Scottish Episcopal Church

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Religious movements, traditions and organizations

The Scottish Episcopal Church ( Scottish Gaelic: Eaglais Easbaigeach na h-Alba) is a Christian denomination in Scotland and a member of the Anglican Communion. It has enjoyed a distinct identity in Scotland since the 17th century.

Governance and administration

As an Episcopal denomination, the church is governed by Bishops (Greek, episcopoi), which differentiates it from the national Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian.

The Scottish Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican communion. However, although it is in full communion with the Church of England, it has its own distinct origins and history (it is not a 'daughter church').

The church is composed of seven dioceses, each with its own bishop:

  • Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney — Vacant See
  • Diocese of Argyll and the Isles — The Rt Rev Martin Shaw, consecrated 8 June 2004
  • Diocese of Brechin — The Rt Rev Dr John Mantle, consecrated 8 October 2005
  • Diocese of Edinburgh — The Rt Rev Brian Smith, installed 23 June 2001
  • Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway — The Most Rev Idris Jones, current Primus
  • Diocese of Moray, Ross and Caithness — The Rt Rev John Crook, consecrated September 1999 and, hence, Senior Bishop after the Primus
  • Diocese of Saint Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane — The Rt Rev David Chillingworth, consecrated 11 March 2005

All (except Edinburgh, founded by Charles I) were pre- Reformation sees.

Unlike the Church of England, the bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church are elected. The election procedure involves clergy and lay representatives of the vacant diocese voting at an Electoral Synod.

The College of Bishops constitutes the episcopal synod, the supreme court of appeal. This synod elects from among its own members a presiding Bishop who has the title of Primus (the title originates from the Latin phrase Primus inter pares — 'First among equals'). The Primus has the style but not the functions of a metropolitan. The Primus is addressed Most Reverend, while all other bishops are addressed Right Reverend.

The church is governed by the General Synod. This consists of the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy and the House of Laity. The General Synod makes canon law, administers finance and monitors the work of the boards and committees of the Church. Most decisions are arrived at by a simple majority of members of the General Synod voting together. More complex legislation, such as changes to the Code of Canons requires each of the Houses to agree and to vote in favour by a two-thirds majority.

Each diocese has its synod of the clergy and laity. Its dean (similar to an archdeacon in the Church of England) is appointed by the bishop, and, on the voidance of the see, summons the diocesan synod, at the instance of the primus, to choose a bishop. Each diocese has one or more (in the case of some united dioceses) cathedrals. The senior priest of a Scottish Episcopal cathedral is styled as provost (as the title of 'dean' is given to the senior priest of the diocese as a whole, see above). The only exception in Scotland is the Cathedral of the Isles on the island of Cumbrae which is led by a member of the clergy styled as Precentor. Diocesan deans and cathedral provosts are both addressed as Very Reverend.

The Theological College was founded in 1810, incorporated with Trinity College, Glenalmond, in 1848, and reestablished at Edinburgh in 1876. Theological training is now provided by the various dioceses and is supervised by the Theological Institute of the Scottish Episcopal Church (TISEC).


The Scottish Episcopal Church had its origins in 1582 when the national church, the Church of Scotland, rejected episcopal government (by bishops), and adopted full presbyterian government (by elders) and reformed theology. Scottish monarchs made repeated efforts to introduce bishops, and two church traditions began.

In 1584 James VI of Scotland had the Parliament of Scotland pass the Black Acts bringing the Kirk under royal control with two bishops. This met vigorous opposition and he was forced to concede that the General Assembly should continue to run the church, but Calvinists reacting against the formal liturgy were opposed by an Episcopalian faction. After acceding to the English throne in 1603 James stopped the General Assembly from meeting, then increased the number of Scottish Bishops and in 1618 held a General Assembly and pushed through Five Articles of Episcopalian practices which were widely boycotted. His son Charles I was crowned in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, in 1633 with full Anglican rites. Charles subsequently introduced a Book of Common Prayer causing a revolt which led to the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, beginning with the Bishops Wars and developing into the English Civil War.

The 2001 Census:
Religion Percentage of Population
Church of Scotland 42%
No Religion 28%
Roman Catholic 16%
Other Christian (including Scottish Episcopal) 7%
No Answer 5%
Islam 0.8%
Buddhism 0.1%
Sikhism 0.1%
Judaism 0.1%
Hinduism 0.1%
Other Religions 0.5%

On the refusal of the bishops to recognize William III ( 1689), the presbyterian polity was finally re-established in the Church of Scotland. However, the Comprehension Act of 1690 allowed episcopalian incumbents, on taking the Oath of Allegiance, to retain their benefices, though excluding them from any share in the government of the Church of Scotland without a further declaration of presbyterian principles. Many 'non-jurors' also succeeded for a time in retaining the use of the parish churches.

The extruded bishops were slow to organize the episcopalian remnant under a jurisdiction independent of the state, regarding the then arrangements as provisional, and looking forward to a reconstituted national episcopal Church under a 'legitimate' sovereign (see Jacobitism). A few prelates, known as college bishops, were consecrated without sees, to preserve the succession rather than to exercise a defined authority. But at length the hopelessness of the Stuart cause and the growth of congregations outside of the establishment forced the bishops to dissociate canonical jurisdiction from royal prerogative and to reconstitute for themselves a territorial episcopate.

The act of Queen Anne ( 1712), which protects the Episcopal Communion, marks its virtual incorporation as a distinct society. But matters were still complicated by a considerable, though declining, number of episcopalian incumbents holding the parish churches. Moreover, the Jacobitism of the non-jurors provoked a state policy of repression in 1715 and 1745, and fostered the growth of new Hanoverian congregations, served by clergy episcopally ordained but amenable to no bishop, who qualified themselves under the act of 1712. This act was further modified in 1746 and 1748 to exclude clergymen ordained in Scotland.

These causes reduced the Episcopalians, who included at the Revolution a large section of the people, to what is now, save in a few corners of the west and north-east of Scotland, a small minority. The official recognition of George III on the death of Charles Edward in 1788, removed the chief bar to progress. The qualified congregations were gradually absorbed, though traces of this ecclesiastical solecism still linger. In 1792 the penal laws were repealed, but clerical disabilities were only finally removed in 1864. In 1784 Samuel Seabury, the first bishop of the American Episcopal Church, was consecrated at Aberdeen.

The Book of Common Prayer came into general use at the Revolution. The Scottish Communion Office, compiled by the non-jurors in accordance with primitive models, has had a varying co-ordinate authority, and the modifications of the English liturgy adopted by the American Church were mainly determined by its influence.

Among the clergy of post-Revolution days the most eminent are Bishop Sage, a well-known patristic scholar; Bishop Rattray, liturgiologist; John Skinner, of Longside, author of Tullochgorum; Bishop Gleig, editor of the 3rd edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica; Dean Ramsay, author of Reminiscences of Scottish Life and Character; Bishop AP Forbes; GH Forbes, liturgiologist; and Bishop Charles Wordsworth.

The Church enabled the creation of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America after the American Revolution, by consecrating in Aberdeen the first American bishop, who had been refused consecration by the clergy in England.

There were 356 congregations, with a total membership of 124,335, and 324 working clergy in 1900. No existing ministry can claim regular historic continuity with the ancient hierarchy of Scotland, but the bishops of the Episcopal Church are direct successors of the prelates consecrated to Scottish sees at the Restoration.

Current issues

The Scottish Episcopal Church has been involved in Scottish politics. The Church is an opponent of nuclear weaponry. Supporting devolution, it was one of the parties involved in the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which resulted in the setting up of the Scottish Parliament in 1997. The Church actively supports the work of the Scottish Churches Parliamentary Office in Edinburgh and the Society, Religion and Technology Project.


The Scottish Episcopal Church was previously called the Episcopal Church in Scotland, reflecting its role as the Scottish province of the Anglican Communion.

This church may rarely be referred to colloquially (or pejoratively) in Scotland as the English Church or English Kirk, but this is inaccurate and many members of the church find this term offensive. Although not incorporated until 1712, the Scottish Episcopal Church can trace its origins to well before the Acts of Union 1707 with England. It is a thoroughly Scottish institution both in terms of its history and its modern character, despite occasional instances of creeping anglicisation, which have occurred throughout Scottish society and are not unique to any one organisation. Also, although the church is a member of the Anglican Communion, there is some controversy over the use of Anglican to describe it.

Members are sometimes referred to as "Piskies", as a shortened form of the name; this is not usually derogatory.

Theology and sociology

The Scottish Episcopal Church embraces three orders of ministry: Deacon, Priest (referred to as Presbyter) and Bishop. Increasingly, an emphasis is being placed on these orders working collaboratively within the wider ministry of the whole people of God.

All orders of ministry are open to both male and female candidates. As yet, no women have been elected to the Episcopate and thus there are no bishops who are women. Debate continues in the church as to the propriety of fully affirming the presence of lesbian and gay church members.

The church is a member of Action of Churches Together in Scotland.

Mission 21

In 1995, the Scottish Episcopal Church began working through a process known as Mission 21. The Rev Canon Alice Mann of the Alban Institute was invited to begin developing a missionary emphasis within the congregations of the church throughout Scotland. This led to the development of the Making Your Church More Inviting programme which has now been completed by many congregations. In addition to working on making churches more inviting, Mission 21 emphasises reaching out to new populations which have previously not been contacted by the church. As Mission 21 has developed, changing patterns of ministry have become part of its remit.


In addition to the Scottish Prayer Book 1929, the church has a number of other liturgies available to it. In recent years, revised Funeral Rites have appeared, along with liturgies for Christian Initiation (eg Baptism and Affirmation) and Marriage. The modern Eucharistic rite (1982) includes Eucharistic prayers for the various seasons in the Liturgical Year and is commonly known as "The Blue Book" - a reference to the colour of its covers. A further Eucharistic prayer is provided in the Marriage liturgy.

Notable Scottish Episcopalians

  • Patrick Campbell Rodger, Provost of St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh
  • George Gleig, Primus
  • Alexander Penrose Forbes, Bishop of Brechin
  • Robert Keith, bishop and historian
  • Joseph Lister, 1st Baron Lister, surgeon
  • Michael Russell, Scottish National Party (SNP) politician
  • John Skinner, historian and song-writer
  • James Syme, surgeon
  • Archibald Campbell Tait, Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Andrew Wilson, Scottish National Party (SNP) politician
  • Richard Holloway, Primus, Bishop of Edinburgh, writer and broadcaster
  • Alexander McCall Smith, writer
  • "J.K" Joanne Rowling, writer


  • Carstares, State Papers
  • Keith, Historical Catalogue of the Scottish Bishops (Russel's edition, 1824)
  • Lawson, History of the Scottish Episcopal Church from the Revolution to the Present Time (1843)
  • Stephen, History of the Church of Scotland from the Reformation to the Present Time (4 vols, 1843)
  • Lathbury, History of the Nonjurors (1845)
  • Grub, Ecclesiastical History of Scotland (4 vols, 1861)
  • Dowden, Annotated Scottish Communion Office (1884).

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