Response from the College of Bishops
The following is the response from the College of Bishops to the group of more than 50 lay readers and clergy of the church who wrote expressing concern in unusually strong terms to a set of guidelines that the bishops introduced with no consultation last year. This has already been published online elsewhere and so I’m copying it here as I’m aware of the levels of interest in this topic which remain high. I’m far from convinced that this is an adequate response to the issues raised in the letter and it seems to me that the fundamental question that many people are now talking about is not how we want gay people in the church to behave but how we want our bishops to behave. It is clear that the bishops are currently falling some way short of the kind of leadership that many people hope for and pray for on a daily basis. I will leave off commenting further today though I may return to this topic later in the week. For now, people are welcome to comment below or re-post and comment elsewhere. Bizarrely, the guidelines themselves still do not seem to have been posted on the website of the Scottish Episcopal Church.
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,
The Most Rev’d David Chillingworth
Here is my personal response to this post by Provost Kelvin Holdsworth, of St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow, which mentions the Response of the Scottish Episcopal Church’s Bishops to a Letter from 50 Laity and Clergy of SEC, requesting affirmative action towards those in the Church who long for Same-Sex Marriage to be recognised by the Church::
Thank you, Fr, Kelvin, for making the contents of the SEC Bishops’ Response to the Letter from 50 people concerned about their attitude towards the openness of the Church to the prospect of its eirenic treatment of clergy and Church members – desirous of solemnising Same-Sex monogamous relationships in the context of Marriage.
It seems to me – an outsider, but a member of the New Zealand Anglican Church – that the Letter has challenged your Bishops to positive action on behalf of Christians – and others – who consider faithful Gay relationships to be equally acceptable to God as those of heterosexuals. The Church, surely, must act to affirm faithful monogamous relationships on both sides of the spectrum.
Let’s hope your General Synod will move ahead to affirm such relationships, so that the Church may get on with other aspects of its mission; knowing that human justice for ALL people is paramount in the propagation of the Gospel. If SEC is pro-active in this important matter, it can only encourage churches like my own – in ACANZP – to follow suit.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand