Late yesterday a joint announcement was made by the Church of Scotland and the Church of England that a Joint Study Group had refined an agreement, named the Columba Declaration, for mutual recognition and cooperation. This morning we have additional details and the full text of the document as the Church of Scotland and the Church of England have released a common statement.
A couple of background items for context. First, in case you wondered the declaration is named for Saint Columba, a 6th century monk from Ireland who founded the Iona monastery and did much to evangelize Scotland. The other item that people have joked about is that the British Monarch is way ahead of the churches in that while she or he is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England they are also an adherent of the Church of Scotland when they are up north.
The press release from the Church of Scotland says that the joint study group has been meeting for 15 years and the statement has been a working document for five. It also points out that the two churches have already been working on common projects such as the Church Mutual Credit Union as well as having a common interest in Fresh Expressions.
The importance of the report is highlighted in this excerpt
“Our hope is that joint affirmation by our two churches of The Columba Declaration would:
- Affirm and strengthen our relationship at a time when it is likely to be particularly critical in the life of the United Kingdom;
- Provide an effective framework for coordinating present partnership activities and for fostering new initiatives;
- Enable us to speak and act together more effectively in the face of the missionary challenges of our generation.”
This was today’s front-page news in Scotland with stories by the BBC News, Herald Scotland, The Daily Mail, and The Telegraph. The story from the Telegraph contains some historical background including this paragraph:
Although virtually unimaginable now in a more secular age, the divide between Anglicanism and Presbyterianism was once one of the most deadly fault-lines in British history. The two groups emerged from the same tensions, around the interpretation of the Bible and issues of church and state, which ultimately fuelled the civil war across the British Isles in the 1640s.
It also has this quote from a former Moderator of the General Assembly that does a good job of providing context:
The Very Rev Dr Sheilagh Kesting, the Church of Scotland’s ecumenical officer, and a former Moderator, said: “This isn’t about union but about working across borders.
“This is putting a marker down saying our relationships are good; these are the things that are happening; this is why it is happening and why it should continue.
“We are accepting each other as we are in our diversity … there is still a wish on both sides that we could find a way, given that diversity, to recognise each other’s ministry fully.”
This agreement was also praised on the editorial page of the Herald with a piece that begins:
News that the Church of Scotland and Church of England have made a formal agreement to become ecumenical partners and to work jointly together on a variety of initiatives in future is little short of a religious revolution, the sort Calvin and Knox would have recognised as seismic. As befits our times, however, this historic step, outlined in a document called the Columba Declaration, has been taken not with great fanfare, but with quiet determination. The result of decades of deliberation and consultation, it has been distinguished by the thoughtfulness and lack of stridency for which the ecumenical movement is renowned.
For American Presbyterians, I would note that this agreement has some similarities to the various Full Communion agreements that the PC(USA) has but is is only a beginning and is not as extensive or complete of cooperation. In particular, ministers may serve in churches in the other branch recognizing each branches’ discipline, but that does not include stream-lined transfer of membership.
The Declaration will need the concurrence of the highest governing body of each denomination – the General Synod of the Church of England in February and the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May. Each meeting will include an address by the presiding officer of the other church. We await the release of the full four-chapter report that will go to the councils.
The Columba Declaration is relatively short so here it is in its entirety:
THE COLUMBA DECLARATION
In the light of our common mission and context (chapter 1), our agreement in faith (chapter 2) and our significant opportunities for growing in partnership in mission (chapter 3), we recommend that our churches make the following Declaration.
We, the Church of Scotland and the Church of England, make the following acknowledgements and commitments, which are interrelated.
(i) We acknowledge one another’s churches as churches belonging to the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ and truly participating in the apostolic ministry and mission of the whole people of God.
(ii) We acknowledge that in both our churches the word of God is truly preached, and the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Communion are rightly administered.
(iii) We acknowledge that both our churches share in the common confession of the apostolic faith.
(iv) We acknowledge that one another’s ordained ministries of word and sacraments are given by God as instruments of grace and we look forward to a time when growth in communion can be expressed in fuller unity that makes possible the interchangeability of ministers.
(v) We acknowledge that personal, collegial and communal oversight (episkope) is embodied and exercised in our churches in a variety of forms, as a visible sign expressing and serving the Church’s unity and continuity in apostolic life, mission and ministry.
We commit ourselves to grow together in communion and to strengthen our partnership in mission. Through this commitment, we hope to enrich our continuing relationships with other churches in the United Kingdom and around the world. We will welcome opportunities to draw other churches into the activities and initiatives that we share.
As part of that commitment, we will continue to:
(i) pray for and with one another;
(ii) welcome one another’s members to each other’s worship as guests and receive one another’s members into the congregational life of each other’s churches where that is their desire;
(iii) explore opportunities for congregational partnership, formal as well as informal, in those cases where there are churches in close geographical proximity;
(iv) enable ordained ministers from one of our churches to exercise ministry in the other church, in accordance with the discipline of each church;
(vi) identify theological issues that arise from growth towards fuller communion and be prepared to allocate resources to addressing them;
(vii) work together on social, political and ethical issues that arise from our participation in public life and be prepared to allocate resources to joint initiatives for addressing them.
In order to assist our churches in living out the acknowledgements and commitments of the Columba Declaration, we will appoint Co-Chairs and members of a Church of Scotland – Church of England Contact Group, whose purpose will be to coordinate the different activities that make up our rich relationship and develop new initiatives where these may be needed. The Contact Group will meet at least annually and will report annually to the Council for Christian Unity in the Church of England and the Committee on Ecumenical Relations in the Church of Scotland.