Following the selection and appointment by four Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church of the Reverend Canon Anne Dyer as Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney on 9 November, there are now serious questions being asked about the process.
Following the appointment, the Rector of St Margaret’s, Aberdeen, the Very Reverend Dr Emsley Nimmo, who on account of his duty of care for the diocese immediately resigned from his role as Dean of the Diocese. The Revd Canon Ian Ferguson, Rector of Westhill Community Church also resigned from the Cathedral Chapter on Wednesday. News of these resignations has yet to be notified to the wider church.
Ian Ferguson’s resignation letter to the Primus and interim bishop states:
“Our Chapter, especially at its last meeting with you were told that you would take note and listen to the Chapter when considering the right person to become our next Bishop.
I feel that we were not listened to and neither has our own Diocese been listened to as well.
Our Diocese voted overwhelmingly against a revisionist agenda to change the marriage canon so that Same Sex Marriage would become part of the church’s understanding of marriage and that priests could register to officiate at Same Sex Weddings.
There was not a ’large’ minority in favour of such a change, in fact the vote among the clergy was 8 for and 18 against, a huge democratic majority by any standard. Our Bishop at the time publicly stated his opposition to such a revisionist agenda, which reflected not only his own personal view but that of our Diocese. Yet, despite all of that, you have put into position a new bishop who not only supports same-sex marriage but has conducted same-sex weddings.
This decision by you and the College is not only insensitive but disrespectful to the people of our Diocese.
I believe that the decision to appoint the Rev Canon Anne Dyer as the next Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney is wrong, for all the reasons I have mentioned above. My view is that our Diocese ought to have been at least consulted before such a decision was made, if not the Diocese then at least the Chapter.”
Some serious questions arose from this appointment.
The Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney has a distinctively conservative character, a fact acknowledged by the current Primus during the process. The Diocesan synod voted against the change to the marriage canon permitting its extension to include same-sex unions. Last month the bishop elect officiated at a same-sex marriage service in the church she serves in Haddington. Surely the bishops were aware of this? Because of the mismatch between Canon Dyer’s known views and those of the majority of our clergy on this matter of critical importance her appointment looks like an attempt to impose the will of the bishops on the diocese, a punishment for not going along with the other dioceses’ direction or a pastoral mis-step of enormous proportions. Perhaps all three.
The Primus has stated that “the nature of the decision reached by the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church, is such as to allow those of different views to continue to “walk together” – recognising that there are different understandings of marriage.” That being the case why in this first test of the principle does it seem that the convictions of those of a conservative view are to be set aside ? Is the often mentioned inclusiveness of the Scottish Episcopal Church only a one way street ?
The canons state that the preparatory committee has two opportunities to find sufficient candidates to allow an election to proceed. If they are unable to endorse three candidates to be put forward for election it falls to the college of bishops to appoint a new bishop. This was the outcome of the process in Aberdeen diocese. Was this because there were not enough suitable candidates or because the bishops vetoed the list going forward, as they are entitled to? If the latter, on what grounds was this done ?
Would it not have have been preferable for the first woman bishop in our province to have been elected by a diocese rather than appointed by her fellow bishops? Given that there are vacancies in two dioceses which voted for the change to the marriage canon, why did the bishops not wait for those opportunities to encourage the election of a woman bishop ? Is it fair to the bishop elect to appoint her to a position with built in difficulties from the outset ?
Many are praying for those for whom the selection of a new bishop has created despair rather than hope. They also pray for the bishops and the bishop-appointee – that they will recognise that this appointment process has been seriously flawed and will have lasting and serious repercussions.