At the 2015 General Assembly the following decision was taken
“The General Assembly, with considerable regret, agree that with the rising of the General Assembly the Covenant with the Church of Scotland is ended.”
Report of 2014 General Assembly
One of the decisions taken by the 2014 General Assembly was:
“The General Assembly regretfully agree, in view of the decisions taken by the Church of Scotland to take steps to bring the Covenant with the Church of Scotland to a close.”
Background to Covenant
The Covenant between the United Free Church of Scotland the Church of Scotland was signed in 2006 after years of discussion between the two denominations. It was states at the time that “The motivation behind the proposed Covenant is that desire for ‘ever closer unity’ so that we may serve Christ more effectively in Scotland today.’ The intention was to encourage greater cooperation between the two churches both locally and nationally. Since 2006 two congregations, Tayport and Cathcart have entered into local Covenants with neighbouring Church of Scotland congregations. Prior to 2006, the ‘Association’ between the Church of Scotland and United Free congregations to form Canonbie United Parish Church was already in place and for a time there was a Covenant on Westray in Orkney.
What has led to this decision?
The intention was that the Covenant should be reviewed after 5 years and a report was due to come to both General Assemblies in 2012. However, developments within the Church of Scotland on Same sex Relationships and Ministry created a situation where the lack of clarity in the future direction of the Church of Scotland made this impossible. The UF Church responded to a request for information from the Special Commission set up in 2009 by indicating that our Panel on Doctrine had produced two reports which had been approved by out General Assembly which concluded that homosexual acts a are incompatible with the Bible’s teaching on the physical expression of our sexuality and therefore sinful.
Following the report of the Special Commission in 2011 an the decision of the Church of Scotland General Assembly to set up a Theological Commission, the United Free Church General Assembly agreed in view of <pullquote>’recent decisions taken by the Church of Scotland to consider further the issue of same sex relationships and the ministry …. to suspend the review of the Covenant between our two churches pending the outcome of their consideration of the matter’.</pullquote>
Following the report of Theological Commission and the subsequent decision of the Church of Scotland General Assembly in 2013, the United Free Church General Assembly agreed to:
[pullquote]”Ask the Ecumenical Relations Communicate to the Church of Scotland, in the light of covenant between us, its deep concern at the decision made at its recent General Assembly to permit those in civil partnerships to be selected for training, ordained and inducted into charges at the discretion of individual Kirk Sessions. In the light of the implicatoins of two different standards of conduct for ministers in our two denominations, it further asks the Committee to communicate to the Church of Scotland that such a practice is highly likely to undermine the ability of our two denominations to remain in covenant with one another.”[/pullquote]
In the light of decisions taken by the Church of Scotland General Assembly in May of this year, the UF General Assembly agreed the statement that:
[pullquote]”The General Assembly regretfully agree, in view of the decisions taken by the Church of Scotland, to take steps to bring the covenant with the Church of Scotland to a close.”[/pullquote]
In their report to the UF General Assembly, the Ecumenical Relations Committee included a paper setting out their concerns about the future of the Covenant if the Church of Scotland continued on their present path. This made clear that the decisions taken by the Church of Scotland:
[pullquote]”indicate a fundamental difference between our two denominations, not only Same-Sex relationship but on how we regard and interpret scripture.”[/pullquote]
What will happen now?
The decision has been communicated to the Church of Scotland and at the time of writing, arrangements are being made for a meeting of representatives of the two churches so that the situation can be discussed. The decision does not mean that the Covenant will come to an end immediately and allows time for discussions to take place to look at the nature of our future relationship with the Church of Scotland.
In the paper included with the report of the UF Ecumenical Relations Committee, the following was stated:
[pullquote]”Despite all of of the above, we want to make clear the desire of the United Free Church of Scotland to continue good relations with the Church of Scotland and a willingness to explore what form these relations might take in the changed circumstances in which we now find ourselves.”[/pullquote]
What does it mean for congregations which work – or would like to work – with neighbouring congregations of the Church of Scotland?
At the time the Covenant was signed it was seen as a means of encouraging cooperation but it did not make possible anything that could not have happened prior to the Covenant. So without the Covenant, it continues to be possible for local cooperation to take place where congregations find they have sufficient agreement and trust to make this possible.
The paper from the Ecumenical Relations Committee says:
[pullquote]”The desire of the United Free Church is that the issues discussed in this document should not hinder formal and informal cooperation which is already taking place between congregations of our two denominations or impeded other local cooperation which ay develop in the future.”[/pullquote]
Such cooperation with congregations of the Church of Scotland and of other denominations can be a means of strengthening the witness of the Church in a local area and of making possible work which a single congregation could not do on their own.