In Scotland, a congregation parts ways with the increasingly liberal Episcopal Church

A congregation in north-east Scotland is splitting with the Scottish Episcopal Church over its "continued liberal trajectory"

Scotland gay marriage
Larry Lamont and Jerry Slater (R) take part in a symbolic same-sex marriage outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, Scotland February 4, 2014. |

In the U.S., the Episcopal Church has long pursued a liberal path, with gay bishops and marriage blessings, much to the chagrin of conservatives, but elsewhere, tremors are being felt over the same issues.

Last week, a congregation in north-east Scotland voted overwhelmingly to leave the Scottish Episcopal Church citing concerns over its theological direction.

In total, 83 percent of the members at Westhill Community Church in Aberdeen voted to leave the SEC because of its "continued liberal trajectory."

That trajectory was cemented in 2017 when the SEC’s governing body voted to allow gay marriage ceremonies in its churches.  Only one diocese opposed the move - Aberdeen and Orkney.

Westhill isn’t the first congregation to leave the SEC following the change. St. Thomas church in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, left the Church last year with the Rev. David McCarthy saying their departure was made out of “tragic necessity."

"But it is the Episcopal Church who are leaving us. They are leaving orthodoxy,” he told The Sunday Telegraph at the time.

It’s unclear whether other churches in Aberdeen and Orkney will follow Westhill Community Church out of the SEC but rector Canon Ian Ferguson said he was one of a group of conservative evangelical rectors in the SEC who were ‘on a journey’ going back years with bishops over its liberal theology.

For Westhill, the direction of the SEC is one it “could not accept” any more and it has now begun the process to leave.

Canon Ferguson told the Anglican Communion News Service: “Our church was not able to feel they could go on the trajectory that the SEC are going and they wanted to maintain their sense of biblical authority and their fellowship with the wider Anglican Communion which is being torn apart by decisions of some provinces.”

He added: “For all of us involved this has been a very painful time and a very difficult decision to make but we have been put in that position by the decisions of the SEC.”

What is next for Westhill is uncertain at this stage.  Canon Ferguson said the congregation would be taking time to think about its future but he’s sure “we will remain Anglican”.

It’s possible the congregation will look beyond Scotland’s shores as Canon Ferguson says they have received “some amazing support” from the Archbishops of Nigeria, Uganda, and Sydney “who have been very supportive and welcoming to us”.   

These Archbishops are all entrenched in the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) - a worldwide fellowship of orthodox Anglicans waging their own war against the liberalisation of parts of the Anglican Communion.   

With the Lambeth Conference just around the corner in 2020, the Archbishop of Uganda has pledged not to participate until "godly order is restored" to the Communion.

Back in Scotland, the Primus of Scotland, Bishop Mark Strange, expressed his “sadness” at the departure of Westhill, saying he was praying “that, painful though this process will be for the Church and for the local diocese and wider community, we will all remember that we are all striving to serve as disciples of Christ.”

Despite many provinces, particularly those in the Global South, decrying the actions of the SEC, Bishop Strange isn't changing the Church's current stance but says he is praying for unity in the Communion.

“Being a member of the Anglican Communion is important to the Scottish Episcopal Church and we are working hard to strengthen our role in it,” he continued in his statement on Westhill’s exit.

“Our bishops are preparing to attend the Lambeth Conference in 2020 and have begun inviting bishops from around the Communion to join us in Scotland for pre-conference hospitality.

“We will continue to pray for unity and understanding as we strive to further the mission of God to our nation and around the world.”

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