Scottish Episcopal Church clergy rebel after 'divisive' appointment of bishop to conservative diocese

A major row is erupting in the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) with half the paid clergy in one region rebelling over the appointment of their new bishop.

A letter to bishops of the Anglican SEC on Friday accused them of fostering 'disquiet and division' by nominating Canon Anne Dyer, the first female bishop in the SEC who is also strongly in favour of gay marriage, to be bishop of the largely conservative Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney.

ReutersThe general synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church met in Edinburgh in June and passed a resolution changing its teaching on marriage.

Dyer is now being urged to step down from her promotion with clergy protesting her appointment.

Scottish Episcopal ChurchAnne Dyer is the first female bishop in the SEC.

Two senior clergy have already quit over the issue and the letter threatens that 'others are considering similar action' in a diocese that is already struggling to fill a number of empty posts across its 41 churches.

It comes after the failure of the normal nomination process where church members within the diocese failed to name the required minimum of three candidates. The other bishops in the SEC then took over the process and nominated Dyer, but according to the protesters failed to consult clergy or churchgoers in the diocese first. 

The protest letter, seen by Christian Today, is signed by seven stipendiary priests, half the clergy in the struggling northern diocese, which was the only one of the SEC's seven dioceses to reject the proposals to change its teaching on marriage, as well as several non-ordained senior churchgoers.

It accuses the bishops of being 'divisive and also disrespectful' by failing to appoint someone conservative clergy would agree with.

'There is now widespread disquiet and unhappiness within the Diocese,' a statement from the signatories says. 'Whatever the cause there is now pain, unease and division in a Diocese which had been largely united in its perception of what it needs from its Bishop now and in the years ahead.'

The clergy also note that Dyer does not drive a car and so would find it difficult to visit the very rural parishes, including on the islands of Orkney and Shetland. 

The letter insists it is not a protest about women's ordination or gay relationships in the Church and stresses it is not a personal attack on Dyer but rather on 'the manner in which the appointment was carried out'.

Canon John Walker, synod clerk for the diocese and a spokesman for the signatories, told Christian Today the issue had been made worse because clergy had been blocked from meeting with Canon Dyer.

'That has pushes us into the position where we have had to deal with it in this way,' he said.

Asked about the calls for her to quit, he said: 'We would like to have a meeting with Canon Anne. We would also like for the diocese to have a vote on her election. If neither of those requests are possible then we would ask her to withdraw her position.'

He added: 'Our Church is committed to being an inclusive Church. We would hope the diversity of the Aberdeen diocese would be reflected in the bishop that was chosen for us.

'For the bishops to act in the way and appoint a bishop who is on the opposite side of the argument raises the question whether they are truly committed to a diverse and inclusive Church.' 

It comes after the Dean of the Diocese, Dr Emsley Nimmo, and Canon Ian Ferguson from the Cathedral Chapter in Aberdeen, both quit in November accusing the Church of being 'not only insensitive but disrespectful'.

Last year the Scottish Episcopal Church became the first Anglican Church in the UK to permit gay weddings, removing its understanding of marriage as being between 'one man and one woman'. Now clergy can opt in to a register to carry out same-sex weddings if they want to.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Episcopal Church said: 'We are aware that a letter has been sent to members of the College of Bishops and the Bishop-Elect, however at this point we are unable to make any comment.'