Bishops’ Response to Letter of Concern Regarding Guidelines on Same-Sex Marriage

The following letter was received shortly before Christmas from the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Reverend David Chillingworth. This was in response to the letter of concern which was signed by over fifty clergy and lay readers in the Province following the publication of the College of Bishops’ guidelines on same-sex marriage.

I have an exam tomorrow and so I will most likely have more to say about this at another time, but for now I think it probably goes without saying that this is not a satisfactory response to the concerns that were expressed.

*

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

Here Comes The Sun

Today is the Winter Solstice.

It is the mid-point of winter, the darkest and longest of these dark days and long nights. It is the time of year when all the major religions of the world celebrate, in their own way, the coming of the light into this dark world. It is the moment when everyone on Earth stops and tells each other that we have come halfway out of the darkness.

We have had some terribly dark days, these last few weeks. We have had days when I have thought that that Advent God for whom we wait must look at his church with dismay and believe us to have abandoned all that he lived and died for.

On this final Sunday of Advent, we turn our eyes to Bethlehem, to the star that has appeared in the East, and to the promise that dark days give way to light and that, yes, yes, the age of miracles is not yet past.

For from these days of darkness has emerged a new dawn of hope, in the will and testament and action of the ordinary and now extraordinary people of God. They are people who work for the promise of that Advent God; of the bravery of Mary and the compassion of Joseph and of all that that child in the manger might yet do.

It isn’t simple. It won’t be easy. It’s not anywhere near done yet.

But as we look into that light, it becomes just a little easier than it was last week to believe that we will get there in the end.

Stir up in us O long-awaited God the will to join your revolution, to change your world, and to be in word and deed your living Body and the rock on which your Church can be rebuilt.

Letter from Clergy and Lay Readers to the SEC College of Bishops

The following letter has been sent to the College of Bishops in response to the guidelines on same-sex marriage which were sent out last Tuesday to clergy and lay readers. It was organised by clergy of the Diocese of Edinburgh, and it has been signed by some fifty or so clergy and lay readers from across the Province whose names appear below.

To every single one of them: Thank you.

*

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 Düntzkopfer
Revd Canon Anne Dyer
Revd Janet Dyer
Revd Jennifer Edie
Revd John L Evans
Revd Samantha Ferguson
The Revd Canon Zachary Fleetwood
Kennedy Fraser (Lay Reader)
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
Revd Gareth J M Saunders
Very Revd Alison J Simpson
Very Revd Andrew Swift
Kate Sainsbury (Lay Reader)
Patsy Thomson (Lay Reader)
Revd Prof Annalu Waller