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Home  >  News  >  Declaration of Friendship with Catholic Church Agreed

News

Declaration of Friendship with Catholic Church Agreed

Monday May 23 2022

The Moderator of the General Assembly, the Rev Iain Greenshields (right), with Archbishop Leo Cushley after the approval of the Saint Margaret Declaration


The General Assembly this afternoon overwhelmingly approved a Declaration of Friendship with the Catholic Church in Scotland.

In the Declaration, to be named the Saint Margaret Declaration (subject to approval by the Catholic Bishops Conference), the two Churches ‘recognise each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, and… 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’.

They recognise the ‘hurt and harm’ done by past disagreements and acknowledge that ‘some questions still divide us’ but ‘reaffirm that what we hold in common is often greater than what divides us’ and ‘commit ourselves to continuing our pilgrimage towards greater unity, as we believe that it is the Lord’s will that we be one’.

Commending the Declaration, the Rev Sandy Horsburgh, convener of the Ecumenical Relations Committee, said that friendship was ‘a key biblical concept’. He added: “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.

“We regret that our two churches have not always been friends, that we have not always recognised one another as children of God in Christ, because we should have done. We recognise our need for repentance and forgiveness for the hurts and harms we have caused one another. In making this Declaration of Friendship, we are decisively and deliberately putting these things behind us. We are declaring the truth that we share in the one faith, and that our shared faith is rooted in the faith of the Apostles, as revealed in Scripture and developed and deepened over many centuries.

“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.”

Archbishop Leo Cushley, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, told the Assembly that the Declaration meant that the two churches ‘stand shoulder to shoulder before an unbelieving world’. He added: “By acknowledging all the good 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 title Saint Margaret Declaration was suggested by the Rev Dr Grant Barclay, who suggested a name would give the declaration greater prominence. He said that St Margaret, the 11th century Queen of Scotland, was ‘a figure of unity in political and church life in our nation’, as well as being closely associated with Scotland’s newest city, Dunfermline. The suggestion was warmly welcomed by Archbishop Cushley and the Moderator of the General Assembly, minister of Dunfermline: St Margaret’s Church.

The Moderator put the Declaration to a vote, which passed by 421 votes to 4.

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During the Report of the Theological Forum, the Assembly agreed to approve in principle the creation of a Book of Confessions, retaining the Westminster Confession of Faith as a subordinate standard of the Church, but adding other confessions that ‘express the range and depth of Reformed thought’; and the creation of teaching materials on the confessional position of the Church and the vows of office holders.

Convener, the Rev Dr Liam Fraser, told the Assembly that the reforms would have three benefits: “First, for those who do not agree with the Westminster Confession, and want a more contemporary statement of faith, office holders will no longer have to make vows or subscribe to the Westminster Confession, and will have the opportunity to propose new confessions for inclusion in a Book of Confessions.

“Second, for those who worry that a change in the status of the Westminster Confession will lead to doctrinal confusion or the loss of our Reformed identity, by retaining the Westminster Confession as a subordinate standard, clarifying the location of the fundamental doctrines of the faith that we hold in common with each other, and creating new teaching resources on Westminster and the Church’s confessional position, we believe that the Reformed identity of the Church of Scotland will be maintained.

“Finally, for those who think confessional reform is irrelevant, a distraction from the real task of ministry and mission, our proposed reforms will provide tools for teaching and discipleship, facilitate missional partnership with other denominations, and crucially, resolve a disagreement over the role of the Westminster Confession that has continued for centuries, allowing us to move on to other pressing matters.”

The Rev Mike Goss, who admitted he had been ‘deeply suspicious’ of the proposals for reform of the Church’s confessional position, praised the proposals. He said: “I think the work that has been done to try to do something coherent that could be assented to by the whole church and gives us a confessional basis is to be welcomed… I am also hugely grateful for the emphasis on education, training and learning. All of this can only be deeply helpful.”

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In the remaining business of the Assembly Trustees, held over from Saturday, the Assembly approved the church’s budget for 2023 and indicative budgets for 2024-27, and the proposed arrangements for a Pioneer Mission Fund and the Seeds for Growth Fund. A motion which would have aligned the criteria for the latter fund with the Five Marks of Mission was defeated, with Trustees Convener the Very Rev Dr John Chalmers arguing that the fund should be tightly focussed on establishing new worshipping communities and work with the under 40s.


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