The Primus’ Charge outlined the challenges and opportunities before the Scottish Episcopal Church at the start of the first-ever virtual General Synod.
On a historic occasion at St Paul’s & St George’s Episcopal Church in Edinburgh, the General Synod was held online, with just a handful of core participants present in the church building. The one-day meeting was re-scheduled for Advent, for what is understood to be only the second time, after the usual physical gathering in June had to be postponed during lockdown.
The strange circumstances, caused by the restrictions placed on society by Covid-19, set the context for much of the Charge delivered by the Most Rev Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness.
“How different this year has been, the Advent message of being led out of darkness into the light of Christ has never been more powerful and it is a theme the Church needs to hold dear,” said the Primus.
“If I reflect on my own year then the darkness and the hope of light echoes loudly in my physical life and in my spiritual life. There have been days when simply saying the office has seemed like walking through treacle; a real effort to see any point in it at all. The smallest issues and arguments have taken on huge proportions and relationships have at times been strained.
“If I left it there then the darkness, I know, will consume me but time after time a thoughtful letter, a kindly e-mail, an offer of prayer and words of hope have arrived. The light has got through and I can move onwards. That, I hope, can be the message of this Synod. We can sit in the darkness worrying about the structure around us or we can put on the armour of light.”
The Primus also addressed challenges the SEC has faced beyond the practicalities of the pandemic, and highlighted bullying awareness training, bias training and racism awareness, and the issues that the Church should speak out about, such as international aid, gender violence, and modern slavery. He also looked to the opportunities of a bright future as the experience of 2020 makes us re-think the way we behave, our traditional practices, and what we can and cannot do.
“We entered this year with many things planned and dreamed of, things which needed to be cancelled or significantly changed,” said the Primus. “We also entered a year that had brought with it issues for society to face up to and issues for our church to face up to. During this year I and the other bishops have engaged in bullying awareness training in response to the Clergy Wellbeing report. This hopefully has enabled us to understand and to modify our own behaviours and consider how we may seek to change the behaviour of others. I have to say that from a personal perspective, I found the process both painful and at times shameful. We cannot fully proclaim the Gospel if we cannot see when our own behaviour is damaging to others
“There are so many issues that we should be prepared to speak out about, to be Christ-like in our responses. International aid, gender violence, modern slavery; we need to keep our voices, and try to live as if we really can make a difference. Many of these have been difficult matters to consider, made all the more difficult by the lack of person-to-person interaction, yet we are making progress just as the church managed to make such remarkable progress as our churches closed because of the pandemic.”
The Primus concluded: “What of now and what of the future? My charge today sits at a moment when we begin to see a way out of the pandemic. We are praying that our season of pilgrimage will give us the opportunities to journey into the light of a new freedom, but what do we want that future to look like?
“Do we really want to simply go back to where we were? What of the changes and the challenges that have enriched this time, the unexpected revelations that struck us? I for one want to witness the flowering of creation that became apparent to me on the track to our house this summer. I had time to stop and watch nature this year, yet I think the visual impact of the atmospheric changes seen in some cities clearly indicates what we could achieve if we took care of the planet we live on.
“We have questions of what sort of investments we place our money into but also questions about how we heat our churches, how often and how far we travel, about the resources we use to run this institution. We need to get our own house in order if we are to keep putting pressure on the governments and industries of the world. You can’t challenge others if we don’t challenge ourselves.
“I see a bright future, not a return to everything we did, but a future where we continue to remember that we are part of a living, breathing community of faith not simply another institution that needs to keep going.”
The full text of the Charge will be made available on the SEC website later today.
The main item of business during the morning session was the passing of a motion to agree a quota figure of £600,000 for the year 2021, representing a 19.1 per cent reduction on the previous year in response to the financial impact on dioceses and charges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Votes for the motion were 100 for, and none against, which followed a half-hour discussion on the pandemic experience in break-out groups.
Earlier motions included a series of elections, which were all passed: Bridget Campbell was appointed convener of Standing Committee, the Very Rev Sarah Murray was appointed Convener of the Mission Board, the Rt Rev Anne Dyer was appointed Convener of the Institute Council, the Rev Marjory McPherson was appointed for a second term on the Institute Council, the Rev Deborah Davidson was appointed a member of the Administration Board, and Fraser Falconer, Susan Horne, Rev Canon Professor John Richardson and John Whittall were all re-appointed for an additional term on the Clergy Discipline Tribunal.
Also passed were ratification of the appointment by Standing Committee of Robert Phillips as a member of the Preliminary Proceedings Committee, continuing his current term of office until General Synod 2024; the extension of the term of office of Richard McIndoe as Chair of the Pension Fund Trustees until General Synod 2021; and the appointment of Robert Gordon, out-going Convener of Standing Committee, as a General Synod Trustee.