On Being A Scottish Episcopalian

A while ago, Bishop Gregor officially appointed me to the staff of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, and made me a priest of the Scottish Episcopal Church. That ratifies a fact of geography — I really do live here — and (I confess) alleviates a certain sense of alienation from the US Episcopal Church that I had served for many years.
 
I came to Scotland as an economic refugee, as it were, and brought with me a relatively ordinary US-ian understanding of what the Episcopal tradition must mean in Scotland. I had, after all, been a seminarian in Connecticut at the time of the bicentennial of Samuel Seabury’s ordination in Aberdeen by Scottish bishops (1784 / 1984), and had taught for nine years at the seminary named in Bishop Seabury’s honour. My sense of ‘Scottish’ + ‘Episcopal’ equalled ‘Anglican but not established’, a very misleading caricature of the complexities that have become clearer to me over the years I’ve spent here. Archdeacon Simonton’s historical survey (to which I linked earlier this morning) attends so carefully to the nuances of the historic relationship between Scotland and England and the episcopal churches therein that most readers will react with a simple tl;dr — but some of the pivotal points he makes merit highlighting apart from the rich context he provides.
 
First: the break from Rome in Scotland and England took place at different times, in different ways. Remember that Henry VIII was not king over Scotland, so his marital status had no direct bearing on the relation of Scotland with the See of Rome. Henry broke with Rome in 1535, and in fact was battling against Scotland in the 1540s; Scotland continued in communion with Rome until 1560, when the Scottish Parliament (not the same entity and the English Parliament) promulgated the Scots Confession and abolished observance of Catholic faith. At this point, the Scottish Parliament specifically did not at first abolish the episcopacy (although ministry was framed up in largely Reformed terms), and it did not adopt the English Book of Common Prayer. The introduction of the proposed Scottish Prayerbook of 1637 — prepared by Scottish bishops — to supplant John Knox’s Book of Common Order provoked riots in the streets and led the General Assembly in Glasgow to abolish the office of ‘bishop’ in 1638.
 
At this point, Scotland and England — still separate realms with separate Parliaments, although ruled by the same king from the accession of James VI to the English throne in 1603 to the execution of Charles I in 1649, the Protectorate from 1649-1660, then again under Charles the II and James VII/II, under William II/III beginning in 1689, until the English Parliament and the Scottish Parliament were dissolved in favour of the united Parliament of Great Britain in 1707 (as late as 1703, Scotland was asserting its prerogative to select a Stuart monarch if Queen Anne died without surviving issue). When William took the throne in 1689, Scottish bishops would not swear allegiance to a monarch who had deposed a Scottish king; they continued to be bishops, but were completely written out of the polity of the Church of Scotland. There was still no Prayerbook for Scotland, though once Scottish Episcopalians were separated from the Church of Scotland, they began using the Scottish Prayerbook of 1637 (with modifications, ultimately gathered up into the successive supplements known as the Wee Bookies).
 
In the eighteenth century, the Scottish Episcopal Church — disowned by the Church of England, and discountenanced by the Church of Scotland — operated in a legal-ecclesiastical no-one’s-land. The Church of Scotland tried to suppress the SEC — which had strongly supported the Old Pretender in 1715 and the Young Pretender in 1745 — with the Penal Acts of 1719, 1746, and 1748. The state regulation of Episcopal worship divided clergy and congregations between qualified Episcopalians, who were ordained by English or Irish bishops, swore allegiance to and prayed for the English monarch, and complied with the restrictions on worship; and the proper Scottish Episcopal Church, which continued its Jacobite loyalties and the lines of ordination and succession of the Scottish non-juring bishops. (There were also actually a few Church of England chapels for the use of English residents of Scotland; these were under the direct authority of English dioceses or agencies, whereas qualifying congregations were autonomous as long as they adhered to the relevant laws.) Qualifying congregations thus frequently drew their leadership from among English-trained and ordained clergy, perpetuating the strain, or stain, of Englishness in Scottish Episcopalianism; but these were not high-flying English churchmen, since the best and brightest of English clerics would hardly go north to serve a non-established qualifying congregation in Scotland when they could secure a more prestigious and remunerative benefice in the Church of England.
 
The Penal Laws were repealed in 1792 (after the death of Bonnie Prince Charlie, Charles III), after which the qualifying Episcopalians and the Scottish Episcopalians reunited and eventually adopted the Thirty-Nine Articles (for the first time — since English polity had no authority over the Scottish Church) in 1804, 233 years after they were adopted by the Church of England.
 
If one wants a fuller exposition of the cross-currents, conflicts, hybridity, persecution, rebellion, and other circumstances attendant on the formation of Scottish Episcopal identity, Archdeacon Simonton’s essay supplies many, and Canon Gavin White’s history of the Scottish Episcopal Church goes into further depth. A careful consideration of ‘Anglican’ identity in Scotland, though, stands to disrupt any naïve notions about a grand, coherent, Anglican unity grounded in the Book of Common Prayer or the Thirty-Nine Articles. I fully support the idea of the Anglican Communion, and the collegial unity of episcopal churches in communion with the See of Canterbury (which nonjuring Scottish Episcopalians would not have been, for a while), and I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the Anglican Covenant — but such a communion should be grounded in a forthright recognition of the very, very different paths by which ‘Anglicans’ or Episcopalians arrive at their inheritance and allegiance.
 

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