Response from the College of Bishops to letter of concern from over 50 clergy and lay readers

The following Response from the College of Bishops was written by the Primus, the Most Rev David Chillingworth in response to a letter from more than 50 clergy and lay leaders who wrote expressing concern about their recent Guidelines relating to the changes in marriage law in Scotland. Bloggers may wish to repost this and comment on it on their own blogs.

22 December 2014

I am responding to your letter which has been passed to me by our Secretary General. My response has been agreed with the other members of the College of Bishops. I would be grateful if you would circulate this response to the other signatories of your letter.

The situation in which we and other churches find ourselves is one of considerable challenge and we are grateful to you for your recognition of that and your support for us in our ministry. It is not within the experience of any of us that we find our church out of step with the provisions of Civil Law with respect to marriage. We are aware that a substantial section of our church would wish to bring the practice of our church into line with the Civil Law as soon as possible. Others, of course, wish to continue to uphold a more traditional position.

As bishops, we are acutely aware that the issues which are part of the wider discussion of human sexuality and are touched on in the Guidance issued by the College are not abstract matters of policy. They affect deeply the lives and relationships of members of our church, both clergy and laity. It is regrettable, therefore, that some have been upset by the style and tone of our Guidance
document; this was not our intention. We are aware that what we say should be expressed in a way which is compassionate and which honours the depth of the feelings involved.

The Guidance offered by the College of Bishops was not intended to pre-empt any future discussion or synodical decision. It was issued at this point because of the need to bring clarity as the new Marriage Act becomes effective in Scotland. This is where we are at the moment. Our document is not seeking to defend the status quo but rather to preserve a space in which both the Cascade and Synodical processes might be allowed to work themselves through to a point where we can discern the mind of the church on this matter. We feel that for a diversity of practice to arise before we have done this will neither contribute to the unity of our church nor ultimately will it assist us as we try to move forward together.

I know that many who signed your letter are committed to the Cascade process. It is a process which, in a number of forms, has been followed by many churches. It seeks to provide an opportunity for honest conversation across difference and to foster a sense of belonging to one another in Christ. Whilst it did not achieve universal acceptance, we were greatly encouraged by the Pitlochry Conference and by expressions of the process at other levels. The purpose of the Cascade process has not been primarily to seek a resolution of these issues – rather it offers a way in which we can respond to our diversity and thereby create an environment in which resolution may be possible.

Ultimately, this resolution must come through General Synod. The process for doing so in 2015 will be the subject of debate by the Faith and Order Board at its meeting in March. This may lead to a full debate at General Synod in 2015 on the Theology of Marriage in response to a paper to be prepared by our Doctrine Committee. We also expect a debate which gives General Synod members the opportunity of expressing a considered view on a number of options for canonical and other changes. The College trusts that our Cascade Conversations will mean that votes on the floor of General Synod – when they come – will give expression to a deeper unity and catholicity which our church has sought in honest conversation, mutual respect for diversity and prayer.

The question of the authority of the Canons is of particular difficulty. It affects clergy and all who hold a licence for ministry in our church. Whether or not a priest or a deacon can promise obedience to the Canons is ultimately a matter of personal and ministerial integrity. But, because we are an episcopal church, it also involves the bishop before whom such declarations are made.

There are of course wider issues involved here – about the nature of the Scottish Episcopal Church and its place in Scotland today. Many people in and beyond our church would recognize that we have, over the years, bravely represented and advocated gospel-inspired positions on social, moral and justice issues. We honour that history and our tradition of openness and compassion. The challenge we now face is to be open and courageous about engaging with our own theological diversity – honourably resolving difficult questions in a way that strengthens and deepens our oneness in Christ. I believe that we are not only capable of doing this for ourselves but of offering it as an example to others.

Thank you again for your letter. I know that it arises from the deeply held feelings of many people within our church and I hope that this response helps to answer some of their concerns.
With kind regards,
+David
The Most Rev’d David Chillingworth

Christine McIntosh on the current “crisis”

Christine McIntosh has a new post on her blog: Crisis? What Crisis?

When I posted the letter here the other day, I said I was proud of the signatories. I’m still proud. And I’m proud to belong to a church that numbers such people among its leaders. I’m thrilled that suddenly we’re talking about the elephant in the room, and that conversations – real conversations, not this ridiculously neutered Cascade malarkey – are beginning to happen in real life, in churches, in sitting rooms, and not just on social media. We’re showing that our faith can actually inform our decisions, guide our words, make us brave. We’re showing that we can think for ourselves, as mature Christians who recognise that a great historical mistake is in danger of being perpetuated.

What I’m looking for now is some brave leadership from the top, from the Bishops who are supposed to provide a focus for this thoughtful and courageous process.

Read the whole thing here: http://blethers.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/crisis-what-crisis.html

Crisis? What crisis?

The Dean of Argyll and The Isles, the Very Rev Andrew Swift has an interesting historical reflection on the current situation in the Scottish Episcopal Church – Identity & Authority

Well worth reading in full – includes this:

To me, it feels as if the SEC is doing what it does best: engaging with issues of the day, not accepting a stance that feels imbalanced or theologically skewed, and not blindly accepting a model of authority that does not feel Scottish Episcopalian.

Herald Newspaper: Unprecedented Insurrection over Gay Marriage Ban

The Herald newspaper has a new report on the situation relating to the Bishops’ December 2014 statement: Traditional Weddings Threat as Church Faces Unprecidented Insurrection Over Gay Marriage Ban

The report begins:

CHURCH leaders are facing an unprecedented insurrection amongst their own ministry over their gay marriage ban, with signals some clergy will not carry out any weddings until the matter is resolved.

In what has been described as the biggest crisis to engulf it in living memory, over 50 Scottish Episcopalian Church (SEC) clergy – around one in six – have signed a letter condemning the stance of their bishops over same-sex marriage.

Amongst the signatories are some of the SEC’s most prominent figures, including current and former deans of three dioceses, essentially bishops’ deputies and the equivalent of an archdeacon in the Church of England, and two provosts, the senior priests in Episcopalian cathedrals.

While unhappy over the general stance of the SEC on gay marriage, the ire is focused primarily on the ban on the clergy and trainees turning their civil partnerships into marriage.

The letter also contains a veiled warning some members of the SEC clergy could refuse to conduct any weddings while the row rumbles on.

It also includes a couple of quotes from outside the Scottish Episcopal Church.

From Ali Chesworth in Ipswich:

I was saddened and dismayed to read this guidance from a province which has in the past taught so much about an inclusivity unparalleled by the other Anglicans in the UK.

and from Fr Ron Smith in New Zealand:

A very brave, but also much-needed moral stance. Let’s hope your voices are heard by the bishops of SEC.

The story also reports comments from a senior source in the Scottish Episcopal Church:

One senior source said: “This is an unprecedented crisis in the Scottish Episcopalian Church. There is an urgent need for change of tone from the bishops and a new and accelerated timetable for resolving this matter.”

Dear Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church

The following letter has been signed by over 50 clergy and lay readers and sent to the members of the College of Bishops

Dear Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church,

We read with dismay the Guidance for Clergy and Lay Readers in the light of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014.

We appreciate that we are bound by the law, and that until our canons are changed, we cannot legally perform same-sex marriages. However, we are disappointed by both the timing and the tone of the document. We have been urged by you to enter into ‘cascade conversations’ in a spirit of open and sensitive listening with people of all views on this matter. This document only makes this process much harder for us, even impossible for some. Far from acknowledging the reality of differing experience and views in the church, it gives the impression of a definitive answer to the question we have yet to discuss or debate. The document ought to make it clear that the restrictions it describes may be temporary, if the church decides to change its canons. Because of the confusion created by this document, we now believe that such canonical change should be decided in Synod as soon as possible.

But we were especially dismayed by the section of the document which refers to clergy, lay readers, and ordinands, should they be in a same-sex relationship and wish to be married. In particular, we find the warnings to ordinands, both currently training and those who might be training in the future, to be unrepresentative of the generous and communal characteristics of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Even though our church has not yet agreed to solemnise same-sex marriages, they will nevertheless become a civil institution which we will recognise like everyone else under the law. It is our firm belief therefore that any prohibition on obtaining a civil marriage is outwith the moral and canonical authority of a bishop.

We acknowledge that this process is one which creates anxiety for all church leaders, and bishops in particular. We empathise with the difficult situation that you as bishops are in, and reaffirm our desire to support you in your leadership of our church, and as fellow members of it.

Nevertheless, some of us are now uncomfortable about solemnising marriages at all until such time as all can be treated equally, and all of us will continue to feel morally compromised in our ministries, and wish to make clear our continuing commitment to affirm and support all people in our church, and to recognise and rejoice in all marriages, of whatever sexual orientation, as true signs of the love of God in Christ.

Yours sincerely,
Revd Carrie Applegath,
Revd Philip Blackledge,
Revd Maurice Houston,
Revd Canon John McLuckie,
Revd Canon Ian Paton,
Revd Kate Reynolds,
Revd Martin Robson,
Revd Malcolm Aldcroft,
Dr Darlene Bird (lay reader),
Revd Jim Benton-Evans,
Revd Cedric L. Blakey,
Revd Andrew Bowyer,
Revd Canon Bill Brockie,
Revd Tony Bryer,
Revd Steve Butler,
Revd Christine Barclay,
Revd Lynsay M Downes,
Revd Markus Dünzkofer,
Revd Canon Anne Dyer,
Revd Janet Dyer,
Revd Jennifer Edie,
Revd John L Evans,
Revd Samantha Ferguson,
The Revd Canon Zachary Fleetwood,
Kennedy Fraser,
Revd Kirstin Freeman,
Revd Frances Forshaw,
Revd Ruth Green,
Revd Bob Gould,
Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth,
Revd Ruth Innes,
Revd Ken Webb,
Rev’d Canon Mel Langille,
Revd Kenny Macaulay,
Revd Simon Mackenzie,
Revd Duncan MacLaren,
Very Revd Nikki McNelly,
Very Revd Jim Mein,
Revd Nicola Moll,
Revd Bryan Owen,
Revd Canon Clifford Piper,
Revd Donald Reid,
Revd Colin Reed,
Revd Canon John Richardson,
Revd Malcolm Richardson,
The Revd Gareth J M Saunders,
Very Revd Alison J Simpson,
Very Revd Andrew Swift,
Kate Sainsbury (lay reader),
Patsy Thomson (lay reader),
Prof Revd Annalu Waller

When the Spirit sails freely

The Rev Kate Reynolds of Old St Paul’s has written a beautiful post on her blog: something is quickening here

It is well worth reading in full, but here is a taster:

At heart, I am a reconciler and a pastor. I don’t shy away from conflict, but I do shy away from division. I want to listen to what hurts. To heal what is wounded. To bind up the brokenhearted, as the psalmist puts it.

I think the recent statement from the bishops on the Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Act 2014 has done a lot of harm, regardless of whether that was its intent or not. Plenty has been written about it elsewhere (Changing Attitudes has a good overview), and, though I do not agree with all that has been written, I have little to say that has not already been said.

But, ironically, I have hope that a lot of good may come from this.

It’s the kind of good that only happens when the Spirit sails freely above the constraints of the institution, stretching Her wings widely as She suddenly takes full flight.

The past week has been full of difficult conversations, conversations which have kept me awake at night, conversations which have forced me to my knees in prayer, conversations that have left me in tears with frustration and confusion. But they have been the best kind of conversations because they have been so honest: they have shattered assumptions, bridged divisions, and some have unexpectedly been suffused with gentleness and grace.

But what gives me real hope is that I hear people talking again about what drew us to the SEC in the first place, the kind of leadership that has inspired us, the prophets who challenged us, the ministry we felt called to, the prayer that roots us.

There is work still to be done. So much work. Hard work. Without a doubt. There will be more difficult conversations. And more division will likely come before reconciliation.

As I was reminded on that pre-ordination retreat, the Church is Christ’s. And Christ loves the Church, his bride. He loves her despite all her flaws and foibles. He loves her despite her wandering eye and her repeated affairs with power and worldly recognition. And he calls her again and again back to himself and the pure love he has to offer.

I want to renew that promise I made before I was ordained to do everything I can to ensure that we are able to solemnise all marriages in Scottish Episcopal churches, irrespective of the sex of the two persons involved.

I will still listen. I will still try to heal. I will still try to reconcile. But friends, I will no longer silently stand by and do nothing as I watch the hearts of those I love be broken.

Herald newspaper report

There’s a news story in the Herald newspaper today:

CLERGY in the Scottish Episcopal Church have been threatened with disciplinary action if they enter a same-sex marriage, sparking a fierce backlash amongst its ministry and membership.

An edict by Episcopalian bishops warns clerics already in a civil partnership that converting their relationships into marriage would put them “outwith doctrinal understanding”, a move sources say could effectively make them homeless or strip them of their livelihood.

People training to enter the clergy and in civil partnerships, accepted within the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC), are also warned that if they marry they cannot be ordained. The ban also extends to ‘lay readers’, non-clergy trained to preach, teach and lead worship.

Prominent SEC figures have now condemned their hierarchy, claiming there had been no expectation the bishops would make demands of the private lives of their clergy.

One source said the stance amounted to “direct discrimination” which remained lawful due to churches have exemptions from equalities legislation.

Read the full thing here: http://www.heraldscotland.com/mobile/news/home-news/church-faces-backlash-after-banning-gay-clergy-from-marrying.114724446

Beth Routledge: It’s time to build a cairn

In a further comment on the Bishops’ December 2014 Statement, General Synod member and convener of Changing Attitude Scotland, Dr Beth Routledge has said on 15 December:

The last seven days have been difficult ones. I know that I speak for a lot of people in the Scottish Episcopal Church when I say that we have been made to feel angry and ashamed. I stand in sorrow and solidarity with my LGBT friends who are called to ministerial vocations in the Church and who in this last week have been made to feel threatened. We are all left asking questions about what kind of church we are, what kind of church we want to be, and what kind of church we want to belong to.

I suspect that the answer is: not one that behaves like this.

It is clear that for those of us in the Scottish Episcopal Church, the fight is far from over.

But that’s for tomorrow, because marriage equality will become the law of our land at midnight tonight and that is a thing for which we must be joyful and celebrate. It has been a long journey and one that I am and will always be proud to have been on.

Through the ages, people on great journeys have stopped at important places and at decisive moments to build cairns at the roadside to which they and others can always return…

The whole thing can be read here:https://wanderingmedic.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/its-time-to-build-a-cairn/

Two more responses to the Bishops’ December 2014 Statement

Two more responses have been published to the Bishops’ December 2014 Statement.

Firstly, Christine McIntosh has On Rage and Prophetic Leadership

The first is to apologise to anyone, gay or straight, within the church or – more likely – outside it and looking on incredulously, and to tell them not to write off all Christians, all Episcopalians, as being firmly stuck in the ignorant past and willing to sacrifice the wonderful gift of life in all its fullness on the altar of a variety of respectability and prejudice that was common in the 1950s. Some of us are raging because the church we love has turned its back on people we love and value – people who also love the church and want to play a full and joyful part in it.

And the raging brings me to the second thing. Rage in debate is seldom helpful, but sometimes it leads one to a vision of what leadership is all about. John the Baptist certainly didn’t mince his words, and Jesus had a less than temperate way with those who ground down the poor, the outsider – the ones who didn’t conform. We’ve had prophetic leadership in the SEC in the past, and we’ve seen that it’s never easy for such leaders. But I long for such leadership…

And the Dean of Argyll and The Isles, the Very Rev Andrew Swift has a more satirical response – A message from over the sea

As things stand, a clergyperson or lay reader who chooses to don a Christmas jumper for public services will put themselves in a position outwith the BRC’s doctrinal understanding of vesture as expressed in Canon 34. While the BRC’s doctrinal understanding remains as currently expressed, the expectation of the presbyteries is that clergy and lay readers will not don a Christmas jumper for public services and that anyone considering such a step will consult their presbytery moderator.

Similarly, a candidate in the recruitment and selection process for ordination or lay readership who has donned, or is intending to don, a Christmas jumper for public services would be unable to promise obedience to the Canons. The presbyteries likewise expect candidates not to don a Christmas jumper for public services in the current situation and that any candidate considering such a step will consult their presbytery moderator.

Have a very merry Christmas