31 MAY 1957, Page 17

Towards Reunion


On Tuesday the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland commended the Joint Report on closer relations between the churches to 'the careful study of members of the church at every level.'

N 1932, after an official visit by the Archbishop I of Canterbury, Dr. Cosmo Lang, to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, conversa- tions directed towards finding a basis for inter- communion were begun between accredited representatives of the two National Churches. They were carried on until 1934. Certain diffi- culties then arose and the conversations were suspended. Fifteen years passed away, as did Dr. Lang and his ecumenically minded successor, Dr. William Temple. Then, in January, 1950, owing in part to the interest aroused by a sermon preached at Cambridge in the autumn of 1946 by the present Archbishop of Canterbury, official representatives of the two Churches got together again. By 1953 they had made a gratifying advance, as ecclesiastical advances go, so far as a short-term policy was concerned.

The conversations between the two Churches were then resumed to explore a long-term policy envisaging full organic unity, and the first meet- ing took place in Edinburgh in the autumn of 1954. The Scottish Episcopalians and the English Presbyterians, who hitherto had only been represented by observers, now took part in the discussions as full members of the conferring group. A joint report was recently published embodying suggestions which are to be presented to the four Churches for their careful and un- hurried consideration. The heat it has already engendered in. Scotland is indicative of the difficul- ties that lie ahead. This joint report, it must be remembered, contains only tentative suggestions and not firm recommendations, and is meant only as a basis for discussion by the four Churches over what is likely to be a long number of years.

We have here a fine Christian document expres- sive of the courage and charity that have prevailed among all parties. It is the greatest effort that has yet been made to heal that division between Pres- bytery and Episcopacy which has brought such scandal upon the spiritual life of this country.

In these suggestions, both Anglicans and Presbyterians have made considerable conces- sions as regards their respective polity and tradition, the larger concessions being possibly on the side of the Church of England. The sug- gestion that Presbyterianism should accept a form of episcopacy in the person of a 'bishop-in- presbytery,' who would be the presbytery's per- manent moderator, leaves the historic and demo- cratic hierarchy of the Kirk's ecclesiastical courts unimpaired and still functioning with their full authority in all matters of doctrine and admin- istration. The introduction of such an office, pastoral and not monarchical in character, which some of us have publicly advocated for years, would be of real spiritual value to Presbyter- ianism, many of whose clergy feel deeply the need of a Father in God. The suggestion, however, of introducing into the Church of England some- thing in the nature of the presbyterian eldership, which would mean that the laity would have equal representation with the clergy in all its courts, is one which many Anglicans will find it hard to stomach. Such lay representation is, of course, of the very essence of Scottish Presbyterianism, and from it the Church of Scotland has undoubtedly derived much f:vf its strength and vigour; but Presbyterians must remember that it is wholly foreign to the Anglican temperament and tradition, and must not be surprised if at first the suggestion meets with hostility among large sections of Anglican opinion. It might well be, however, that by thus taking the laity more fully into its corporate and administrative life, the Church of England would come to exercise a greater influence throughout the country.

We are on an adventure very difficult, as Cromwell said at Dunbar. The rapprochement of the divided Churches of this island will inevitably be a slow and complicated business, and we must all be very patient with each other. During my own lifetime there has been an astonishing improvement in the climate of opinion within each Church. Mutual courtesies have become frequent and will doubtless become more frequent still. But, and especially in the North, the ecclesiastical atmosphere is still heavy with mem- ories of past antagonisms, which, though they have no bearing on our twentieth-century situa- tion, unhappily can and do engender bitterness. To many Presbyterians the word 'Covenanter' still acts like a talisman, while the word 'bishop' is still like a red rag to a bull. 'You've sold the Kirk to the Church of England,' declared a scientific professor in a Scottish University to an eminent divine who took part in the recent con- versations. 'Why,' asked the divine, 'what are you so excited about? I thought you were an atheist.' `So I am,' retorted the scientist, 'but I'm a presbyterian atheist.'

If many Anglicans appear to find it difficult to understand the Presbyterian ethos, many Presby- terians are slow to grasp that episcopacy' does not necessarily mean diocesan episcopacy, and that a bishop is not necessarily an autocrat. They have largely forgotten that the period 1610 to 1637, which was perhaps the most gracious and mellow period of Scottish post-Reformation history, saw episcopacy and presbytery blended in the Church of Scotland and functioning efficiently. It was the great tragedy of Scotland that the folly of an obstinate King should have brought this structure down in ruins. The deep estrangement between the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church—and we may as well face the fact that it exists—is profoundly to be deplored, for fundamentally, among the con- ferring Churches, these two are the most capable of understanding each other. They stern from the same source, and each has the same right to regard itself as a branch of the historic Reformed Church of Scotland. The Scottish Episcopal Church is probably the least prelatical and most democratic of all the branches of the Anglican Communion, and, with the considerable partici- pation it - affords to its laity in administrative affairs, it can understand, as the Church of England can hardly be expected to do, the Presbyterian eldership and democratic ecclesiasti- cal courts.

The Mind of God wills the unity of His people, and we must believe that some day these divi- sions will be healed. It will take a very long time, but there will be other days than ours.