The Scottish Episcopal Church, part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, is set to join talks involving the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) and the Church of England as they seek greater and more effective links.
Following a decade of discussions, the Church of Scotland and the Church of England have published a joint document outlining areas where progress can be made, contained in the Kirk Ecumenical Relations Committee’s report to the forthcoming Church of Scotland General Assembly.
Both parties feel they have now reached a point where input from the Scottish Episcopal Church would be the natural progression. This could result in closer three-way working on theological and doctrinal matters, as well as investigating how the churches could better engage in existing spheres of public co-operation.
The basis of the original talks was the desire for an “enhanced fellowship in the Gospel” between the Church of Scotland and Church of England.
Recommendations include greater integration on the phenomenon of the “emerging church” – fresh expressions of worship and mission in a changing, plural and mixed-belief society; which some are referring to as post-Christendom.
The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland already meets with the Archbishop of Canterbury every year during the St Andrew's-tide visit to London, but it is hoped this could become more fruitful. Another proposal includes inviting the Archbishop of Canterbury to address the General Assembly in Edinburgh.
It is also hoped that the existing cross-fertilisation between the Church of England’s Liturgical Commission and the Church of Scotland’s Worship and Doctrine Task Force will be encouraged, and that the fruits of this consultation can be shared more widely.
One body that already brings the two churches together is the College of Royal Chaplains, which spans the two nations.
The College is evolving a new pattern of joint meetings of its Scottish and English members for study, worship and consultation and this could have some influence in other parts of the two churches’ relationship.
If approved by the General Assembly, it would mean the Scottish Episcopal Church joining the bilateral consultation on faith and order, and also engaging in a five-yearly meeting on doctrinal matters.
As a member of the Anglican Communion, the Scottish Episcopal Church recognises the spiritual leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, although he does not have any jurisdiction in Scotland.
The worldwide Anglican Communion is claimed to have 77 million adherents, but this figure includes a notional 24 million in England - whereas actual Church of England attendance is around one million.
Reformed Churches, of which the Church of Scotland is one, number some 80 million, again depending on how numbers and affiliations are counted.
Both are dwarfed by the 1.2 billion strong Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches of the East.