Scottish Episcopal Church History

Episcopalian - the enduring appeal

At the Reformation in 1560 many people in Scotland chose to be Episcopalians and at the 1690 Revolution the majority of the country still was. Some stayed faithful to their Church through the decades of persecution and difficulties which followed the Revolution until in the 19th century the Church grew in numbers once more. There was - and is - an enduring appeal.

Sixteenth century Scottish Reformation thinking was found largely among two groups of people - first, a minority of the clergy who had questions about the authority of the Pope and, secondly, a section of the nobility, who disliked the government of the Regent, Mary of Guise, and thus had political as well as religious motives. So in 1560 when Presbyterianism was first established as the Church of Scotland - with only a handful of ministers of the new thinking available - the old ways continued in many places. For example, in Buchan, in the north-east, the Scottish quality of thrawn-ness came to the fore and people would not be told by king or government which church they should be part of.

In the 19th century the lifting of restrictions and penalties on Episcopalians led to a boom in church building across the nation. Almost all the buildings which had belonged to the Episcopal Church at the Revolution were now in Presbyterian hands and so a new building programme began. The resurgence of the Church coincided with the Oxford Movement, which sought to recall the richness of worship in the pre-Reformation Church. The Episcopal Church had always held a high doctrine of the Eucharist, although its practice had been ascetic and simple. Indeed at the restoration of Episcopacy in 1660 it would have been difficult to distinguish between Episcopalian and Presbyterian clergy. Both groups wore black gowns and the only difference in worship was the Episcopalian use of the doxology, the Lord’s Prayer and, at baptisms, the Apostles’ Creed. But now a change began to happen in the Episcopal Church, both in the architecture of buildings and in the worship itself where, gradually, the celebration of the Eucharist became, by the mid 20th century, the normal and central act of the worship in most congregations..

The Episcopal Church was also becoming fashionable once more. Many of the nobility and gentry, educated in English public schools, felt more at home with Episcopalian worship rather than with the Presbyterian forms of the Church of Scotland. And, in what were still autocratic times, some insisted that their household staff and estate workers be in Church with them (a practice which in a few places persisted into the 1970s and beyond).

In other parts of Scotland, though, the Episcopal Church reached out to the poorest of the poor. In Dundee Bishop Forbes was known for his caring ministry to those living in over-crowded, epidemic-ridden tenement housing. In Dundee, Edinburgh, Inverness Aberdeen and other towns across Scotland, churches in the Anglo-Catholic tradition were founded specifically to minister to the poor, bringing love, colour and vibrancy into the grey and harsh lives of those around them.

A third element of growth came through the greater mobility of the population and the immigration into Scotland of people whose background had been in the Anglican Churches of England, Wales, Ireland and elsewhere. And a further source of growth came through the "pick 'n mix" culture of the late 20th century - people began to choose the church they wanted to be part of rather than the one which was nearest to their home or the one to which their parents belonged. It meant that into the Episcopal Church came many from other traditions and denominations, and together it all makes for the eclectic mix which is today’s Scottish Episcopal Church.