College of Bishops Statement – November 2013

The College of Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church have issued this statement which was sent to clergy in an online mailing on 29 November 2013.

Blessing of Civil Partnerships

The General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church in 2012 agreed not to adopt the Anglican Covenant. Since then, and within our own context, the College of Bishops has, on a number of occasions, considered how our church should best engage with those underlying questions of human sexuality which had given rise to the original idea of a Covenant. The College looks forward to the Church undertaking discussion of such matters as part of the process currently being designed by a group set up for that purpose by the provincial Mission and Ministry Board. The College in no way intends to pre-empt the outcome of those discussions. At the same time it recognises that the entering into of civil partnerships is a regular occurrence in Scottish society today.

In a previous statement the College indicated that it was the practice of the individual Bishops at that time neither to give official sanction to blessings of civil partnerships, nor to attend them personally. The Church does not give official sanction to informal blessings but each Bishop would nevertheless expect to be consulted by clergy prior to the carrying out of any informal blessing of a civil partnership in his diocese. The College is of the view that a decision as to whether or not to attend such an informal blessing should be a personal decision of the individual Bishop in question.
College of Bishops
November 2013

Primus on Anglican Moratoria

In a debate at the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church on Friday 7 June 2013, Beth Routledge questioned whether the rejection of the Anglican Covenant by the Scottish Episcopal Church now meant that the Anglican moratoria did not apply in Scotland.

In responding to the debate, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Rev David Chillingworth said:

The Anglican Communion Moratoria were established, I think, I’m now speaking from memory, by the Primates Meeting at its meeting in Dar-es -Salaam. And there were three Anglican Communion moratoria which were that we were asked not to elect or consecrate a bishop in a long-term same-sex relationship; not to establish authorised rites for the blessing of same-sex unions and not to take part in cross border incursions. Now the question really was whether the Anglican Covenant was seen as being what took the place of the Moratoria and nobody every answered that question. I have always had great uncertainty about moratoria – it goes back to my Irish past – of living with ceasefires. The problem with ceasefires is this: you establish a break in the conflict in order to stop the parties doing more damage to one another and that is an entirely understandable and laudable aim. But by doing that, you remove the urgency about resolving the issue. So having established the moratorium, everybody sits back because the need to resolve the issue is no longer there. And I think we’ve had too much of that. I don’t think there has been clarity about the link between the Anglican Communion Moratoria and the Anglican Covenant and I do not think at this moment there is clarity about the status of the Moratoria. My personal view is that the authority of such provisions ebbs away slowly as time passes and I don’t think that there is much authority left. And in the recent pronouncements of the Church of England, for example, the Anglican Communion Moratoria were not mentioned. So clearly they don’t seem now to be authoritative in our life and I don’t think they are a major factor in any consideration we give.

Later in the synod, the Primus was asked whether it would be possible for the College of Bishops to clarify after its next meeting whether the moratoria still applied in Scotland and also whether the uniquely Scottish moratorium about Bishops attending civil partnership ceremonies was still regarded by the Bishops as being in force.

The Primus replied:

Firstly on the specific question of whether bishops attend civil partnerships, we [the College of Bishops] have discussed that question and I think that we need to discuss it further at our next meeting before we finalise a view because it is a complex many layered question. The question about the Moratoria to be honest I thought I had answered in the sense that I made clear that no answer in my view was going to come from the Anglican Communion as to whether the Anglican Communion Moratoria were still in place. And the reason for that, I think, is that it would be very difficult for such a thing to happen. Why? Because the nature of the Primates’ Meeting has changed and the Primates’ Meeting I think, in the initial phases of the great difficulties which the Anglican Communion has passed through, went through a phase in which it tried to take decisions and hold the Communion to those decisions. When I attended the meeting of the Anglican Primates in Dublin in 2011 that meeting made a very definite decision to return to what it regarded as its core role as a place of prayer and consultation. Therefore it regarded the period in which the Primates’ Meeting had attempted to take authoritative decisions as being something of an aberration. So we are now left with a situation where a meeting functioning, a part of the Anglican Communion, functioning in one mode has left us with a set of provisions which it probably isn’t able to undo. But there’s another strand to that, because we obviously can ourselves decide that inasmuch as the Anglican Communion Moratoria are in existence we feel ourselves no longer bound by them. But it seems to me that is a question analogous to what happens if you decide not to adopt the Anglican Covenant. Because if you have decided that you are not going to be bound by, shall we say, the external discipline of the Communion you have to decide what your internal, what your self-discipline is, which bounds your actions. Now the process on human sexuality which we have been discussing, it seems to me, represents our response to what happens when we decide not to adopt the Anglican Covenant and I think that the situation about the Anglican Communion Moratoria is rather simpler but is analogous to that. It’s not actually our moratoria it’s the Primates’ Meeting’s moratoria. So it’s up to them to decide that they no longer bind the Communion. I don’t think they are able to do that. So we end up in a rather difficult hiatus but not, I think, one that need impede our life because what we are doing is establishing through our various processes what our position will be, and we are trying to honour the presence of the Communion; to be Communion sensitive and Communion responsive by involving partners from other parts of the Communion. We’re honouring the sense that we are not entirely on our own but actually in the end the decisions are ours to be taken with full knowledge and recognition of the sensitivities of those decisions in the Communion context.

Sorry if that’s complex and it’s deeply unsatisfactory to be honest, but I think that’s where it is. I hope that I’ve been as open as I can be.