Archbishop makes history by debating at Kirk over closer ties

Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury meets Moderator Rt Rev Dr Russell Barr. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury meets Moderator Rt Rev Dr Russell Barr. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

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THE Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday became the first head of the Church of England to debate at the General Assembly as the Kirk discussed the Columba Declaration aimed at closer working between the two churches.

The landmark declaration was unanimously backed by delegates to the 2016 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Under its terms, both denominations would welcome one another’s members into church services and ordained ministers will be allowed to preach in both churches, though only within England and Europe.

The Most Reverend Justin Welby apologised to the Scottish Episcopal Church for leaving it feeling excluded from the discussions and its implications.

He also addressed potential difficulties between the two separate branches of Protestantism which emerged from the Reformation in the 16th century.

“We won’t always necessarily find ourselves walking in step with one another, something I’ve been particularly conscious of, as, like you, we have been considering the issues around same-sex marriages, and following your earlier debate on ministers in same-sex marriages. But what we believe we are providing in this report is a sound framework for us to affirm and build on the agreement we have, for the sake of our common witness to Christ,” he said.

During the debate, army chaplain Rev Geoff Berry, from the presbytery of Lothian, said army chaplains were already working with other denominations in their daily work and questioned how much the church was doing to get the message of closer working out to the public.

Citing the grief experienced by soldiers at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan who were standing over the “flag-draped body of a colleague” he said: “All they cared about was the comfort of our presence.”

Former Commando chaplain Rev Rory MacLeod, from Strath and Sleat on Skye, also said that those in danger needed spiritual comfort and did not differentiate which denomination this came from.

“As a forces chaplain, especially on the front line, you are really aware of the big issue of life and death. What emerges is what really matters.”

Asked by The Scotsman if he would envisage working closely with the Catholic Church in line with the Columba Declaration, the Archbishop said: “We need to do more in terms of more visible unity.”

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