A Scottish Episcopal priest has expressed his solidarity with his the Episcopal Church of the USA, after sanctions were imposed on it by the Anglican primates earlier this week.
The Very Reverend Kelvin Holdsworth, Rector and Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, has been quick to support his American colleagues – whose sanctions relate to what was described as a “fundamental departure” in allowing same-sex marriage.
Mr Holdsworth told KaleidoScot: “Scottish Episcopalians stand in solidarity with the American Church with whom we share so much.”
The sanctions fall well short of suspension, but mean the American church can longer represent the Anglican communion on ecumenical and interfaith bodies and will not be able to take part in decision making on issues relating to doctrine or policy. The decision was not unanimous, but was supported by a majority of primates.
Asked about the implications for the Scottish Episcopal Church, Mr Holdsworth said: “People in Scotland rarely take kindly to being told what to do by decisions made south of the border. The resolve of those pressing for change in Scotland has been strengthened by this decision.”
At last year’s General Synod the Scottish church voted in principle in favour of same sex marriage, although this will require a change in Canon Law. Once this decision is implemented, the Scottish church could find itself in a similar situation to its American counterpart.
While the majority of Anglican primates believe supporting same sex marriage is a fundamental departure from the church’s moral teachings, the Scottish church appears to take a different stance and could be on a collision course with its more conservative colleagues.
The Most Reverend David Chillingworth, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, while disappointed with the sanctions imposed on the American church, found reason to be positive. He told Kaleidoscot: “In advance of the Primates Meeting, there were many predictions of breakdown and of fracture in the life of the Anglican Communion. It is therefore encouraging that the Primates have agreed to ‘walk together’ and that a Task Group will be established to work on our ongoing relationships.
“However that unity has come at some cost to the ability of the Communion to express the diversity which has always been a valued characteristic of the Anglican Way. The consequences which follow the decision of The Episcopal Church (in the United States) to change its Canon on marriage are a sign of that change. The Scottish Episcopal Church sees itself as a diverse church in a diverse Communion. It is important to us that we seek to sustain our unity as we continue to address issues of human sexuality in our General Synod.
“Further consideration will be given to these matters by our Faith and Order Board and by the College of Bishops.”
Before the start of the Primates meeting, he had used his blog, “Thinking Aloud“, to express his opposition to “centralised authority or a single teaching magisterium.”
There are a number of links between the Scottish and American churches. The Scottish Episcopal diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney has a twinning arrangement with Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford, Connecticut. The diocesan dean, The Very Reverend Dr Emsley Nimmo is to be made Honorary Canon of Christ Church Cathedral in February. In 2014, Canon Michael Belt from Connecticut was appointed as Honorary Canon for the Aberdeen and Orkney diocese.
Going further back, during the American War of Independence the then Bishop of London refused to consecrate bishops for the United States, so American bishops were instead consecrated by the Scottish church.
The crisis within the Anglican communion is a result of the stance taken by a number of conservative primates – especially within the Ugandan, Kenyan and Nigerian churches – being at the forefront of opposition to same sex marriage. There is an irony in this position as prior to western colonisation of the continent, many traditional cultures in Africa were accepting of different sexualities and gender relations.
Following the decision to sanction American Anglicans, the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Reverend Justin Welby, has become the centre of media attention after issuing an apology to homosexual people for any “hurt” caused by the church.
While stating that he wished to “take this opportunity…to say how sorry I am for the hurt and pain, in the past and present, the church has caused”, and emphasising that he considered the mistreatment of LGBT people in several countries to be “a major concern”, he has also appeared to simultaneously affirm the Primates’ statement upholding the “traditional doctrine” of marriage.
Asked whether the sanctions made the church look antiquated and out of touch, Mr Welby said: “In the US and UK, yes, but not in many other parts of the world, no. We are a global church and that means that there are different views in different places.”
When asked what would be done to challenge the less progressive voices and discriminatory attitudes, the Archbishop responded: “We are not a centralised church which orders people what to do and how much time to spend on doing it.”
This has angered many Anglicans, especially those in the UK who – like Mr Holdsworth – are supportive of attempts to work towards a more inclusive church. A member of Changing Attitude, a group working for”the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the Anglican Communion”, told KaleidoScot that he was more disappointed by the Archbishop’s apology than he was with the decision to sanction the American church.
“It is an apology that is both insulting and meaningless. However ‘concerned’ Justin Welby may be, the apology can only be taken seriously if it is matched with action.
“The Archbishop has overseen the suspension of one church within the communion – a church that merely held a different view from that held by some in other places. Now he justifies silence on action to overcome the pain he acknowledges LGBTI people suffer on the basis that differences should be tolerated.
“That’s doublethink of Orwellian proportions.
“Sadly, it seems that the desire for unity, however artificial, has taken priority over equality and social justice.”
The Episcopal Church of the USA has, since recognising gay people as “children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church” in 1976, sought to work towards full inclusion of LGBTI people in the life of the church. The first openly gay bishop was consecrated in 2003, and six years later the General Convention ruled that “God’s call is open to all”. In 2012, a “rite of blessing for same-gender relationships” was authorized, and discrimination against transgender people in the ordination process was officially prohibited.
St Mary’s Cathedral has issued badges, for supporters to wear in solidarity with the US based Episcopal Church. The badges can be obtained from the Cathedral’s online shop.