceptance of the Columba Declaration – the agreement that has been made between the Church of Scotland and the Church of England which has cause a huge amount of concern to Scottish Episcopalians.

It was good to be in the Assembly Hall – there’s an atmosphere there that can’t be replicated online. I’ve enjoyed dropping into the business of the Church of Scotland for years, since the time I was doing a degree at New College which is adjacent to the hall itself. The singing of the Assembly is spine-tingling and this morning there was a brilliant homily from the Moderator of the Assembly on the bible reading of the day which was of the two men who went up to the temple to pray.

I enjoy the way the Church of Scotland does its business. Utter courtesy is the order of the day and there’s always the most powerful attempt to ensure that all voices are heard.

I’ve often commented that a good Church of Scotland moderator would enable one of our synods to get through its business in a couple of hours rather than a couple of days and more people would feel that their opinion had been part of the discussion.

When I was an ecumenical corresponding member of a Church of Scotland Presbytery I gradually got used to the cadences and the humour and gentle stamping of feet to indicate agreement. I also realised to my surprise that the things which presbyterian  friends have often thought odd about Episcopal worship – bowing, standing and sitting every verse-end, a daring splash of lace and a smattering of Latin within the context of an experience that is both highly serious and highly camp are all present in the way the Church of Scotland does business.

This morning was a hugely important symbolic occasion. The Archbishop of Canterbury was present and had been invited to contribute to the debate. This was also an opportunity to try to put some of the ill-feeling to rest that has been stirred up in Scotland by the Columba Declaration.

I have to say that having read my social media timelines since coming home, it is very obvious that this hasn’t been achieved. Whatever was said in public in the Assembly today, there is still a level of outrage being expressed by Scottish Episcopalians which has led both journalists and people from out of Scotland to express considerable surprise to me about it in the last 24 hours. How can it be, they ask, that things are going on in public church gatherings which have these extraordinary levels of grievance attached to them online? My only answer is that those with the power in the equation simply don’t care about the members of the Scottish Episcopal Church enough to have paused long enough to try to put things right.

Full marks to Justin Welby though for trying. He got up at the Assembly and apologised for the hurt that had been caused to Scottish Episcopalians by the manner in which this had all been handled. Indeed, he said that he took personal responsibility for that.

This was highly commendable and might have worked if we had not known since Christmas that it was the Church of Scotland’s media office which leaked the details to the press with the express permission of “someone high up” in the Church of Scotland’s Ecumenical Relations Committee. (I know this because I was personally told so by the person who did it within 24 hours of it happening).

That’s been known for months and talked about for months, tweeted about for months and discussed for months. We know that the way in which this was handled wasn’t Justin Welby’s responsibility. Bless him for trying to pour Archepiscopal oil on troubled Episcopal waters, but Justin Welby was trying to take responsibility for things that he is known to have had nothing whatsoever to do with.

Here I think it is important to distinguish what has caused the trouble for Scottish Episcopalians. There are two issues. The first is the leaking of the report just before Christmas – this was unfortunate and made a bad situation much worse but it was a mistake and we can all move on from that. Indeed, I don’t think Scottish Episcopalians are that bothered by that now. The apology for that mess should have come from the Church of Scotland today though it was clear that the Church of Scotland was in triumphalist mode and there was little chance of any kind of apology from that quarter. But at the end of a rather long day, I think all we can do is shrug and acknowledge that it shouldn’t have happened that way. People make mistakes and I don’t think there’s any point dwelling on this any more.

The second issue is the fact of the agreement itself. This is much more problematic and this is the trouble that just won’t go away. The Scottish Episcopalians I know and whom I see posting at length online about this simply do not believe it is appropriate for the Church of England to be interfering in another Province. And that is, to so very many of us, exactly what this is.

For that, the Archbishop of Canterbury didn’t apologise. And that’s the nub of the problem. Who cares about how it was announced? The fact that it was announced at all is what everyone I know seems to care about.

It is important to acknowledge that there are very real differences in the way that the Archbishop of Canterbury is seen here in Scotland from that in other parts of the Anglican Communion.

This was a very public event with a public gallery but I only saw three Episcopalians whom I recognised there today. There were far more empty seats than Anglicans present.

Having got to know, for example, the Episcopal Church in the USA, my sense is that there they love and adore the idea of the Archbishop of Canterbury and indeed they pray for him at services. This means that when he is seen to misbehave towards America there is not so much anger as bewilderment that the one whom they have loved (and the England that he represents) has not returned the favour (or even favor). The pain of the US church is the pain of unrequited love.

Here in Scotland we are innately suspicious of the idea of the Archbishop of Canterbury (and very rarely pray for him in services) and when he behaves badly it confirms all our expectations. This tends to brew up into our righteous anger which gets very readily trumpeted abroad. We don’t do Archbishops generally. We don’t have one of our own and woe betide any Primus that doesn’t understand that from the get go.

I suspect the US position is a lot more painful in reality. Our pain here in Scotland is more easily expressed and has a historical context and many historical and contemporary myths about England and Scotland from which we can draw, in expressing our indignation. That indignation has once again been pouring out, even as there have been attempts to move on today at the General Assembly.

What I saw today was an attempt to try to make things right. It was largely unsuccessful. It was difficult not to listen and hear under the surface of so much that was said a desperation from presbyterian brothers and sisters to be recognised as a “real church”. One spoke with some pathos about the fact that Anglicans had simply not been able to recognise a Church of Scotland communion service as being the equivalent of a Eucharist celebrated by an Episcopally ordained priest. This one won’t go away with the Columba Declaration either – most Episcopalians I know would take that view whilst being perfectly happy to share in the  bread and wine if invited to within the context of the Church of Scotland.

That hurts for our Presbyterian brothers and sisters and that hurt is just as real and has to be taken just as seriously as any hurt that Episcopalians have been feeling for the last six months.

The Columba Declaration states that in both the Church of Scotland and the Church of England “Holy Communion is rightly administered”. I think Scottish Episcopalians are puzzled by that statement and don’t really know what it means. For what it is worth, Scottish Episcopalians are sometimes more bewildered by what passes for Eucharistic services in some parts of the Church of England as anything happening in the Church of Scotland but perhaps that is for another day. However, the fact remains that we care very much how Holy Communion is administered and this part of the Declaration makes us raise our ecumenical eyebrows.

In the course of today’s events at the General Assembly, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church were both sitting in the gallery for honoured guests at the beginning of proceedings. The Archbishop was then invited onto the Assembly floor where he had a voice and quite literally a place at the table. The Primus was left in the gallery and in course of the debate, people around him disappeared. It was as though whoever was in charge of the choreography had tried to recreate the slight to the Scottish Episcopal Church symbolically for all to see. The players enacted their parts. The Scottish Episcopal Church was isolated and patronised with invitations to join in by sending someone to join the ongoing conversations. The Church of England was invited to the feast.

The Columba Declaration is a major piece of ecumenical work that has been brought about at the cost of more ecumenical goodwill than I ever really thought Scotland had to lose. Looking at my social media timelines over the last 24 hours, it is very obvious that it will poison the wells of ecumenical relations for many years to come. Something has been broken and I struggle to see how it can be repaired.

And the outcome?

They set up a committee.