Response to the Primates’ Meeting

With a tiny sigh, I foresee that the coming hours and days will be filled with headlines about the Anglican Communion being “fractured” and the Scottish Episcopal Church being “punished”.

Indeed, first thing this morning, my phone pinged with an email alert:

“Scottish Anglicans face harsh punishment for gay weddings.”

All deeply wrong.

Let’s start by putting things in their proper historical context. The Scottish Episcopal Church can trace its roots back to the arrival of Columba on Iona in the sixth century AD. We have existed in our modern form since 1689. We have been forged over the past four centuries by scarier things than Primates’ Meetings, for goodness’ sake; just Google “Jacobites”.

That headline came before anyone in the Primates’ Meeting had even said anything. And has been proven to be untrue once they did. You’ll forgive me if I didn’t start quaking in my shoes.

So, let’s try to unpack a little what has actually been happening in Canterbury this week.

There is a meeting of the Anglican Primates, which began yesterday and which will run until Thursday. It is a meeting that happens occasionally, and is an opportunity for the leaders of all of the Anglican provinces around the world to talk and listen to each other. The agenda this year is broad-ranging, including issues of evangelism, social inequality, and climate change. There has also been a conversation about the Scottish Episcopal Church, around the decision made at our General Synod earlier this year to change our Canon Law to allow for marriage equality within our Province. That happened today. This conversation has not come as a surprise to us — a similar one took place at a Primates’ Meeting shortly after a similar decision was made by the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, with the result that various “sanctions” were applied to ECUSA. That happened in 2016 and our brethren in America remain very much part of the Communion — the service of Evensong held at the Primates’ Meeting yesterday was led by their Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. It has never been in question that the Scottish Episcopal Church would remain part of the Anglican Communion, no matter what was said or done in Lambeth this week.

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Photo: Ruth Richards-Hill, used with the permission of Rosemary Hannah and Sophie Agrell.

The outcome of the Primates’ conversations around the Scottish Episcopal Church has been the application of very minimal sanctions. We are excluded from doctrinal debates, and we may not chair committees within the Communion. These are broadly similar sanctions as those that were applied to ECUSA in January 2016.

They are what we expected. No more. No worse.

We are given to understand from things that have been said to the conservative Christian press that demands were made by some primates for Scotland to be given more punitive sanctions. Justin Welby should be praised for holding a firm line against those demands, but at the same time it’s difficult to see that there was any other pragmatic option.

We take the Primates’ Meeting seriously — as seriously as it needs to be taken, which is somewhat less seriously and with a little more context than the press do.

For one thing, it would have been ludicrous to suggest that the Scottish Episcopal Church embarked on the process of introducing marriage equality in the Church with anything less than a full and keen knowledge of the consequences that we might bring down upon our own head. The story of the long campaign to make same-sex marriage possible in the Church is well documented within these pages and elsewhere. Those of us who have been at the sharp end of that campaign have never hung back from talking about what this might mean within the Anglican Communion, and at the same time we have been perfectly clear about what it cannot mean. For it would also be ludicrous to suggest that the Scottish Episcopal Church has not been fully aware of the considerable limitations of the Primates.

The Anglican Communion is not an autocracy lashed together by rules and regulations, with cross-provincial laws to be followed and punishments to be handed out to transgressors . The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, held together by bonds of affection and a shared history and an understanding that even the best of friends do not always agree with one another.

On this occasion, we in Scotland have come to a decision — a decision that was taken after conversation, after consultation, after much thought and prayer.

That decision has been one that not everyone in the Anglican Communion has agreed with. It has been one that not everyone in the Scottish Episcopal Church has agreed with. And we knew going in that that would be the case, which was why we worked so hard to ensure that respect for religious freedom and religious conscience were enshrined within our laws.

If only the same respect for religious freedom and religious conscience existed everywhere.

I am disappointed in the Primates’ Meeting, but I am not surprised. I am disappointed and saddened that a Province that has taken a decisive step forward in equality and justice for all God’s people is deemed deserving of sanctions and a place on the naughty step, while Provinces are allowed to go unsanctioned and unchecked when their leadership supports and defends the state-sanctioned murder of LGBTQ+ people in their countries. And though I praise him for his doubtless moderating influence today, I still believe that Justin Welby could learn a thing or two from Scotland about speaking truth to power and being prepared to live with the consequences.

Mark Strange, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, said to the Primates’ Meeting today: “We will continue to play our part in the Anglican Communion we helped establish and I will do all I can to re-build relationships, but that will be done from the position our Church has now reached in accordance with its synodical processes and in the belief that Love means Love.” His full statement is available on the SEC website.

We are very proud of Bishop Mark here. Do not think for a minute that any decisions taken in Lambeth today make the Scottish Episcopal Church any less the Anglican Communion.

And nor should we make the mistake that the Archbishop of Canterbury did this week in GQ magazine of believing that the differences between Western Anglicans and Anglicans in the global South are a black and white issue.

In my speech to General Synod in June, I reminded Scottish Episcopalians that there are people beyond our borders who have cheered us on, who have prayed for us to shine a light into the places on Earth where our LGBTQ+ brethren and their allies live and too often die under the darkness of systems that oppress and persecute. I told them that we do a disservice to our sisters and brothers around the Communion when we presume that they are of one mind any more than we are of one mind, and that we do them a disservice when we believed that if we kept our mouths shut we would be keeping them safe. I called on them to do better, and do better they did.

In the next few days as I read the stories that a scandal-hungry media will produce about the gloomy portents and doomsday scenarios for the Anglican Communion, stories that will no doubt be fed into by some clergy who ought to know better, I’ll think of the Anglican Communion that I know and that it’s convenient for them to be blind to. I’ll think of the baptisms that took place in my cathedral this weekend, Scottish babies and African babies together. I’ll think of the marriages that have taken place before our altar and in the sight of God. I’ll remember the great group of the Nigerian community, many of them first generation immigrants, who have become part of our community, and who gathered together joyfully on Sunday with their families on that same altar for a blessing from their gay, fabulous, Scottish priest.

We are the Communion. We are the people of God and the living, loving, world-changing body of Christ. As we have been called in our task to the Church here we will still be, tomorrow and tomorrow and unto the ages of ages.

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Photo: Beth Routledge

Marriage in the Scottish Episcopal Church – Turning The World Upside Down

This is what I said to General Synod today:

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Chair, Members of Synod.

Gosh, aren’t there a lot of people interested in what we have to say today.

You would think we were about to turn the world upside down.

For all the talking I seem to have done about it over the last few years, my love life truly isn’t that interesting. I’d like to believe that when I leave here today, it will return to being a matter for my parents, asking why I haven’t yet provided them with a daughter-in-law; my friends, nudging me towards the terrifying prospect of Internet dating; and, maybe, someday, when I’ve found the perfect woman, for the Director of Music at my cathedral as he tries to persuade me that the trumpets from the Verdi Requiem do not a wedding processional make.

But today — maybe we are trying to turn the world upside down.

And if we want to build the kingdom of heaven here on Earth, maybe that is what the world needs.

The question of our place in the world — our responsibility to the Anglican Communion — is one that has come up over and over again, the whole way through this process. The question of repercussions that any decision we might make today might have on our sister provinces.

Synod, the Anglican Communion is a very broad church indeed and it works in a very wide world.

As hands are wrung over the fate of the Anglican Communion, we so often forget that there are many people beyond these borders who cheering us on, praying for us to shine a light into places on Earth where our LGBT brethren and their allies too live and, often, die under the darkness of systems that oppress and persecute.

We do a disservice to our brothers and sisters around the Anglican Communion when we presume that they are of one mind any more than we are of one mind, and we do them a disservice when we presume that by keeping our mouths shut we are keeping them safe.

We can surely do better than that.

I want to be part of a Church where everyone can flourish. I want to be part of a world where everyone can flourish, too.

My learned friend from Aberdeen and Orkney feels that what we are doing today has broken the Church, but, with the greatest of respect, I feel that the amended Canon 31 can make the Church more whole than it has ever been.

Today, we have the opportunity to say that this is a church where there is room for everyone, where all are welcome, and where there is enough and more than enough love to encircle all of God’s children.

To get here — it’s been a long road.

I am so proud to have walked it with so many of you.

To have walked it with my brothers and sisters who agree with me. To have walked it with my sisters and brothers who profoundly disagree with me. This has been a journey. In the words of our marriage liturgy, a journey in which we have grown and been transformed. I believe that is true for every single one of us. And I believe that in the wording of this Canon, there is room for us all to flourish.

The thing I am most proud of today is that at this moment, here we are, all of us, hand in hand, walking together.

If we do this, the Church will become a more welcoming and more inclusive place for people like me. I can go to my cathedral on Sunday and say to members of my congregation, “Yes.” And should I find that perfect person, I will be able to say to her, “Yes.” I want you to not understimate the importance of that.

But today is about so much more than that.

Because today is also a chance to show all of this to all the world.

To say, you can do it like this. You can find enough room for everyone. You can do anything, just as long as you remember to love one another.

And love is love is love is love is love.

And God is love.

And love will turn the world upside down.

It’s Time – Marriage Equality and the Scottish Episcopal Church

In eight days time, I will be in Edinburgh at the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

A significant piece of business that will be done at this Synod will be to vote on proposed changes to Canon 31, the law that governs marriage within the Church.

I am aware that I have been banging on about this for — well, for a very long time now. It is truly my great hope that I will return to the General Synod of 2018 and get up to make a speech about refugee welfare or clergy education or the budget or anything at all that isn’t about marriage, but this is what we’re doing next week.

There is a lot of detail that I could go into about what exactly it is that we’re doing. If your memory does need refreshing, I’d start with the equal marriage tag on this blog.

A few specific starting points:

The main thing to say about the proposed change is that this is the vote that, if passed, would make marriage equality a reality in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The main thing you need to know, though, is that, if passed, this vote will enact something that is written in such a way as to be the thing that will enable the Scottish Episcopal Church to be kept together: all of us. Those of us who are straight and those of us who are LGBTQI. Those of us who are single and those of us who are married. The most conservative traditionalists and the most liberal progressives, together in a Church where we will be able to finally sing with truth that all are welcome in this place.  

We will need a two-thirds majority — 66.7% — in each of the houses of Bishops, Clergy, and Laity.

I am a child who grew up under Section 28. In the last thirteen years since the Civil Partnerships Act, I have seen the most astonishing seismic shifts in the way LGBTQI people are spoken of and viewed by society, and in the civil rights legislation that has followed, and never more so than in the way things have changed in my last four General Synods.

I am hopeful that we will do the same thing in eight days time in Edinburgh, but, make no mistake, I am taking nothing for granted.

Yes, I have been talking about this for a very long time and I will continue to talk about it and I will not minimise how important it is.

Because — it is important.

To me, on a personal level.

To the Church, because I truly believe this is something that will be good for the whole Church and the whole Communion.

To the world, because when I got into this in the first place it was because I wanted to be in the business of making a better world — and make no mistake, if we do this in our little corner of the globe, our little corner of the Church, then a better world is what we will have made.

I remember that day, that wonderful day in 2014, when marriage equality became the law of the land in Scotland, when an impossible dream came true, and surely, surely, we can do it again.

It’s time, I think, to give this one a dusting off:

Into The Light Of Morning

Yesterday, the Scottish Episcopal Church voted to pass the first reading of our amended Canon 31, the canon that governs marriage within our Church and that in its amended form would allow us the possibility of marriage between couples of the same sex.

The result was 71% in favour from the House of Bishops, 69% from the House of Clergy, and 80% with three abstentions from the House of Laity. The goal for this year had been a simple majority in each house.

I think the media would have liked us to schism over it, for a Diocese to renounce our Episcopal oversight or a Bishop to storm out — after all, that makes for a better headline. Instead, the media got a reasonable, respectful, measured conversation among a room full of adults who weren’t interested in creating drama but whose priority was to find common ground. The manner in which we did our business and the way we modelled that to the world was almost more important than what that business was.

As recently as two years ago, we could not have had that debate in the way we have had it.

I told Synod two years ago that it talked about LGBT people as if we weren’t there in the room, and I believe that that was true. It isn’t true anymore. The people who stand up at Synod these days in the belief that they are talking to a room full of straight people are vanishingly few. There has been a seismic shift in the way the Church thinks about these issues and the way in which we talk to each other about them.

In our two most recent General Synods, I have witnessed a ministry of healing and reconciliation that has happened right there on the Synod floor.

I will never forget the man who, in the middle of our debate in 2015, got up to bear witness to the extraordinary transformation that had taken place in him during that very debate. He had come to Synod with the belief that marriage between people of the same sex was wrong, and he had been prepared to vote against a process for canonical change, but, that very day, as he listened to the discussion whirling around about, his heart and mind were changed by the people whose testimonies had been given and whose truths he had heard.

And this week I have watched in awe as person after person from the evangelical tradition has come to the podium to tell us that while they believe as a point of principle that marriage is between a man and a woman, they do not disagree entirely with the proposed changes to canon law. The Scottish Episcopal Church are a diverse people, and my evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ say that the amended Canon 31 contains a way of expressing our difference of opinion that they might be able to live with. Even for those who did not feel able to vote for it, they recognised that this had been done in a way that allowed them not to walk away from the Church.

It is not always easy to discern the hand of God in the business of General Synod, but in these conversations the work of the Holy Spirit has been a real presence.

This has always been about how we meet in the middle to create a church where we live out the Gospel truth that we are all all blessed. I have the sense now that that is a place we are moving towards.

As we prayed together as a whole people after the results of the vote were announced, I wept. I wept tears of joy, and of relief, and of pride in my belonging to a place that can do its business with such compassion.

God most holy, we give you thanks for bringing us out of the shadow of night into the light of morning…

Of course, there is work still to be done. There are voices on both sides of the issues who have not yet been heard. There is hurt in people on both sides of the conversation that has not yet been healed. There is a second vote next year that will require a two thirds majority in each House before the amended canon is ultimately accepted into canon law. Yesterday, pacing around my hotel room at five in the morning and even during morning coffee as we waited for votes to be counted, I did not know if we were going to succeed in what we were trying to do. There is work to be done before Synod comes back together in a year’s time to vote on this again.

I stood yesterday outside the General Synod with a friend, both of us trying to absorb all that we had seen and heard — not only in the past few days, but in all the work that had brought us to this place and this day and this defining moment.

“What are you thinking about?” he asked.

I’m thinking about what’s next.

Speaking Truth To Power – Sanctions Threatened Against Scottish Episcopal Church

It has been learned today that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has privately threatened to sack the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, David Chillingworth, from ecumenical dialogue if members of the church’s General Synod do not do as they are told with respect to same-sex marriage.

This will be an extension of the sanctions applied to the Episcopal Church of the United States of America by the Primates’ Meeting in January of this year, after ECUSA agreed to acceptance of marriage equality within their own province.

It is fair to say that this communication to our Primus came as a surprise to members of our own General Synod. There was a press conference immediately after that Primates’ Meeting in which Justin Welby was asked directly whether other provinces taking similar decisions would face the same sanctions as ECUSA, and at that time he said very clearly and very publicly that the answer to that question could not be known. A number of questions must therefore be asked. What has happened since January to allow the Archbishop of Canterbury to unequivocally answer a question about a change to canon law that has not yet happened and cannot happen for at least another twelve months ? If something has happened, why have the public and the Communion not been told about it before now? And by whose authority does he make that threat? These are questions that I think deserve answers.

Bishop David has said before and he said again today at Synod that he believes that the Primates acted beyond their powers. He has said that there are times in the last six months and in the last two weeks when he has been upset and angry about what has happened. And, today, quoting Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States, he has said that although this hurts, it will ultimately not change what we do.

In the Scottish Episcopal Church, our Primus is the first among equals in a province which through its long and proud history has been a leader in positive progress throughout the Anglican Communion. This has happened. I was tempted to be outraged, to greet this announcement with wailing and gnashing of teeth — but outrage is not a mission strategy.

The mission of the Scottish Episcopal Church must now be to speak truth to power.

“It will not change what we do, and maybe it is a price worth paying,” said Bishop David.

I was very proud of him when he said that, and I believe that he is right. If this is the price we pay for being on the side of the greater good, then bring it on.

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.

The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion

At the end of last week, the Most Reverend Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, who is the Bishop of the Diocese of Kaduna in Nigeria, was appointed as the new secretary general of the Anglican Communion.

The announcement was made quietly on Maundy Thursday, on a day when most people who might usually be inclined to notice and comment on a significant appointment in the Church could quite properly be expected to be busy with all the furore of Holy Week. A day to bury bad news if ever there was one; and make no mistake, this has been bad news.

To be secretary general of the Anglican Communion is not a little thing. In effect, this man has been appointed as the executive officer of the Council which writes policy for the Anglican Communion and is charged with being one of the bodies that is meant to keep the member churches of the Communion together, and who is now expected to represent the Communion to ecumenical bodies, to worldwide churches, and to secular institutions including the United Nations. This is an appointment that it was important to get right, and that it was important to be seen to get right.

Ask yourself, at a time when issues of human sexuality are tense and prominent in the life of the Church, is it right of the Anglican Communion to appoint a man who has in the past been seen to be so vehemently anti-gay?

Bishop Josiah told the Dallas Morning News in 2007 that “[gay people] are wrong”, and just thirteen months ago at a high profile event in Nigeria he said that “the government has criminalised homosexuality, which is good”. It is not clear whether these are still his views. A private correspondence to the Episcopal Women’s Caucus which was made last week after they had made contact with him stated that his position has not changed and that he does not support the criminalisation of homosexuality — it seems to me that it is not possible for both of those things to be true. He has made no effort to publicly clarify his views; nor has either the Anglian Consultative Council or Lambeth Palace.

It is, perhaps more importantly, also not clear whether the Anglican Consultative Council believed these to be his views at the time that they made the appointment.

I am usually capable of allowing for difference of opinion. I usually take great joy in the fact that in the Anglican Communion we seek to love one another for our differences as well as for our similarities, and that we can make room for how each one of us sees theology and Scripture and God. I can recognise as an adult that not everyone shares my view of the world, and in all the things I have ever said about the theology of human sexuality I have never considered people who believe differently to me to be less than I am or to belong in this Church less than I do. I wish everyone did believe the same as I do, but they don’t and that’s okay.

But it is a different thing to hold and express divisive views as an individual than it is to hold those views when you are supposed to be a visionary bridge builder for reconciliation in a worldwide Church. I am paraphrasing from the person criteria now.

And if you believe that consensual sexual activity between two people who are of the same sex ought to be a criminal act, you are just plain wrong.

That’s not my opinion. That’s just the way it is.

The views of Bishop Josiah need to be clarified publicly. If the Anglican Consultative Council and the Archbishop of Canterbury and my own Primus believe that it is a good and holy thing that someone who holds these views becomes the face which we as Anglicans show to the world, then we need to consider whether we, as individuals and as member Churches, remain in communion with the Anglican Communion.

EDIT: A statement has now been made by Bishop Josiah that he does not and has never supported the criminalisation of homosexuality. He continues to express some very troubling anti-gay sentiments in that statement. There also needs to be clarification on this statement that he “has never” supported criminalisation, which is a direct contradiction to a statement he made in March 2014.

Guidance from SEC House of Bishops on Same-Sex Marriage

Today, the House of Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church produced a document containing guidance for clergy and lay readers relating to the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014, which comes into force in just over three weeks time on Hogmanay.

The key passages are:

Relating to the Blessing of Same Sex Marriages / Civil Partnerships 

“The SEC has no liturgical rites for the blessing of a same-sex civil partnership or marriage, and the College is of the view that it would not be appropriate to use SEC marriage liturgies for this purpose.”

“The Church cannot give official sanction to informal blessings […] each Bishop would nevertheless expect to be consulted by clergy prior to the carrying out of any informal blesing of same-sex marriage or civil partnership in his diocese.”

Relating to Clergy Entering Same-Sex Marriage

“The College recognises that once the 2014 Act comes into force, the possibility of entering into a same-sex marriage exists as much for clergy and lay readers as for any other member of the population.” […] “As things stand, a clergyperson or lay reader who chooses to enter a same-sex marriage will put themselves in a position outwith the SEC’s doctrinal understanding of marriage as expressed in Canon 31 […] the expectation of the Bishops is that clergy and lay readers will not enter into a same-sex marriage.”

Relating to Recruitment and Selection [of Ordinands]

“[…] a candidate in the recruitment and selection process for ordination or lay readership who has entered or is intending to enter a same-sex marriage would be unable to promise obedience to the Canons. The Bishops likewise expect candidates not to enter into a same-sex marriage in the current situation.”


I think it is important that this is read and disseminated widely. I may have additional commentary to offer on it in a day or two, but for now I am so filled with rage that I lack the erudition to do it properly. I simply leave it here, and I note:

1) That these questions are not hypothetical ones, but are real questions about real people and their lives and their loves. I think in light of the specific things that have been said today it must be noted that this is particularly true of people who are called to ministry within the Church.

2) That the answers and guidance given by the House of Bishops are regressive, and that we are further away from justice and equality today than we were even a decade ago,

3) That if we stopped allowing anyone in ministry or seeking to enter ministry within the Church to get married to anyone until this question was settled, we would have had a proper answer a year ago.


The full text of the guidelines are here as a PDF: College of Bishops Guidance re Marriage 2014

A response from Changing Attitude Scotland is available here: re: December 2014 Statement from the College of Bishops

The Anglican Moratoria – Where Do We Stand?

I’m in Edinburgh at the moment, at the last day of the General Synod 2013 of the Scottish Episcopal Church. This is the voting body of the Church, represented by the bishops and by elected members of the clergy and the laity, and it is the place where the business of the Church is done.

One of the items of business up for discussion on Friday morning was the question of establishing a design group which will create a process by which the Church will discuss same-sex relationships in a manner and with a timescale that could not be any woolier if it had been presented on the needles of the Synod knitter.

It is exactly as ridiculous as it sounds.

I wanted to try to define exactly what we were talking about.

It’s a wonderful word, “relationship” — covers all kinds of sins and indeed all kinds of sacraments. It is also, when trying to talk about a process such as this one, an unhelpfully vague word. The Bishop of Brechin in his introduction to this item talked about the Church trying to find a way of discussing the undiscussable, and it is, I think, the fact that some people consider it undiscussable that lead to us using woolly terms like “relationship”. So, what are we talking about? Are we talking about equal marriage? Are we talking about pastoral responses to same-sex couples? Are we talking about how the Church respond to people who happen to be LGBT and live within its congregations?

I didn’t really get an answer to that.

And I also wanted to clarify exactly what we aren’t talking about, and specifically I wanted to clarify whether we could take it as read that the Anglican Moratorium on the ordination of individuals living in same-sex relationships as Bishops was no longer the policy of the Scottish Episcopal Church and that therefore that particular question would not need to be part of whatever the design group ends up designing.

A little bit of history — a little bit of history that I got knotted up in when I spoke about this on Friday morning and I do thank those who set me right about this part. The Anglican Moratoria were created by the Primates of the Anglican Communion in February 2009 (in Alexandria, not in Dar es Salaam) as part of a longer document called Deeper Communion: Gracious Restraint and were signed up to by the College of Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church in March 2009. They effectively acted as bans on the Church authorising a formal liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions and electing as Bishop an individual who happened to be in a relationship with someone of the same sex (I note that Bishop David specified when he was responding to me that that moratorium was on a long-term same-sex relationship, and I could make a sarcastic point here about casual sex evidently being just fine). And it’s all Gene Robinson’s fault, is the implication in that moratorium. Then, later in the same year, the Anglican Communion was presented with the Anglican Covenant for its consideration. It has never been entirely clear to me nor I suspect to a lot of people what the relationship was between the Covenant and the Moratoria. But there certainly seems to have been a relationship, and, as General Synod resoundingly voted last year to opt out of the Anglican Covenant, my presumption, which I was prepared to be told was a faulty one, was that this Province had also ceased to observe the Anglican Moratoria.

The answer was a wonderful treatise from the Primus on the nature of the Anglican Communion and a view that we have no idea what the status of the moratoria really are, that the authority for them is slowly ebbing away, that they are not a major factor in the way we live… The point was made that Justin Welby made no reference to the moratoria when he said earlier this year that ordained men in civil partnerships could be consecrated as bishops (just so long as those men don’t actually have sex with their civil partners). And that is all very pleasant and uncontroversial and may well be very true, but it is again woolier than the Synod knitter’s knitting and it doesn’t really answer the question.

An attempt by Kelvin Holdsworth later in the proceedings to clarify that answer resulted in it becoming even less clear.

There comes a point when this begins to look like an obfuscation made in order to avoid saying the difficult thing.

It is interesting to me that in every conversation I’ve had on this subject in the last 24 hours, and I’ve had a lot, the person I have been talking to, whether they have been evangelical or high Anglican, whether they have subscribed to traditional theology or liberation theology, whether they have been clergy or laity, every single one of them has said that they would have welcomed a straight answer. They have said that even if they hadn’t liked the content of the answer, they would have preferred having one to not having one. Because this is something about which it is important that we know where we as a Church stand.

For the avoidance of doubt, the question I was asking was not a hypothetical one about the nature of the Anglican Communion or about the natural evolution of the Anglican Moratoria or about anything like that. The question I was asking was a practical one about Church employment policy. The question I was asking was, if a vacancy arises in the College of Bishops tomorrow, whether through retirement or through someone being hit by a bus, will the Church accept the nomination of an otherwise qualified person who happens to be in a same-sex relationship and will that nomination then proceed on the same footing as those of people who happen to not be?

It is not a hypothetical question. It is not an academic question. It is not a woolly question.

It is a very straightforward question that should have a yes or a no answer, and I don’t think that that answer has been heard yet.

The Wandering Pisky

Greetings from the Diocese of Victoria-Nyanza to the United Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway.

Last autumn, I read a book called Why I Am Still An Anglican in which a series of apparently eminent peoples talk about their experience of the Anglican Communion. Well, I say the Anglican Communion. The majority of the conversation is about the Church of England, and, certainly in the earlier chapters, seems to be talking about a Church of England that I only recognise from Midsomer Murders. I’d no idea that so many people were so violently opposed to the sharing of the Peace. Or that there was such a huge demand for churches whose liturgy is taken exclusively from the 1666 Book of Common Prayer. And I’ve spent so long in a church where everyone is welcome to take communion that I was rather taken aback by the abhorrence expressed for people who take it when they, quote, aren’t entitled to. We aren’t the Vatican. Besides, short of demanding to see a baptism certificate before allowing someone to go up to the altar (which would presumably make the whole process of giving communion so lengthy that the clergy and choir and servers would constantly be keeling over), how can anyone possibly judge who is and who isn’t ‘entitled’?

But for one brief chapter, they did remember that the Anglican Communion is made up of considerably more than just the Church of England. The author of that chapter was someone who has lived all over the world and worshipped in numerous Anglican churches in countless countries, and one of the things he says is that the nature of Anglicanism is such that when someone walks into an Anglican church, the shape and the spirituality of the service will be familiar, no matter where they are or which language is being spoken.

My church attendance has been a bit hit-and-miss while I’ve been here. On my first Sunday, I was in a corridor in Nairobi Airport when I would normally have been at church. Last week, I tried to go to the nearest Roman Catholic church and accidentally ended up at a Swahili language service in a Lutheran cathedral. There are parts of that that are still very confusing, most notably the man from the choir who distributed cabbages and fruit amongst the congregation while doing some sort of comedy routine. This week I tried for the Anglican church at the bottom of my hill, its main selling points being the fact that I could walk there and the sign on the fence that said, “Worship God In English Every Sunday.”

I found it oddly comforting to hear the liturgy. Even though I never actually say some parts of it these days and even though my mouth kept on trying to insert things from the liturgy of the Scottish Episcopal Church, I liked it. It felt like a little bit of home.

The rest of the service mostly felt like someone had taken Anglo-Catholicism and English evangelism and thrown them together in a blender on high speed.

It was comprised of the previously mentioned Anglican liturgy; an English deacon who preached for half an hour on three different subjects, gave chapter and verse every time he quoted anything from Scripture and then made us all wait while he leafed through his Bible to find the thing that he had just quoted, and drew the whole thing to a conclusion five or six times before going off on new tangents; a building and decor straight out of traditional Anglicanism except for the pink fabric draped artistically across the altar rail and secured by white ribbons; and the very worst in English evangelical praise music led by the very very worst in English evangelical praise music musicians as issued forth from tinny laptop speakers, at which point I thought of at least eight different people who would have lain down and wept.

But despite all of that, the thing is that I sat down on Sunday in a church in a town in the middle of Tanzania and in company with thousands of people across the whole world, a congregation of God’s people said, “We do not presume to come to this your table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your compassionate and great mercy.” I’d find it difficult to think of another institution whose internationality is quite so striking as that.