Moderator's Address to the General Synod of the Church of England

Angus Morrison Justin Welby
Rt Rev Dr Angus Morrison with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

Moderator's Address to the General Synod of the Church of England: 16th February 2016

May I begin by expressing my thanks to the General Synod, and to the Archbishop(s) and the Secretary General, for the honour conferred upon me in being invited to address the General Synod on the occasion of the presentation of the Report of the Joint Study Group: Growth in Communion, Partnership in Mission, and, in particular, the proposed Columba Declaration.

The Declaration will, I believe, if approved by this Synod and by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, symbolise and give expression to a relationship which has grown and developed in recent years and which, in the providence of God, may yet deepen more fully to our mutual, but not exclusive, benefit. The strengthening of the bonds that already exist between us can only serve the 'advance of the Gospel' which is our united desire and aim.

Indeed, the relationship between the Church of England and the Church of Scotland is one embedded in the DNA of both churches, given the common context in which they were shaped: that of the Reformation of the 16th century. That the subsequent journeys taken by our two churches thereafter have been somewhat different owes something to a variety of factors, including no doubt, matters political, monarchical and climatic.

Likewise the impact of the Book of Common Prayer(the 1552 edition, of course) on the Scottish Reformation is somewhat under-researched, but may still be percolating down for all we know.; Equally, if John Knox had accepted the Bishopric of Rochester, who knows what our relationship might now be?

But we cannot second guess the progress of history and we stand where we stand, with our identities shaped by the contexts in which we have sought to understand and to express our understanding of the Christian faith. We are shaped also by the present context in which we are set, a context which surely invites us, and invites us pressingly, to consider again how we each, and in concert with one another, give expression to our relationship. Not for our own sakes alone, but for the sake of the Gospel; as partners in mission, as participants in the mission of God.

The Report before General Synod today and, I trust, the General Assembly in May, gives us the opportunity to do so.

The Report proposes nothing ground-breaking, but what it does do is to remind, recall and to reaffirm what we already do together in partnership and in concert with one another as 'national churches', and ; as churches within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of which we are both part, and in virtue of which we are related to one another, and related to other churches within our particular communions and beyond.

In seeking to establish and further any relationship there are, of course, challenges along the way. The course of true partnership never runs entirely smoothly! I am aware that there have been some misunderstandings of what this Report is about, partly because of the way that it attracted national press coverage just before Christmas before we were ready to release the full text, and that those misunderstandings have resulted in some hurt and dismay on the part of the Scottish Episcopal Church in particular.

We have been working hard since then to address those misunderstandings and to focus on how responding to the Report can be a positive opportunity for building relations with the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church of England. The Scottish Episcopal Church's press release on 29th January confirms their recognition of these positive developments and sets out a constructive way forward, with a timetable set for their formal response to this Report following its debate today and at the Assembly in May.

Thus, Bishop Gregor Duncan, Acting Convener of the Faith & Order Board of the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church, stated:

The Board believes that publication of Growth in Communion-Partnership in Mission now provides an opportunity to build on the warm relations which the Scottish Episcopal Church already enjoys with the Church of Scotland and very much looks forward to continuing discussions.

I want to say to the General Synod that the regrettable release of elements of the Declaration has engendered intense and remarkably productive engagement between the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church, with respect to how both churches might give expression to our journey together within the specifically Scottish contextwhich, as you know, differs ever so slightly from the English context. Equally, I believe that recent events have actually significantly strengthened the determination within both churches to give appropriate expression to that relationship.

It was a privilege to attend morning worship at Lambeth Palace this morning. There we prayed for the unity of Christians and that the Holy Spirit would 'enable us to experience the suffering caused by division, to see our sin and to hope beyond hope.' As someone whose roots lie in separatist Presbyterianism, that touches me deeply.

Let it be openly acknowledged that over centuries in Scotland our relationship with our Episcopalian brothers and sisters has not always been a happy one. We need – we all need – to recognize our sin and fault.

Grace, however, frees us from the past and enables us 'to hope beyond hope'. Our Lord prayed fervently that we might be one, walking together in mutual love, acceptance and service, for the Gospel's sake. At core, that really is what we are about today.

I am fully persuaded that that the Report and the Columba Declaration now before the Synod for debate offers us all a very special opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to move forward together and to work out together the implications for us all, and for the vital mission we share, of the concern so close to Jesus' heart.

What does the Columba Declaration offer to both the Church of England and the Church of Scotland?

Remarkably, it offers, for the very first time in our history, the opportunity for both churches to formally affirm each other, Thus:

We acknowledge one another's churches aschurches belonging to the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ and trulyparticipating in the apostolic ministry and mission of the whole people of God.

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.

We acknowledge that both our churches share in the common confession of the apostolic faith.

I cannot imagine why we have not done this before!Here today, we have the opportunity so to do. We owe no less, I believe, to our common Lord and we owe it to the world to which he has sent us in mission and service.

Therefore, in the terms of the Columba Declaration, we have a firm foundation from which:

1) To recall where we have come from and the steps which have led us here;

2) to acknowledge with gratitude to God what we are already doing in our present partnership in mission, and;

3) to identify what we might consider doing in our future partnership.

There is no prescription of the future in the Report. Rather, there is an opportunity before us to affirm, to renew and to consider how we might deepen the relationship which we share, a relationship expressed carefully, yet confidently, in: Growth in Communion, Partnership in Mission, and in the terms of the Columba Declaration. I warmly commend the Report and the Declaration to the General Synod.

How did the vote go? Find out here.