Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Lesson from History

All this talk of unity caused my mind to wander back to the early nineteenth century and an obscure event, the unification of Scottish Anglicanism.

In 1800 Scottish Anglicans were divided into two, somewhat hostile camps. Four bishops, twenty-odd clergy and around forty congregations belonged to the Scottish Episcopal Church which carefully guarded its Non-Juror heritage since disestablishment in 1690. They had laboured under governmental disapprobation until 1792 when the Penal Laws(1) imposed in 1715 were finally repealed following the death of 'Bonnie Prince Charlie.' Although Scottish Episcopalians used the English BCP for services, other than the Eucharist, they adapted it freely. Many of these liberties with the text foiund their way into the first American BCP in 1789. The Piskies (as Scottish Episcopalians were called) had little time for the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, preferring the "ancient Fathers and Councils," and strongly disapproved of the English Communion Service. Instead of Cranmer's flawed Eucharistic Rite, they used "wee bookies" containing the 1764 Scottish Communion Office, or Scottish Liturgy - the grand-daddy of the present American 1928 Communion Liturgy. All in all, they stood for a uniquely Scottish expression of Anglicanism, rooted in the tradition of the Caroline Divines, the Aberdeen Doctors, and the Non-Jurors. However, it was a tradition that had grown weary due to the long years of proscription and intermittent persecution.

The bulk of Scottish Anglicans belonged to one of the forty or so Qualified Chapels that had been erected under the Scottish Toleration Act of 1712. These used the English BCP of 1662 and employed ministers ordained by English or Irish bishops. Quite frequently these chapels were 'establishment' in their philosophy, keeping firm hold on their English BCPs as a mark of their legitimacy. In truth, lacking bishops, the Qualified Chapels were in no better shape than the exhausted SEC, but they did at least have a presence in the Lowlands that the SEC largely lacked. Of course, to all right minded churchmen, both in the Qualified Chapels and in the Scottish Episcopal Church, this lack of unity was a scandal, and there was much that they could give to each other.

In the end it was the Scottish Episcopal Bishops who took the lead, and decided to do something about Unity. Their first move was to set their house in order. The old freewheeling way with the BCP was put under official disapproval by a modification to the SEC Canons which began to require strict adherence to the liturgy. Scottish Episcopal bishops began to wear rochet and chimere and to the eyes of the 'Qualified,' look like bishops, whilst the surplice began to appear in Scottish Episcopal Churches. The old hands complained about "Anglicization" but they also saw growth.(2) Then, in 1804, the Scottish bishops decided to accept the Thirty-nine Articles as a doctrinal statement, though they refused to make them a test of orthodoxy, preferring to stick with the old 'Piskie' appeal to the Scriptures and the Early Fathers. This removed the last remaining barrier between them and the Qualified congregation, and the latter began to move into the formerly persecuted, and proscribed Episcopal Church. By 1843, most of the Anglican congregations(3) in Scotland belonged to the Scottish Episcopal Church. The reunion of the two Anglican factions within Scotland in the early 19th century enabled the Scottish Episcopal Church to grow from about ninty congregations divided between the Scottish bishops and the English Chapel in 1800, to approximately three hundred organised into the seven dioceses of the Scottish Episcopal Church by the end of the century. This tremendous growth would not have taken place without the Scottish bishops' courageous decision to meet the Qualified Chapels halfway.

It is amazing what a little bit of give and take can do. Maybe if the Continuum tries it, we might achieve the same sort of results!

(1)It should be noted that the last ecclesiastical disability for clergy ordained in the Scottish Episcopal Church was not removed until 1862, when they were finally permitted to accept benefices in the Church of England.
(2)In the eighteenth century, the Scottish Episcopal clergy wore gowns and tippets and occasionally the cassock. The surplice was though to be either too Popish or too English.
(3) The so-called "Drummond" or "English Episcopal" schism that persisted from the 1840s to the 1890s. The Drummond Schism seems to have never consisted of more than seven churches at anyone time, but it gave the Scottish bishops sleepless nights into the 1890s. The last 'English Episcopal' church - St Silas, Glasgow - remained outwith the SEC until the 1970s!


Anonymous said...

Dear Bishop,
Thank you for this real-life parable. 'He that hath ears to hear.....'!


Canon Tallis said...

The very sad thing is that very few in the Continuum either know or are interested in the history of prayer book Christians since the reign of Elizabeth I. The result is that when we come upon a problem that seems insolvable we have little or no where to turn for practical suggestions. We don't know and seemingly don't care about what the church did or the problems it faced to simply survive either in the British Isles or in the English colonies in North America.

I have just listened to Charles Hill who teaches at both Harvard and the Hoover Institute at Stanford and was reminded that we have lost the sense of the grand strategy which requires knowing who we are, where we have come from and just where it is that we want to go. Are we in the Continuum content with our own tiny place where we can still do our own version of the prayer book services, even the missal services, or are we aware that we should have a grander common purpose than just that?

I would like to believe that it is "our bounden duty" to bring all of the West and not just the English Speaking World back to the Orthodoxy and mission of the Church as expressed by "the earliest bishops and Catholic fathers." But to do that it would seem to me that we must forgo the old Anglican rule of every priest the pope in his own parish and set ourselves to the grander task as defined by our Lord's own command.

But maybe the better question is can we man up to it?

John A. Hollister said...

Bishop Robinson's account of the 19th-Century reunification of the Scottish Episcopalians could serve as a parable for 21st-Century Continuing Anglicans. The most critical lesson we should draw from that history is the sensitivity and charity shown by the "mainstream" descendants of the Non-Jurors towards the C-of-E-affiliated "Qualified Chapels".

By understanding and meeting the concerns of the smaller group, the larger one made reunion possible.

That is something that should be remembered by all who might be tempted to suggest to the UECNA, for example, that it should just fold up its tents and join either the ACC or the APCK. After nearly thirty years of separate existence, the UECNA has developed both institutional integrity and a unique internal culture.

Its people have both the right and, most importantly, the power to determine their own future course. It seems to me the best way to encourage them to consider merger with another group is to respect those integrities, to work with them whenever possible and to do so as equals, and to let them, in their own good time, decide how they wish to manage their jurisdiction's future.

Suggestions that they should not found or accept new congregations, or that they should not assure the safe continuation of their own episcopate, will not speed along the day of eventual corporate reunion. That is under their own control and the more clearly that is acknowledged by outsiders, the more readily the insiders may come to feel that such reunion presents no threat to their well-being.

Or, as the older folks used to say, "You catch more flies with sugar than you do with vinegar."

John A. Hollister+