Primus’ Charge to General Synod 2017

June 8, 2017

As you know, I have lived much of my life in very turbulent and difficult times.  But it seems to me that the period through which we are living is particularly challenging.  The scenes in the Borough Market in London last Saturday were dreadful and frightening – and carry our minds back to Manchester, to Westminster, to Nice, Paris, to the recent huge loss of life in Kabul and all the others.  All were places where people were living ordinary lives – and in an instant the partition – the space – between that trustworthy ordinariness and the most unimaginable horror was dissolved.   Yet in the midst of that horror, ordinary people acted instinctively, nobly with self-sacrificing, cross-bearing heroism.

Religiously-motivated violence is one of the greatest challenges of our times.  And so is the rise of the politics of popular nationalism – driven by a combination of anger and fear.

In such times, I turn to the scriptures almost with relief.  They carry their own challenge – but they are a challenge to enter a greater humanity rather than a lesser.  Heart of flesh rather than heart of stone.  Clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.  People who are called by God to live Cross bearing, sacrificial lives.

I think that we have come to understand that the decision which we shall make later today about our understanding of marriage is one which has stressed and threatened to divide the church almost as nothing else in our times.  As we find ourselves living in a fractious and difficult world – so we also find ourselves living in a church where differing views sometimes apparently irreconcilable views are held with passion and integrity.

It is not for me in this Charge to argue the issues – that is for our debate this afternoon.  Rather it is for me to call our church to unity as we come once again to attempt to resolve this issue in our own life.  For the Gospel reminds us that God privileges agreement – if two or three agree in earth about anything in my name, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven,  and if we read the same words backwards, an inability to agree closes off blessing.  The challenge for us is whether or not our Koinonia, our oneness in Christ, can sustain our unity as we resolve and move forward as we will, still with a diversity of view.

These issues are familiar.  Sometimes it helps to hear that familiar in slightly different words – the words of my friend Professor Iain Torrance speaking at this year’s Church of Scotland General Assembly.   Two things which he said particularly struck me.  He described the moment when “suddenly the pieces of a long argument come together in a different way. Where both sides can flourish, both may be protected and both may be celebrated.”  And he talked about the need to “enable and celebrate structures of faithfulness.”

You will probably be as surprised as I am when I say that this is my 13th General Synod in the Scottish Episcopal Church.  The fact that we are addressing the issues of this Synod in the way we are is, I think, a sign of a growing maturity in the life of church.  We have approached many challenging issues over those years – our continually evolving approach to mission and discipleship, our processes of training for the next generation of clergy and lay readers, the challenge now of supporting our increasing number of ordinands, and of course our place in the Anglican Communion.  I have learnt as I have moved around, both in the British Isle and around the world, that we are a distinctive church, widely respected in the wider Anglican Communion.  We have our own history and our own voice.  But in recent times I think we have learned to temper our radical independent-mindedness with a strengthened commitment to orthodoxy.  We have tempered our radical independent-mindedness with a strengthened commitment to orthodoxy.  And that has increased our influence.

We now commit ourselves to the work of this Synod.  My prayer is that in our treatment of one another, we shall honour one another and the God whom we serve and who is the source of our unity as we meet together.


Most Revd David Chillingworth

Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane

Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church


General Synod 2017

Thursday 8th June, 2017