The Scottish Episcopal Church and the upcoming Primates’ Meeting

There’s been a little flurry of articles in the press this week about the Scottish Episcopal Church.




And so on.

The only awkward thing about all these articles is that the Primates’ Meeting hasn’t happened yet. No-one has condemned anything and no-one really knows what is going to happen.

This press interest seems to have started in London in the middle of the week when someone gave a briefing to the likes of the BBC, the Telegraph and the Guardian. All three had identical stories which didn’t reference anyone in Scotland at all. It isn’t rocket science to come to the conclusion that someone in either Lambeth Palace or the Anglican Communion Office was briefing journalists against the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Now, the thing about this is, as our American Episcopalian friends would no-doubt testify strongly, that there are some things which put the Anglican Communion at serious risk. Off the record media briefings against churches in the Communion put the Communion at far, far more risk than any number of weddings of same-sex couples.

After all, Justin Welby’s own authority is undermined – seriously undermined, if people coming together can’t have any sense of confidence in those who work in Lambeth Palace and the Anglican Communion Office. Trust has been undermined this week and the Archbishop has the capacity either to regain it or undermine it further.

Once that is done, the serious business of listening to one another should begin.

For that is the point of the Primates’ Meeting – listening, not disciplining. When people talk about the Primates issuing sanctions, they have forgotten that the meeting is not a disciplinary body but is there to allow the Primates to listen to one another. The Primates have scarcely any power to discipline in any case. What can they do? There is no Canon Law that holds the communion together. Nor is there any legal mechanism that the Primates could take to chuck any of the churches out of the Communion. The Anglican Consultative Council is the only one of the fragile so-called Instruments of Communion which has a constitution and the constitution is there to hold people together not to break them apart. (And it is also regulated by English charity law and no-one wants the ACC to lose its charitable status because the Primates make an unlawful bid for power over an English charity that they are not the trustees of).

The truth is, no-one knows at this stage what the Primates will say or do. At least 16 of them are new faces who have never been there before.

One of them is the Most Rev Mark Strange, our own Primus. Mark will be able to speak directly about what has happened in Scotland. (He’s taking time to pray this week to prepare for the meeting and the Scottish Episcopal Church is praying with him).

The truth is, what has happened in Scotland is a model for how the Anglican Communion can move forward and move beyond the constant squabbles about human sexuality. Here in Scotland we’ve made conscience the thing that we argued about rather than what people get up to in bed. We’ve recognised that Episcopalians take different views about same-sex relationships and we have honoured all of them. We’ve said that conscience has to be respected.

Now the conscience thing is important to understand – for we have not simply made provision for the consciences of those who object to same-sex relationships being respected. We’ve also said that conscience clauses apply equally to those who do, sincerely and truthfully believe that God wishes to bless those same-sex couples who wish to be married in church. Those of us who believe in offering marriage to all couples have consciences too.

We’ve tried to make it so that individual consciences are respected. It was the only possible way we could hang together. Ultimately, that is the only way that the Communion can hang together too.

We have something to witness to that is good and godly and I’ve no doubt that Bishop Mark will be looking forward to sharing the good things that have happened in Scotland as we have discussed, wrestled, voted and prayed this through. Remember this – the Scottish Episcopal Church decided to stay together over same-sex nuptials and the Communion could decide to do exactly the same.

For myself, as someone who has been part of this argument for longer than I can remember, I would want to say to those interested enough to listen to what has been going on in Scotland, “taste and see that the Lord is good”.

What we are talking about are the best days of people’s lives. What we are talking about are wedding ceremonies that are full of love and grace and compassion and joy. What we are talking about is the sheer joy of welcoming diversity and setting our General Synod free from these squabbles to concentrate on the core task for our church of preaching the love of God to Scotland.

For the love of God is what we are about. The gospel is preached here. God’s grace is known here. And God’s love is shared here. And all this as much during same-sex weddings as any other time. We’ve seen it. We witness to it.

And nothing can separate us from the love of God. After all, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And as it happens, I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor sanctions, nor off the record media briefings, nor primates, nor consequences, nor GAFCON, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


  1. Well said!

  2. We can hope that new primates will change the ethos of the Primates’ Meeting. I’m making no bets on it.

  3. Phil Groves says

    100% agreement.

  4. Beautifully balanced – and witty, too! Well said!

  5. Meg Rosenfeld says

    It’s happening here in the USA and unless you believe that our current president represents God’s punishment (personally, I think God wouldn’t be so tacky) we haven’t blown up yet. As you say, it’s about goodness and love–how radical can we get?

  6. Wayne Kamm says

    Thank you for an excellent statement!

  7. Well said. Most of the Primates have only limited authority even within their own provinces, and absolutely no authority outside them. Trying to turn international Anglican conferences and meetings into disciplinary bodies is the stuff of fiction. All of that sort of pre-meeting hoopla makes the real work of the meeting, in terms of open dialogue and interaction, much more difficult.

  8. Drew_Mac says

    Well said! There’s been lots of blogging recently about the sensitive consciences of those who inexplicably claim they will be ‘forced’ to marry same-sex couples. At the same time I’m being forced to send loving committed and legally married same-sex couples away without even a formal blessing. Respect for conscience should cut both ways.

  9. Andrew Bowdler says

    Kelvin, listening can – and often does – result in disciplining. To try to separate them, as you have in your original piece, is therefore to miss the point. With the enormous divide that exists on this particular issue, one or other side is ultimately going to have to be ‘disciplined’ – and, no, discipline doesn’t have to be harsh or violent. It can equally be gently persuasive.

    • Isn’t the lesson from both TEC and the SEC is that no-one need be disciplined for following their personal conscience; the issue only arises when one side seeks to force the other to act against their conscience and only one side is doing that.

    • Cynthia Katsarelis says

      There’s no “gently persuasive” way to say that my spouse and I aren’t loved by God and our sacramental marriage deeply infused with God’s grace.

      Discipline should be to those who have supported criminalization of LGBT people.

    • Richard Ashby says

      Why should ‘listening’ result in disciplining? It should lead to understanding of an opposite point of view and respect for another’s conscience. Neither the primates nor Lambeth nor the Communion has any power to ‘discipline’ anyone and neither should it. We aren’t Roman Catholics and we don’t have a
      Pope. The Scottish Episcopal Church allow the exercise of conscience on both sides. The problem is that too many Christians want to impose their rules over against another persons conscience. That’s just not right.

      And what’s the point anyway? The ‘consequences’ haven’t changed the mind of the America Anglicans, the prospect didn’t stop the Scottish Church, it’s not going to stop Canada or South Africa.

      • Andrew Bowdler says

        No society or organisation can allow diametrically opposing opinions on the same issue to be held with the same validity, Richard. They can, and often will allow for debate and ‘listening’ but in the long run, one opinion of the other has to be accepted over and against the other. Those who continue to hold the unsuccessful opinion will then have to accept the other, or face ‘discipline’ in one of a number of forms. When said society allows meaningless phrases such as ‘hate crime’ to brandied about with no legal or linguistic definition to support them, that society opens itself to a form of anarchy.

        • Richard Ashby says

          But I thought that that the CofE has ‘two integrities’ on women as priests and bishops. What about ‘mutual flourishing’. In your view this is obviously impossible in long term (actually I happen to agree with you on that.) but what’s sauce for the goose etc

          We are supposed to be living side by side with these tensions. The Scottish Church has said that no one is to be forced to marry or not marry same sex couples. I know some people think that is impossible, I’ve been told so by members of ‘Christian concern’ etc. But we cannot allow these people to dictate to us what we hold by our consciences also to be true.

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