Following a service of communion, the morning session was devoted to the general business of Synod, with Fr Jonathan being appointed Prolocutor of the House of Clergy. He was also elected Clerk to Synod, a post which he has held on an interim basis since last Autumn when the previous incumbent retired. As such, he is responsible (amongst other things) for the compilation of information required from all churches within the diocese for the annual statistical return, and for presenting this to Synod.
In what was his tenth year attending Synod, Bishop David expressed the view that the Episcopal Church was becoming more confident in its place in the life of Scotland today. The signs of real hope included the significant growth in the number of people being approved for training for ministry and in this diocese the continuing development of Casting the Net. Approximately half of the congregations in the diocese had completed Mission Action Planning.
On a personal note he said how much people’s prayers and personal kindness following his diagnosis of prostate cancer had meant to him. His response to enquiries about his health was both hopeful and guarded in that he was ‘well so far’.
Commenting on the drop in numbers in the roll of clergy in the diocese (some of which were due to retirement and some to difficulties in ministry and long term illness), Bishop David spoke of his role as pastor to the clergy and the impact of rapid changes in society and the church on the expectations placed on clergy. He emphasised the clergy’s need for supportive and understanding relationships and spoke of the importance of the connection between clergy, vestry, Bishop and the diocese.
The rapid societal change in the area of same-sex relationships was the topic of group discussion in the afternoon session led by Bishop Nigel of the diocese of Brechin. As Bishop David explained, following the passing of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill which legalises same-sex marriage, the Episcopal Church, for the first time will be in a different place from what the state allows once this act comes into force. The legislation provides for a denomination to opt out, and this will apply to the Episcopal Church until such time as it might decide to change the marriage canon to allow same-sex marriage. As part of a whole church process of measured conversation, a major conference (Cascading conversation: listening across the spectrum) is being held in Pitlochry at the end of April, to which the diocese will be sending seven representatives. A decision will be taken by the end of this year on what action or movement would be appropriate to the church and what would be likely to have the support of members.
Group discussion centred round what had shaped members’ views on same sex relationships over the years and what considerations should be taken into account when exploring the possibility of incorporating same-sex marriage into the marriage canon. It was acknowledged that in general young people had no problem with the concept of same sex marriage but that this could be a very divisive issue in congregations and that strongly held views and preconceptions could be a barrier to discussion. It was important, however, that everyone be given a chance to participate in such conversations.
The full text of the Bishop’s address to Synod is available on the Diocesan website.