COMMISSIONERS AT THE 2022 GENERAL ASSEMBLY have overwhelmingly welcomed an historic agreement between the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church in Scotland, and proposed calling it the Saint Margaret Declaration, after the 11th Century Scottish Queen venerated for her missionary Christian faith and her kindness and generosity to poor people.

The declaration of friendship offers “a decisive and irrevocable statement of our friendship with one another, based on our shared faith in Christ.”

Already approved by the Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in Scotland, the declaration is the culmination of more than 100 years of dialogue and emphasises the shared faith and common ground that unites the Churches.

Archbishop Leo Cushley accepted the name suggestion on behalf of the Scottish Catholic Bishop’s Conference, saying he has always had a special admiration for Saint Margaret.

The Rev Alexander Horsburgh, Convener of the Ecumenical Relations Committee told the General Assembly that friendship is a key biblical concept for all followers of Jesus.

“Friendship is a very deep relationship, a relationship of conscious and deliberate choice, in which individuality is respected and there is room for disagreement, but a relationship in which we stand alongside one another, support one another, rejoice together and weep together, pray for and with each other, and do things together”, he said.

“We are declaring a friendship which already exists, which has existed for a long time, and we want everyone to know about it and understand it. By saying out loud that the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church in Scotland are friends, we contribute to changing, not only the narrative of our churches, but the narrative of our country too. There is no going back.

“We can and do say these transformative things out loud because of a gift, expressive of God’s relationship of love and grace with all creation, which we receive from God.”

Archbishop Leo Cushley also addressed the Assembly bringing warm greetings and heartfelt prayers from his Church. The friendship has grown in parishes and between church members over 40 years of shared work and shared prayers, he said:

“The Declaration is also a consciously new approach to ecumenism, an attempt to re-imagine the path of Christian unity. Instead of listing our problems and points of friction or grievance, old or new, the Declaration chooses to focus on what we have in common, and to underline that we treasure and hold, together, so much that is inspiring, ancient and profound…

Image: Church of Scotland

“Do I expect our two old institutions to be perfectly aligned and united any time soon?  I suspect that may be a task for another generation.  Nevertheless, I believe that by acknowledging all the good that we hold in common, we can walk and pray together as friends, deepen our affective unity, and be a more authentic Christian witness in the land.  The rest will come in God’s good time.”

In a conversation with Archbishop Cushley ahead of the General Assembly, The Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields said: “I grew up in a very divided Scottish society. I’m 68 years old and was a product of that divided society. I didn’t understand why it was divided, but it was that society has changed immensely over the last 50 – 60 years and I think this is indicative of not us catching up with society, but as affirming together something that is fundamentally important to us, to our faith together, and hopefully to Scottish society.

“I would want people in Scottish society to look at the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church and to take away one of those excuses I’ve often heard – ‘well if you’re agin one another, what’s it all about? Well we’re not. This is a Declaration of Friendship between us and I hope that that would say something powerful to the non-Christian constituency of Scottish society.”

St Andrew Declaration

The Rev Alexander Hosburgh noted in his speech that the Saint Margaret Declaration is the second key ecumenical agreement signed this year.

“On St Andrew’s Day last November”, he said, “the then Moderator of the General Assembly, Lord Jim Wallace, and the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, along with members from both churches and representatives from others too, gathered in St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh to make public profession of our commitment to one another, as expressed in the Saint Andrew Declaration.

“We expressed out loud our acknowledgement of one another as churches belonging to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ, holding a common faith, authentically preaching the Word of God, and faithfully administering the sacraments; and we declared our commitment to deepen our existing relationship and develop our ministry and mission together in new ways.”

The Saint Margaret Declaration  (Full Text)

We, the undersigned, representing the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church in Scotland, wish publicly to express our recognition of each other as Christians, and as children of God in Christ (Galatians 3: 25-28). We recognise each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, and we wish to express our friendship and respect for one another as fellow Christians, citizens and partners in announcing the kingdom of God in our land.

Since the World Missionary Conference (Edinburgh, 1910), and the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) much has been done ecumenically to repair what was broken and to restore mutual respect and friendship.

A great deal has been achieved spiritually, practically and affectively, through joint prayer among our parishes, various joint commissions, and the growing knowledge and appreciation of each other as Christian friends and fellow pilgrims.

A shared faith

Progress has been made on that which we hold in common.

We believe in one God, the Creator; we believe in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, true God and true man, fully divine and fully human, who died in the flesh and rose to save us from sin and death; and we believe in the Holy Spirit. We believe in the Holy Trinity, one God in three persons. We believe that the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic; and we acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

We believe our faith to be rooted in that of the Apostles, Christ’s first disciples, those who knew and followed our Lord in this life. We recognise and treasure the Sacred Scriptures, as God’s revelation of His love for all humanity. We recognise and hold in common the great ecumenical councils of the first five Christian centuries.

Our common home

We recognise, as our common heritage, the Gospel first brought to our shores so very long ago. We recall with gratitude to God the earliest missionaries, our forebears in the faith, who lived and preached the Christian faith to our land. We recall those from that time who led and formed the Church, nurturing a society inspired by Christian values, including St Ninian, St Columba and St Margaret.

Past divisions

We recognise the hurt and the harm that our forebears did to each other in times past, and we repent and ask forgiveness of one other. We also recognise that, even in more recent times, much could have been said between us more kindly, written more magnanimously, and done more charitably, to promote pardon and healing and friendship among Christians in our land.

Challenges which remain

There remain points at which we have not yet found a meeting place, and it is true that some questions still divide us.

Acknowledging what separates us still, we reaffirm that what we hold in common is often greater than what divides us. While recognising that unity does not mean uniformity, we commit ourselves to continuing our pilgrimage towards greater unity, as we believe that it is the Lord’s will that we be one (John 17: 21). We trust that such developing unity in Christ is the Lord’s work and the Spirit’s doing.

Looking towards the future

We therefore pledge ourselves to live as sisters and brothers in Christ, in public and in private, in life and in mission; to pray with each other and for each other; to be good neighbours, both to each other and to all people among whom we live, of all faiths and none; and to work together for the common good of the nation, as it is given to us to see it.

May there be an ever more united Christian voice in the land, informed always by the charity and love of Christ and our call to participate in the mission of God. May we contribute to the good of society, while humbly learning from others and from our own mistakes. May our theological reflections and initiatives together thrive; and may our pilgrimage together in our dear land of Scotland bear much fruit to the good of all, and to the greater glory of God.

* Watch The Right Rev Dr Iain Greenshields and Archbishop Leo Cushley talk about the Declaration here.

* Source: Church of Scotland