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The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church

May 11, 2009

050631-1859_Img_2035Next Sunday St Clement’s will welcome The Most Revd Idris Jones, Bishop of Glasgow & Galloway and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church as our Special Preacher. This is part of our 150th Anniversary Celebration Year, and Bishop Jones will pontificate from the Throne at the High Mass that day.

The Scottish Episcopal Church is the direct descendent of the old Scottish Church which, although breaking off communion with Rome, nevertheless supported the Stuart monarchs and maintained the Apostolic Succession of Bishops. Eventually, Episcopalians, along with Roman Catholics were proscribed for many years and forbidden to have churches, as part of the Penal Laws imposed on them following the failure of the pro-Stuart Risings and the triumph of the Dutch Hanoverian monarchs in England. By the end of the 19th century, the Episcopal Church was so small that Sir Walter Scott described it as ‘the shadow of a shade” 

But with the Oxford Movement, new life came into the Church, and a healthy diocesan and parish life was established throughout Scotland. Of course the Episcopal Church remained tiny in comparison to the Presbyterian Church of Scotland (who, by supporting the Hanoverian takeover received the old parish churches) and the Roman Catholic Church, which received a great many new members due to Irish immigration. But small though it was (and is) it “punched above its weight” in that many of the influential people – those who today would be called “movers and shakers” – were Episcopalian. I think this was also the experience of the American Episcopal church.

And of course the American Episcopal Church is called that because it was the Scottish Bishops, not those of the Church of England, who consecrated  the first Bishop for America after Independence had been declared and won. Bishop Seabury of Connecticut did go to London to ask the Archbishop of Canterbury to consecrate him for ministry in the former colonies, but the Archbishop would not or could not, because he could use only the English Prayer Book form, which had to include the oath of allegiance to the British monarch – and Seabury was not about to do that! So he went to Scotland where three of the Bishops of the still persecuted Church consecrated him Bishop in Aberdeen. Bishop Seabury therefore returned to Americawith the Scottish Episcopal Prayer Book and Scottish Episcopal Holy Orders, first Bishop of what came to be the American Episcopal Church.

It has always seemed to me a wonderful thing that, when the Scottish Church was tiny and persecuted and had a dim future in its weakness, God nevertheless used its courage (and, let’s face it, Scottish obstinacy!) to pass on the sacred gift of apostolic orders to America.

So it is no wonder that I, as a proud Scottish Episcopalian, am looking forward to welcoming the present leader of my old Church to St Clement’s. I hope as many of you as read this blog and are within reach will join us on Sunday. It is Rogation Sunday, so we will also process round the outside of the church in the Rogation Procession and bless the gardens. There will be a special reception for the Bishop after the Mass.

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