What is the Scottish Episcopal Church?

Claire Nicholson

The Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) is part of the world-wide family of Anglican churches.  It traces its origins back to the beginnings of Christianity in Scotland, to the days of Ninian, Columba and the early Celtic saints, ultimately emerging from the Reformation as Scotland’s Anglican church at the end of the 17th century.  It is unusual among Anglican churches in that it was not founded by the Church of England.  With its roots firmly in Scotland, the SEC welcomes people from all over the world to share in its life and worship.

Scotland’s Church has played a pivotal role in Scotland’s long and turbulent history.  In the turmoil of the Wars of Independence it was the Scottish bishops who backed Robert the Bruce and propelled him to the throne.  Over 400 years later, Episcopalians risked everything for another would-be monarch, Bonnie Prince Charlie, in the Jacobite rising of 1745, but this time they were on the losing side.  Their struggle to maintain their identity was immortalised in many of the novels and poems of Sir Walter Scott, but years of persecution after Culloden led to the near-annihilation of the Episcopal Church in Scotland.  Perhaps if Episcopalians had chosen, in the words of Robert Burns, to “leave a man undone to his fate”, they might have avoided their church becoming what Scott called ‘the suffering and Episcopal church of Scotland – the shadow of a shade’ but the long years of hardship and oppression that resulted from a combination of the aftermath of the Reformation and the defeat of the Jacobites were crucial in shaping the identity of the SEC.  Against seemingly impossible odds the SEC not only survived, but grew in membership and today continues its mission to make the love of God, as it has been revealed in Jesus Christ, known in Scotland and across the world.

The SEC is diverse in its worship, allowing it to be inclusive and to minister to people of all ages and traditions.  Our services range from very traditional, structured worship to more contemporary styles, allowing for many different expressions of faith.  Our church buildings are similarly diverse, from the fabulously ornate Rosslyn Chapel to simple, small churches (and even people’s living rooms) in the Highlands and Islands.  Whatever your background and preferred style of worship you will find a home in the SEC.

The SEC is actively involved in communities across Scotland, campaigning against poverty and injustice, running food banks, supporting the homeless and providing practical, pastoral support through chaplaincy and community outreach.  SEC members put their faith into action by running projects such as ‘Soul Food’ in Edinburgh, which provides a place for people in need to share a meal and companionship every Saturday evening.  Many churches in towns and villages across Scotland organise regular smaller-scale events designed to bring people together who would otherwise be isolated and lonely.  Church isn’t just the building you go to on a Sunday morning; it’s a vibrant, active group of people working in and for their communities.

The SEC is run for and by its members.  Any SEC member can get involved at a local level by joining their vestry (the team responsible for running their own church).  Lay people can also be members of diocesan synod (the SEC’s regional government) and general synod (the SEC’s national government) and take an active role in the running of the wider church.  Clergy in the SEC come from a wide range of backgrounds and most have had careers outside the church before they enter ministry.  We have our own theological training college (the Scottish Episcopal Institute) and a proportion of our clergy come from Anglican churches outside Scotland.  We have seven dioceses in total: Aberdeen & Orkney; Argyll & the Isles; Brechin; Edinburgh; Glasgow & Galloway; Moray, Ross & Caithness and St Andrews, Dunkeld & Dunblane.  Each diocese elects its own bishop.  The SEC has a primus, rather than an archbishop, who is elected from among the bishops.  The SEC has no formal political or state role, unlike the Church of England.

There are lots of ways you can find our more about the SEC.  You can visit our website at www.scotland.anglican.org where you will find a wealth of information about us.  Better still, come along to your local church and talk to us.  We mean what we say on the signs outside our churches – The Scottish Episcopal Church welcomes you!