North Bute Lit: The Episcopal Church in Scotland

Members of North Bute Literary Society learned of the history of the Episcopal Church in Scotland from guest speaker, Rev Andrew Swift, curate of St Paul's Church.
Members of North Bute Literary Society learned of the history of the Episcopal Church in Scotland from guest speaker, Rev Andrew Swift, curate of St Paul's Church.

The convoluted history of the Episcopal Church in Scotland was related to the members of North Bute Literary Society last week by the Rev Andrew Swift, curate of St Paul’s Church.

Andrew’s clear explanations started with what his church is today – a member of the Anglican Community but neither Roman nor English.

The Scottish Episcopal Church had its origins in 1582 when the Church of Scotland rejected episcopal government (by bishops) and adopted full Presbyterian government (by elders). The two church traditions began and grew side by side.

After James VII fled in 1688 and William and Mary came to the throne, the Episcopal bishops chose not to swear allegiance to the monarchs. Andrew explained that this meant they became a ‘non-juring’ church. The Church of Scotland declared for Presbyterianism and became the national church.

The ‘killing time’ was a terrible period when the Episcopal church suffered the ‘rabbling of the curates’ – ministers were thrown out, they had no money or churches, and bishops disappeared.

Continuing through the history of Scotland Andrew explained how the Episcopals joined the Jacobite cause in 1715 and 1745. After Culloden they were severely repressed and almost wiped out but gradually over the next century the church grew again. By the late 1780s, under Bishop Skinner, the church accepted there were no legitimate heirs to the Jacobite throne and finally swore allegiance to the king. At the same time very strong links were formed with America.

To conclude Andrew described how the Episcopal Church in Scotland today has 150 clergy and seven bishops, one of whom is elected chair or primus. There are no archbishops and the church is lay managed and governed.

The evening had been a delightful speed course in Scottish and church history. The final meeting this year on December 1 will have Birdie Bowers as the topic of Drew McKenzie.