Landmark report on historic Ecumenical partnership plans published

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The Rev Dr John L McPake and the Rev Alison McDonald. Image court. Photo courtesy Chris Flexen.

A landmark Report which proposes that the Church of Scotland and the Church of England enter into an historic ecumenical partnership agreement has been published today.

The Columba Declaration, which lays the groundwork for future relationships and was prepared by a Joint Study Group, is presented within the Report: "Growth in Communion, Partnership in Mission" and is scheduled for debate at the Church of England's General Synod next month.

The proposed partnership agreement has led to a rare invitation to the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to address the General Synod.

The Right Rev Dr Angus Morrison will attend the annual gathering in London on February 16 and speak to the Joint Report.   

The 20-page document, which represents a "significant step" between the two denominations and will open up new future possibilities, will be debated at the Church of Scotland's General Assembly in May.

Under the terms of the proposed declaration, which is closely modelled on existing ecumenical agreements between other churches, both denominations would welcome one another's members into congregations and ordained ministers would be allowed to exercise ministry within the existing discipline of each church only within England and continental Europe.

 Rev Alison McDonald, Convener of the Church of Scotland's Ecumenical Relations Committee, said: "The Joint Report sets out clearly the shared foundations of faith of the Church of England and the Church of Scotland, which enable us to recognise one another formally for the first time.

"This provides a sound basis for our ongoing cooperation and for exploring future partnership."

The Rev Dr John L McPake, Co-chair of the Joint Study Group and one of the authors of the report, said the Columba Declaration affirmed the distinct identities of both churches but recognised that the challenges of mission in the 21st Century "cannot be addressed in isolation from one another".

The Report is the result of a long and considered process.

Talks preparing the way for a formal declaration on how the churches are working together have been held for the last 15 years.

The Joint Study Group drafting the Report has been meeting since 2010, as reported to the General Assembly from 2010-2015

Arranged into four chapters, the report sets out the history of partnership between the two churches and the shared beliefs that allow for close cooperation between the churches, before going on to explore how the partnership could grow.

It is hoped that the Columba Declaration will:

·         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.

The Report states: "The new arrangements we are proposing are modest and 'light touch' with a small contact group meeting yearly and reporting to the ecumenical bodies within each church"

"The new possibilities that energise us are not about novel doctrinal statements or additional institutional structures, but about growing in communion and partnership in mission, so that people may be drawn to the good news of peace, the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Under the terms of the Columba Declaration, the Church of Scotland and Church of England would pray for and with one another, explore opportunities for ecumenical partnerships in England and continental Europe and identify theological, social, political and ethical issues that arise and be prepared to allocate resources to joint initiatives for addressing them.

In 2015 a group of churches established the Churches' Mutual Credit Union as a response to concerns that low-income families needed access to low-cost banking and loans. And that's just one of the areas where the two churches already are collaborating.

The Church of Scotland's Church and Society Council and the Church of England's Mission and Public Affairs talk regularly about everything from poverty to refugees.

The churches already exchange views on ministry and come together on initiatives such as Fresh Expressions. The Church of Scotland also sends a representative to the General Synod while the Church of England sends a representative to the General Assembly.

The Rev Dr Jeremy Worthern, Church of England Secretary for Ecumenical Relations and Theology said:  "We welcome the publication of Growth in Communion, Partnership in Mission which affirms the longstanding relationship between the Church of England and Church of Scotland, and provides a sound basis for its future development.

"We look forward to welcoming the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at next month's General Synod and to the debate on the report.

"We value our ecumenical relationship with the Church of Scotland and our relationship within the Anglican Communion with the Scottish Episcopal Church.

"There are opportunities for deepening both relationships as this report continues to be discussed and received by the Churches."

The Rt Rev Dr Gregor Duncan, Acting Convener of the Faith & Order Board of the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church said: "The Scottish Episcopal Church is pleased to have been asked to respond to this document which we will do through our normal ecumenical relations process. 

"We look forward to building on the warm relations we already enjoy with the Church of Scotland and to strengthening our relationship and mutual regard with the Church of England within the Anglican Communion."