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Kinghorn, Fife
Kinghorn, Fife

A Deeper Understanding

Tuesday October 3 2023

The Rev Giles Dove, a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, reflects on four months spent working 'behind enemy lines' for the Church of Scotland in Fife. 

In 1847, the Rev Charles Wordsworth (nephew of the poet William Wordsworth) was appointed the first Warden of the new Scottish Episcopal College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Glenalmond, a post he held until 1854. In 1852, he was also elected Episcopalian Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld & Dunblane.

Bishop Wordsworth is buried in the Eastern Cemetery at St Andrews Cathedral, where the inscription on his monument reads:

Remembering the prayer of his Divine Lord and Master
for the Unity of His Church on Earth
he prayed continually and laboured earnestly
that a way may be found in God’s good time
for the Reunion of the Episcopalian and Presbyterian Bodies
without the sacrifice of Catholic principle
or Scriptural Truth

Although Wordsworth’s ecumenical labours may have appeared in vain, in more recent times there has certainly been some progress towards the reunion of the Episcopal Church in Scotland and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Not least in the form of the 2021 St Andrew Declaration, which commits the two denominations ‘to respond together to our common calling to proclaim the reign of God to all the people of Scotland by strengthening our partnership in ministry and mission’. Fine words, but have they had any impact, and is there any evidence of closer collaboration in the cause of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Well, I am pleased to say that I now have a little personal experience of the outworking of the St Andrew Declaration. I am a priest of the Scottish Episcopal Church, licensed in 2006, including almost 12 years as Chaplain and Head of Divinity & Religious Studies at Glenalmond.

In the Spring of 2023, I was taken aback to be asked to consider assisting the Church of Scotland with the implementation of their Presbytery Mission Plan for Fife. Following thought, prayer, discussion and interview, I agreed to serve for four months to allow the Church to identify a suitable candidate to fill the role in the longer term. How my friends mocked me for starting to ‘work behind enemy lines!’

In 2021, the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly charged its Presbyteries across Scotland with producing a Presbytery Mission Plan by the end of 2022. The focus is on ensuring that Church of Scotland congregations are appropriately equipped to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and to serve their communities in the years ahead.

In Fife, the Presbytery Mission Plan was steered to successful submission and approval by Presbytery Mission Director Neil Campbell. The next stage was to be the implementation of the Plan, encouraging churches to work more closely together by uniting with one another, disposing of church properties which were no longer deemed appropriate for retention, and developing new ministries and worshipping communities.

Meetings ensued with Ministers, Elders and all sorts of other interested parties, individually and in groups. I found examples of real encouragement in terms of ecumenical activity. Presbytery Moderator, the Rev Jim Reid, is the minister of the coastal communities of Burntisland and Kinghorn. Jim introduced me to the Rev Alexander Ritchie, minister of the United Free Church in Burntisland. These two are in the process of signing an agreement to form an Ecumenical Partnership. Up the coast at St Ayle Parish Church in Cellardyke, the building is also used by the Romanian Orthodox Church.

Meanwhile, at Lindores Parish Church of Scotland in Newburgh, Scottish Episcopalian clergy regularly lead worship and community outreach activity. It was not long into my time as mission director that a minister serving Inverkeithing and North Queensferry asked me if I could provide pulpit cover. Such an invitation would have been much more difficult to consider had it not been for the St Andrew Declaration.

At the full meeting of the Presbytery, the Moderator invited me to lead the opening devotions. I used a variety of prayers, some of them undeniably Anglican, and succeeded in remembering that I was a “debtor” rather than a “trespasser” in the Lord’s Prayer! On this occasion, I urged the assembled Ministers and Elders to consider John 13:35 - “By this shall everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This call to an almost tangible, visible and audible display of mutual love among Christians ought to be a hallmark of our faith.

My brief time working with the Church of Scotland has certainly not felt like ‘working behind enemy lines’. Far from it, as I have gained a deeper understanding of the ways and means of my Presbyterian sisters and brothers I have grown in love and respect for them. More than that, I have acquired a heightened awareness of the need to do as much as we possibly can together.

Life and Work is the magazine of the Church of Scotland. Subscribe here.