On Advent Sunday we dedicated our new Advent Hangings, made by Tabitha Craig.
They depict the Advent candles with the four words which are sometimes used in connection with the 4 weeks of Advent. Hope, Love, Joy and Peace.
At the Primates’ Meeting today the Most Rev Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church was asked to explain the process undertaken by the Scottish Episcopal Church in its move towards an adjustment of its Canon on Marriage to enable those who felt called to offer marriage to same gender couples the ability to do so.
He explained that the process had included much prayer, theological debate, open and, at times, very personal testimony and that opportunity had been provided for groups throughout the Church to discuss this matter and to pray about it; this included the voice of the youth in the Church, the sharing of powerful words and stories from elderly members and hearing representation from those who hold a traditional understanding of marriage, those who see marriage as including same gender couples and those who have encountered exclusion in declaring their love.
The Primus also explained that the nature of decision reached by the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church, is such as to allow those of different views to continue to “walk together”. It recognises that there are different understandings of marriage and that no member of clergy is compelled to conduct any marriage against their conscience. Only those clergy who wish to solemnise marriages of same gender couples will be nominated to the civil authorities for authorisation to do so.
The Most Rev Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church says “In June the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church voted to change its Canon on Marriage. This decision was ours to take as a self-governing province of the Anglican Communion.
“However, I recognise that this decision is one that has caused some hurt and anger in parts of the Anglican Communion and that the decision taken at the last Primates’ Meeting, which was to exclude our brothers and sisters in The Episcopal Church from debate on Doctrine and from Chairing Anglican Communion Committees, is a decision that now also pertains to us. We will continue to play our part in the Anglican Communion we helped to establish, and I will do all I can to rebuild relationships, but that will be done from the position our Church has now reached in accordance with its synodical processes and in the belief that Love means Love.”
The General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church has today passed a first reading of a change to its Canon on marriage (Canon 31). The change is to remove from the Canon the doctrinal statement regarding marriage that marriage is to be understood as a union “of one man and one woman.”
A first reading of the change is the first step in a process and does not represent a final decision. The proposed change now passes from the General Synod to the Church’s seven dioceses for discussion and comment in their Diocesan Synods in the coming year. The opinions from the dioceses will then be relayed back to the General Synod which will be invited to give a second reading of the Canon in June 2017. At that stage, for a second reading to be passed, it must achieve a majority of two thirds in the “houses” of bishops, clergy and laity within the General Synod. The change to the canon would include a conscience clause ensuring that clergy opposed to the change are not required to marry people of the same sex.
Commenting on the first reading today, the Rt Rev Dr Gregor Duncan, Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway and Acting Convener of the Church’s Faith and Order Board, said:
General Synod last year engaged in extensive debate in relation to possible changes to our Canon on marriage. It asked the Board to bring forward canonical legislation this year to remove from the Canon any doctrinal statement regarding marriage. That would pave the way for clergy of the Church who wish to be able to solemnise weddings between people of the same sex. Synod has this year accepted the proposals brought forward by the Board by giving a first reading to the canonical change. The process will now continue and not be completed until General Synod 2017. If second reading is agreed at that stage, the change to the Canon will take effect.
The Synod’s decision this year is important because it represents the beginning of a formal process of canonical change. The Church has been engaged in recent years in a series of discussions at all levels. The current process will enable the Church come to a formal decision on the matter. Views within the Church are, of course, wide and diverse. The passing of the first reading today will bring great joy to some; for others it will be matter of great difficulty. The wording of the proposed change recognises that there are differing views of marriage within our Church and we have attempted, and will continue to attempt, to sustain our unity in the midst of our diversity.
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At times it is hard to think that the world we live in is anything other than very dark. All around us are threats to life – climate change, terrorism, civil wars, genocidal campaigns, corruption, failed and failing states, appalling abuse, not least of women and children – the list is endless, the litany of disaster and horror very, very long. Fear is rampant in our society, fear for the future, fear for our security, fear of the other, not least of refugees and migrants. It would not be too difficult to conclude that the darkness has indeed overcome any light there is or is well set to do so. The world seems very far away from heaven and from God’s light and love.
And then Christmas comes again to remind us that it is not so and that we lay our lives and our living on the trust that it is not so. Listen to the words of our eucharistic liturgy, first for Advent and then for Christmas: In Christ your Son the life of heaven and earth were joined …. He made his home among us that we might for ever dwell in you. If we are sincere in our worship and in our participation in the Liturgy we cannot really believe that the world is very far away from heaven and from God’s light and love. Why? Because the God of light and love chooses to dwell in it, to love it into glorious life from within, beginning with this infant whose birth we celebrate with great joy each and every year of our lives and going on with all his people right up to us and beyond us for as long as time endures.
It is, of course, easy to mock this belief as naïve – as great a writer as Thomas Hardy, in a poem called Christmas 1924 could say
‘Peace upon earth!’ was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We’ve got as far as poison-gas.
And we’ve got rather beyond poison gas in 2015, nearly a hundred years on. But is this really the vision we want to lay our lives and our living upon, a vision of despair and utter bleakness? We’re not going to deny that there is truth in it, of course not, but we are going to affirm that the liturgy has the words of a greater truth, the light and love by which to live, the light to find God at work in the world and the love to join God there in the midst, in the flesh, helping God to love us and the world into glorious life for now and all eternity.
May I wish you all a wonderful celebration of the infant light of the world, a light the darkness can never extinguish, a light to live by however dark things seem, or as another part of our liturgy, Evening Prayer, has it: the only unfading light, glorious in all eternity.
Advance Notice 7th June
The Bishop and his advisors have approved the new All Saints Constitution, as revised in the light of the EGM held on Sunday 22 February 2015. The final stage in the process of adopting this Constitution is for the Congregation to ratify it at an Extraordinary General Meeting. This EGM will be held on Sunday 7th June after the 11 am service.