Friendship in plain sight

From Seeds June 2022

The United Reformed Church was formed 50 years ago with a passion for ecumenical conversation and church union.

Some hoped that the fledgling denomination would itself only have a shelf life long enough to see the union of multiple Churches across the UK. That vision hasn’t yet come to pass, but during the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May commissioners welcomed the second historic agreement with a sister denomination in six months.

The Saint Margaret Declaration is a declaration of friendship between the Kirk and the Catholic Church in Scotland, offering ‘a decisive and irrevocable statement of our friendship with one another, based on our shared faith in Christ’.

It has been described as ‘the culmination of more than 100 years of dialogue, [emphasising] the shared faith and common ground that unites the Churches’.

Named after the 11th century Scottish Queen, the Saint Margaret Declaration follows on from a similar statement of understanding signed last November between the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church: the Saint Andrew Declaration. The Revd Alexander Horsburgh, Convener of the Kirk’s Ecumenical Relations Committee, said that ‘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’.

He described this as a friendship ‘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.

‘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.’

In these days of multiple pressures on all our mainstream Christian denominations, ecumenical friendships have pragmatic value. However, they also reflect gospel values.

‘Do I expect our two old institutions to be perfectly aligned and united any time soon?’, Mr Horsburgh asked. ‘I suspect that may be a task for another generation. Nevertheless, I believe that by acknowledging all the good that 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 rest will come in God’s good time.’