The Anglican Church in Scotland, and Justin Welby

Tomorrow, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland are going to discuss and vote on the Columba Declaration. This is a partnership between the Churches of England and Scotland that was much lauded by the hierarchy of the Church of England at its General Synod earlier this year. This week, the Church of Scotland has its turn and Justin Welby will appear at the General Assembly to speak to the declaration.

I belong to neither of these churches, and there are people in both churches who would tell me that I ought therefore to butt out. As a member of a funny little denomination called the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Columba Declaration would seem to have really nothing to do with me. Except that as a member of the Anglican Church in Scotland, it has everything to do with me. I’ve previously written that I believe it represents a border incursion by the Church of England into a realm where it has no jurisdiction.

If the aim of Justin Welby was to unite all Scottish Anglicans against him, then he has met it overwhelmingly. Scottish Anglicans are not a force known for agreeing on much of anything, but on this he has succeeded where marriage equality, an independence referendum, and the filioque have all failed.

We have been told over and over and over that a border incursion is not what that is, that the Columba Declaration allows for the Church of Scotland and the Church of England to share their experiences of being a national church.

The trouble is, it doesn’t read like that. The trouble is, it reads like St Justin of Canterbury riding into Edinburgh to rid it of its snakes.

I have no patience for that. I have no patience for this method of “doing mission”, a method that reeks of colonialism and of well-meaning but ill-informed people who went off around the Empire on a mission to civilise that was such an unmitigated disaster we’ve barely even scraped the surface of the damage that was done. You can forgive the Christian missionaries of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but it’s a lot more difficult to forgive the Church of England who, having apparently failed to learn from that mistake, can most generously be characterised as people who are well-meaning, ill-informed, and wilfully deaf.

I have no patience for any of it, and I’m beginning to be a little surprised that the Church of Scotland does. The two churches may share a status and an experience of being national churches, but commentary from English Anglicans on the first few days of business done at the General Assembly makes it plain that most people in England have no idea of and no real interest in the many many ways that the relationship of religious institutions and national and civic life is different in Scotland.

During the General Synod debate in the Church of England, a room of old white men brushed aside the legitimacy of the Scottish Episcopal Church as the face and voice of the Anglican Communion in Scotland. Afterwards, my Primus wrote that he felt as if we were the ghost at the party. I felt as people down through history have done when they have watched rooms of old white men brush aside the legitimacy of women, and the poor, and LGBT people, and ethnic and religious minorities. Those who do not learn from history are indeed condemned to repeat it.

If I were Justin Welby, I would be coming to Edinburgh tomorrow with my proverbial mitre in hand and I would be apologising sincerely to the sister province into whose territory I had so egregiously and rudely barged.



  1. As an English person, who has lived in Scotland for 45 years and regularly attended an Episcopal Church, believing it to be in communion with the Church of England, I would ask:
    Would it be appropriate for me to stop going to an Episcopal church and start going to the Church of Scotland? Would it not be more sensible, even now, for the Episcopalians and the Church of Scotland to come to a similar agreement?

  2. I find this whole thing very peculiar. It appears a minority of episcopalians are deeply upset about something. Trouble is I don’t understand what or why? What do they think is going to happen exactly? This talk about territory being encroached upon sounds so 1745. It’s not like the Church of Scotland is going to steal away all their members and CofE folk will only get involved in Kirk congregations in England and Europe.

    • It’s not a minority, Randall. It’s nigh on unanimity — as I’ve said, unanimity hardly being a thing that Scottish Episcopalians do much of.

      I am a little worried about the Church of England setting up the Kirk as its natural successor for those crossing the border, but that’s not my main concern. My concern is less the standing of the Scottish Episcopal Church in Scotland and more the undermining of the SEC’s position as a body and as a full and equal partner in the Communion. The talk of “territory” may sound very 1745, but read the bit about Christian missionaries again and tell me I’m wrong.

  3. As a member of the Church of Scotland I share your concerns. Ever since the agreement was announced on Christmas Eve I have been of the opinion that it is the Unionists of the Church of Scotland ganging up with the Church of England in a kind of Ecclesiastical Better Together. The Scottish Episcopal Church historically has, like the Kirk its roots in the Scottish Reformation and John Knox would have recognised perhaps more in the present Scottish Episcopal Church of the First Book of Discipline Kirk than he would have recognised the post Second Book of Discipline Kirk. Then fact that in the late 17th century its leaders made certain choices which had long term effects on the position of the Church does in no way nullify the historic claims of the Scottish Episcopal Church to being an essential part of the Christian life of Scotland, a Scotland which was identified as being ecclesiastically separate from Scotland in 1707. It would be a pity if the Kirk undid part of the independence it gained in the 1707 treaty at the time when the survival of the Political part of the treaty seems problematic.

  4. True Dissenters – the free and radical churches north and south of the border know the feeling – in the end State/national churches cling to each other and reject those not part of a national system. Accept your lot !

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