Church of England and Church of Scotland Forge Pact

'Historic’ agreement to bring UK’s two official ‘national’ churches together comes amid pressures

“The Daily Telegraph has learnt that a formal agreement between the two churches – which emerged separately from the Reformation in the 16th Century – is set to be put before their governing bodies, the General Synod and General Assembly, early next year.”

 

The Church of England and Church of Scotland are preparing a landmark pact committing the UK’s two official “national” churches to work closely together for the first time.

Leading clerics hope the move could help forge new ties between the people of England and Scotland in the wake of last year’s independence referendum and the 2015 General Election.

The Daily Telegraph has learnt that a formal agreement between the two churches – which emerged separately from the Reformation in the 16th Century – is set to be put before their governing bodies, the General Synod and General Assembly, early next year.

The pact, drawn up by panel of senior clerics after years of discussion, will be seen as a landmark in relations not just between neighbouring churches but two separate branches of Protestantism. It comes ahead of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation.

Although virtually unimaginable now in a more secular age, the divide between Anglicanism and Presbyterianism was once one of the most deadly fault-lines in British history.

The two groups emerged from the same tensions, around the interpretation of the Bible and issues of church and state, which ultimately fuelled the civil war across the British Isles in the 1640s.

It can, arguably, also still be seen today in the divide between high and low branches of the Church of England.

Although both groups split with Rome, Anglicans retain many more vestiges of Catholicism – from bishops and priests to altars and prayer books, elaborate vestments and customs such using incense, while Presbyterianism is founded on more austere, Calvinist teaching.

The pact is to be known as the Columba Declaration, in honour of St Columba, or Colm Cille, the 6th century Irish monk who founded the Abbey of Iona in western Scotland and is credited with helping reintroduce Christianity to mainland Britain.

Its main significance is likely to be symbolic, as the foundation of future efforts to bring the two churches more closely together, but it also includes a handful of specific commitments.

Perhaps the most ambitious clause is a commitment to work towards “interchangeability” of clergy with Church of England priests and Church of Scotland ministers being fully recognised – and eventually able to work – in each other’s churches.

That could yet require years of discussions to get around disagreements over theology about ordination and the place of bishops.

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