Marriage Equality for Anglicans in Brazil

I have just issued the following statement:

“I am delighted to hear that the Anglican Church in Brazil has just changed its marriage canon to allow same-sex couples to get married. As we have rejoiced in St Mary’s Cathedral Glasgow in recent months with couples who have waited years to be married in church, so we rejoice with couples doing the same thing in Brazil.

“All God’s children are equally beloved. We rejoice as greater equality comes to another part of the Anglican Communion”

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.