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.