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.


  1. Rosemary Hannah says

    I am currently more furious, and more shamed to be a member of the SEC than I can ever remember being. I have never, ever, been closer to leaving a church that I have loved and tried hard to serve for thirty years.

    I understand and accept that I am expected to respect the views of those whom I disagree, and I have as a matter of fact always tried to do so.

    But what has happened here is that the views of those who disagree with me have been imposed on me, and on those whom I love and respect, with absolutely no recognition that we even hold those views.

    I am socially embarrassed by what has occurred and it is currently impossible for me to speak about church matters or matters Christian to any of my peers. Mission? Forget it. My head will be down now for many a day.

    If any peace and unity is to be restored, the bishops who all put their names to this vile document (a slur on the relationships of some of those I hold most dear) need to remember that in our times leadership must be earned and no respect is given unless it is earned.

    I hear what you say Kelvin, but before there can be forgiveness, there must be repentance.

    • Thanks Rosemary – I know it is difficult for many this week. In many ways, your post above illustrates my point that our peace has been disrupted and needs to be restored.

      I think it is worth saying that I also see people coming together to struggle for a better way more clearly than I might have expected.

  2. Father David says

    From what you have written, Kelvin, it would seem that the recent Statement by the bishops has been the cause of conflict, disunity and disorder North of the Border. South of the Border the concept of the bishop being the icon or the focus for unity is wearing very thin. I once heard another illustration of episcopacy – that the bishops were the knots in the fishing net holding the whole Church together. That being so, it seems to me that the fishing net is in much need of repair.

  3. This is incredibly moderate. I respect what you say here immensely. I don’t think I even begin to feel anything but what Rosemary says. Perhaps it is time to write something myself to try to clarify *for* myself.

  4. David- my early morning (on the Pacific coast of the US) read of your comment about bishops — was that they saw the knots in the net as a problem rather than what holds the net together (not that they are the knots!)

    re: vows — why I have never been interested in re-newing our wedding vows.

    re: the shame — the US church is only barely emerging from its shame for the same sort of foot dragging you are experiencing — I am sorry that your bishops heaped more burdens on everyone. Just what Jesus was talking about when he told people to come to him for his burden is light– the religious leaders were heaping heavy burdens on the people. It is not his way and when I have to tell myself every day that the church is not God – only a vehicle – and it is the one I am in (with its bad alignment and needing a oil change) and where I work – but it is God I follow.

    A tiny bit of cheer – last week a young gay couple, married by a priest in the church, were there with their new baby – passing her back and forth between the besotted dads – while every else had that “ahhh gee – sooo cute look”

    • Daniel Berry, NYC says

      I knows what I’m about to say here is only obliquely on-topic, and for that I apologize if it annoys anyone, especially the good Provost.

      I’ve just visited your church’s website and looked at a lot of the photos and enjoyed the hell out of ’em. It struck me that the work your parish is devoted to is the Ministry of Reconciliation –which, of course, is how Paul describes the vocation of the church.

      I’ve never been particularly attracted to the Pacific Northwest – until I read your posting here, which, happily, led me to your webpage.

      Amazing the variety of forms evangelism comes in.

      Thanks for bringing me aboard with your parish’s fan-base.

      DBerry NYC

  5. Cynthia says

    What Ann says, only from Colorado, USA.

    In January, my partner of 23 years and I are getting married in the church. The parish is so excited, they can’t wait to host the reception and it looks like we’re going to have an army of 60-75 year old bridesmaids and best men, um, I mean presenters.

    It’s been a long haul, and we did have some schism. But my church at long last decided not to continue laying the burden of injustice on others for the comfort of a few. Some of the schismatics are coming back, hate isn’t a good foundation for a church.

    So sorry that our sisters and brothers in Scotland and England have to continue to carry this burden, or decide it’s time to shed it for progressive churches that take more seriously what it is for all people to be created in the Image of God.

  6. Lawrence Rosenfeld says

    Thank you, Kelvin for this amazing peek into these differences between the SEC and the CofE, but even more for your exposition about what “peace, unity and order” might look like.

    Here on the West side of the “pond,” “peace, unity and order” have given way to a sort of chaos in which breakaway parishes are suing and being sued by dioceses that claim ownership of the real property the arch-conservatives (having “taken over” the parishes) are occupying. I am also desperately saddened to think that the lack of “peace, unity and order” spreads across the entire Anglican Communion, but your words have permitted me to see the part my own (allegedly “liberal”) attitude is playing. Mea Maxima Culpa.

    @Rosemary – is it possible that Matthew 18:21 – 22 has a different slant on forgiveness?

  7. Peace, unity and order in the church is surely what God wants. We need to remember in this discussion that Kelvin is talking about leadership in the church promoting peace, unity and order. For those people in the church not in a position of leadership, for those people who are women, who are gay, who have difficulty in conforming, the question of peace, unity and order is of a different ‘order’ to leadership. Being created in the image of God is not a fixed state or condition, and so leadership of the church needs to be aware of this. Dialogue between people who are in disagreement within the church needs to take place. When a chance of dialogue is offered, and rejected, then it is difficult to see how unity can be achieved.

  8. Steven says

    Can I ask a silly question? Has any one of the current Bishops ever publicly stated their own views on equal marriage etc…? If so, what were they? If not, why not? Can those with privately supportive views not be required to go “on the record”? Are they not morally obliged to do so? How can one have a debate if those leading the way do not state plainly their own position, whether for or against, or even undecided?

    I ask because I am aware – from my own experience in Ireland – that (very) senior Anglican clergy held views sympathetic towards change in the area of sexuality, yet publicly were unwilling to say so. In my opinion this is a position of the most despicable, rank hypocrisy. At least those who are vocal in their opposition cannot be accused of this. Private support is no support.

    What is their defence to this? Unity? Caution? Patience? Fine – one can seek to endorse all three and still hold a plainly stated public view.

    • I think you’ll have noticed me saying recently that I’ve a good deal more respect for those who disagree with me on this issue than those who claim (privately) to agree with me.

      The current bishops, unlike some of the predecessors are not in the habit of stating their own views on equal marriage. The church is the poorer for their silence.

      • Steven says

        Your reply suggests that a number of Bishops are privately supportive? I assume you have challenged them as to why they don’t state their support publicly? What is their response to this challenge? I simply can’t imagine a coherent position from which one could maintain silence. I am sure that I don’t fully appreciate their role and their desire to maintain unity, but I still can’t understand why this should be so. I am also sure that it is a terrible insult to LGBT people within the SEC and beyond.

        “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

        Edmund Burke

  9. Ross Kennedy says

    Kelvin you write:
    ‘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.’

    Well there is little hope of peace and unity in our church when such derogatory terms as ‘misogynist’ (woman hater), ‘homophobe’ and ‘arch conservative’ appear in this blog in reference to those who dare to take a more traditional stance on ethical matters. Such intemperate language does not make for peace. Can we not agree to disagree while respecting each other’s opinion without resorting to name calling.
    So who is doing the disrupting?

    • Ross – those are serious accusations.

      I used the word misogynist to describe the “headship” argument. I would stand by that description. It is worth pointing out that conservative opinion is far from united around the idea of men being given authority by God to have headship over women. I’m not aware of applying that to any individual. Can you point me towards that?

      I can’t find any use of the word homophobe in my blog either. Can you point towards any time I’ve called anyone a homophobe.

      I’m also struggling to find the use of “arch conservative”. I may have used that phrase but I don’t remember doing so – can you point me towards it?

    • I find myself worried by the phrase “a more traditional stance on ethical matters”, the historical implications for which are unpleasant to say the least. I wonder if we’re talking “traditional” as in the attitude to same-sex activity that pertained when I was young, or maybe even more traditional with regard to women who dared to be wise or outspoken?

    • This is probably a good moment for us all to watch this speech again and reflect on who is best qualified to determine whether something is homophobic too.

  10. Augur Pearce says

    At times like this I (as a non-episcopalian) am inclined to quote Richard Hooker: ‘Lest bishops forget themselves, as if none on earth had authority to touch their states, let them continually bear in mind that it is rather the force of custome … doth still uphold … them in that respect, than that any such true & heavenly law can be showed… . Let this consideration be a bridle unto them; let it teach them … to use their authority with so much the greater humility and moderation, as a sword which the church hath power to take from them.’

  11. Ross Kennedy says

    I should, of course, have written ‘on this site’ rather than ‘appear in this blog’ because such derogatory terms have been used in the main by some of the correspondents.

    However, as to your use of the term ‘misogynist’, while certainly not applying it to any individual you seemed to be suggesting that all who held such views on headship were misogynist – a word which my dictionary defines as a hater of women. I happen to know a number of clergy who take this view and while agreeing that they are seriously mistaken , in no way can they be described as women haters – a serious and unfair accusation.

    Your also referred in your comments on the Bishops’ New Statement to ‘homophobic bullying’ which I also find objectionable. Today, of course if one dares, even with good reason, to remonstrate with anyone it is very likely that an accusation of bullying will be made and if they happen be gay then it is just as likely to be accused of being homophobic.

    Finally the term ‘arch conservative’ was used by someone who contributed a comment. I apologise for giving the impression that it was a term used by you.

    The point I was trying to make is that the use of such intemperate language cannot be conducive to reasoned discussion or argument. It reduces the whole thing to name calling.

    • Cynthia says

      “It reduces the whole thing to name calling.”

      What is church leadership calling ME when they treat me as lesser in the eyes of God and the church? What is the result of hateful and hurtful language? Depression, LGBT teen suicide, homeless LGBT teens who are cast out by their religious families, sexual abuse of these homeless LGBT teens, hate crimes, human rights abuses…

      The truth of the suffering caused at the hands of the church needs to be told. It isn’t a pretty story, nor is it a polite one.

  12. Ross, I’ve done an electronic search and I can’t find many instances of the term arch conservative on this blog. I happen not to think it too terrible, not least because I can imagine people using the term arch liberal to describe me. Although that would be inaccurate, I’m not sure that I’d be that offended to be honest.

    But that’s not the point. I can find only one instance of someone commenting on this blog using that phrase. That’s one comment in 10500 comments. It doesn’t seem to me to be a phrase particularly commonly used on this blog.

    The terms homophobe and misogynist have sometimes been used, but I’m struggling to find any instances of them being used to describe any individual. Again, I’m not of the view that they’ve been particularly commonly used in those 10500 comments. There simply aren’t that many instances of the words being used on this blog at all.

    Generally speaking, I think it is OK to debate ideas – it seems to me to be reasonable to be able to describe homophobic ideas or actions. Generally it is not helpful to call people homophobes. There is a difference that I know and tend to be quite careful around.

    I stand by my description of last week’s guidelines as homophobic bullying. Indeed, I can’t think of a better example of such behaviour. However, I’m not in the business of calling people homophobes and the accusation that I am and even that I do so habitually, seems to me to be far from secure.

  13. Ross Kennedy says


    I accept your comment about my comment about the use of the word ‘archconservative!! Apologies for overstating the case.

    Having re-read the Bishops’ statement I cannot for the life of me understand how you can suggest that any part of the document can be suggestive of homophobic bullying. Its obvious intent is to clearly state what the current situation is which is important given that there could be legal implications for any clergy who decides to act outwith the confines of the stated law of the land (i.e the Act permitting same sex marriage.)
    I’m not really sure what you expected the Bishops to do.

    I appreciate how emotive and divisive this whole issue is. Inevitably the peace and unity of our church is going to be (and is) seriously disturbed to the detriment of its mission.

    • No-one can be surprised at the bishops letting people know they should not do anything illegal.

      However the surprise has come from clergy being told that they themselves should not marry. If the bishops knew they were going to say this previously then they should have said so before the General Synod and particularly before the Cascade Process began. Both the debate at General Synod and the Cascade would have been different if this had been known.

      It particularly targets anyone who is in training to become a priest or lay reader who may have been accepted for that training whilst being open and honest about being in a civil partnership. To publish this with just one week to go before the law changed was, to say the least, unhelpful.

      People make plans. Most things to do with marriage are planned more than a week in advance.

  14. Ross Kennedy says

    My final comment -you’ll be pleased to know!

    But surely any ordinand who is in the situation you describe will be fully aware of the doctrine of the SEC regarding Christian marriage as expressed by Canon 31. At their ordination/licensing they can hardly promise to render due obedience to the Code of Canons if they plan not to abide by them.

    When I was ordained in the Church of England candidates for ordination were barred if they were divorced and had remarried. Through time the situation was changed. I would not be surprised if, in a few years time, the SEC changes its stance on same-sex marriage – I wouldn’t be surprised but I would not be happy. As I have commented before, as an Anglican my faith is based on Scripture, Reason and Tradition, all three of which bear witness to the truth that Christian Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

    • If someone in a same-sex marriage cannot subscribe to the Code of Canons because their manner of life puts them outside of the definition of marriage in Canon 31, then I can’t see any way that someone who is divorced can subscribe to the canons for the same reason.

      I personally think that someone’s subscription to the canons represents them accepting that this is the doctrine of the church. It is on that basis that I can subscribe to the Canons. Clearly I don’t believe the definition in Canon 31 to be adequate and have said so many times and very publicly.

    • Lawrence Rosenfeld says

      Ross, Parts of various articles in Ian Bunting’s collection, Celebrating the Anglican Way, can be paraphrased thus:

      “Anglicans understand the Old and New Testaments as “containing all things necessary for salvation” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith. ‘Reason’ and ‘Tradition’ are seen as valuable means to interpret Scripture (a position first formulated in detail by Richard Hooker), but there is no full mutual agreement among Anglicans exactly how Scripture, Reason and Tradition interact (or ought to interact) with each other.”

      To the best of my understanding, it is Tradition alone (and not a terribly old one, when compared with the Hebrew Bible as “Scripture”), that declares “that Christian Marriage can only be between a man and a woman,” given that for a great deal of the past millennium there may, indeed have been one man and one woman, but the rest of what was called “marriage” bore no resemblance to what we in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries recognize. I refer to women as chattel, marriage for political purposes, etc.

      I’m sorry that you are not happy, but I’m sorrier that you are subtly suggesting that, since I affirm that my Reason and reading of Scripture trump “Tradition,” that I am somehow less of an Anglican than you.

  15. Rosemary Hannah says

    Surely the Canons are not articles of faith. They are laws to be abided by, not a creed to be believed. There is a huge difference between the two.

    • My understanding is that it is something of an anomaly to have a doctrinal statement in a canon. The canons should indeed be regarded as the law of the church and not a doctrinal statement.

  16. Ross Kennedy says

    Apologies for making another comment after I stated that I had made my final one on this issue.

    I agree that canons are not doctrinal statements or articles of faith but they must and do reflect the belief of the church. As the Bishops’ Statement puts it ‘The doctrine of marriage of the SEC, as currently expressed in Canon 31 of the Code of Canons, is that marriage is “a physical, spiritual ad mystical union of one man and one woman.”

    I would, therefore, have to disagree with Rosemary’s claim that there is a ‘huge difference between the two.’ They are obviously very closely linked to each other and with the practice and life of the church

    • The important point to remember is that the statement regarding marriage in Canon 31 is “The Doctrine of this Church is that Marriage is a physical, spiritual and mystical union of one man and one woman created by their mutual consent of heart, mind and will thereto, and is a holy and lifelong estate instituted of God.”

      If it isn’t possible for those who advocate same-sex couples being able to enter marriage to edit that definition to suit their own ends then it can’t be possible for anyone else to do so either.

      If it isn’t possible for someone to subscribe to the canons because they happen to be in a marriage with someone of the same gender then it can’t be possible for someone to subscribe to the canons who is in a second or third marriage either.

      The way our church has dealt with divorce (which is also controversial for some people) has been to allow people to minister who are in relationships which fall outside the definition of marriage in Canon 31.1

    • Lawrence Rosenfeld says

      “Huge” or not “huge”? Rather than debating the size of a subjective term, perhaps we can try to find a more objective method for determining the relationship between the two.

      It seems to me – and I welcome debate on this point – that the Canons ought to flow from our faith (“reflect the belief of the church”). Assuming that is the case, then after we deal with the question of “what IS the belief of a church that encourages reason over dogma?”, we get to wrestle with the potentially circular nature of putting statements of belief into a governance document.

  17. Ross Kennedy says

    Not so. Canon 31.4 allows for a Diocesan Bishop to permit the marriage of person/s whose previous marriage has been dissolved and where one of the previous partners of that marriage is still living.

    • Yes, Ross. The Canon allows for a bishop to permit a marriage after divorce.

      However, that says nothing at all about subscription to the canons or anything about whether such a person should be fit for ordination.

      If it isn’t possible for someone to subscribe to the canons if they happen to be marrying a person of the same gender due to Canon 31.1 then I can’t see how a person can subscribe to the canons if they are in a second marriage which also falls outside the boundaries of Canon 31.1 regardless of whether such a thing was permitted in church.

      I think that a second marriage should not be an impediment to ordination. However, the Bishops’ recent guidelines have implications beyond those who happen to be gay and lesbian.

      These are all inconsistencies that come from a time when the Canon was revised to suit some circumstances (divorce) but before other circumstances (marriage of same-sex couples) were even thought about. We shouldn’t expect such Canons to answer questions they were never designed to ask.

      Notwithstanding that, one of the reasons that it was presumed by many that being in a same-sex marriage (which does indeed fall outside the doctrinal definition of marriage in the canon) would not be a bar to ordination is precisely because being in a second marriage (contrary to the doctrinal definition of marriage) isn’t. One can’t have it both ways.

  18. It seems to me that a bishop can either be a ‘focus for unity’ (a seriously dubious phrase in my opinion) or show real leadership—I don’t see how it is possible for one person to do both.

    I can’t see much evidence of either from the SEC bishops at the moment.

Speak Your Mind